Horsham District Council has a ‘Code of Conduct’ for its councillors. It exhorts members to show such qualities as integrity, openness, honesty, leadership. Having read the reports on how the new chairman-elect was chosen I cannot find much evidence of these desirable qualities in the proceedings.
The chairman of the council is the chairman of all the councillors whatever their political affiliation. He/she is alike the Speaker of the House of Commons, and as in that case, he/she should be elected freely by all off those for whom he/she will adopt the chairmanship role, but this is not what happened.
On Monday 24 February there was a meeting of the ‘Tory Group’ of councillors. On all occasions in the past the vice-chairman, in this case Cllr Christian Mitchell, who was elected by the full council a year ago, would be put forward for final confirmation by the full council as the chairman for the forthcoming year, but as if by magic two councillors from the southern wards stepped forward. Cllr Kate Rowbottom [Con, Billingshurst and Shipley] and Cllr John Chidlow [Con, Southwater] proposed Cllr Brian O’Connell, in lieu of Cllr Christian Mitchell.
It would be interesting to know how many Tory councillors were at that meeting, anticipating that it would be a difficult one, and how the votes stacked up between the more local Horsham councillors and the southern group.
Your readers might well wonder how they could let this happen when considering their ‘Code of Conduct’.
It gets worse! When the matter of future chairman of the council came up on Wednesday 26 February at the full council meeting the leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Ray Dawe, insisted on the three-line whip, which meant there was no free vote from the Tories, and no support for Cllr Mitchell.
Although since a number of Conservative councillors have stated that they were told categorically that they had no choice, but to comply with the whip, maybe they should have followed their own consciences and ‘disobeyed’.
This potentially could have put the ‘cat among the pigeons’, greatly embarrassed the leadership cadre, and won respect from the local electorate, who are sick to the teeth with the dictatorial aloofness of Cllr Dawe and his cadre.
Cllr Christian Mitchell would have made an excellent chairman.
He is a lawyer with a strong democratic sense and a brilliant mind. He has been an excellent, hard working constituency councillor and is highly respected.
Wasn’t it the County Times that christened him ‘the People’s Champion’ a few years ago? As he has said in recent days, ‘It is clear that this is the price I must pay for doing the right thing by my constituents in articulating their gravest concerns about the North Horsham proposals’.
Part 5A of the Council’s Code of Conduct - 3 states, ‘You must not [d] do anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, your authority’. Surely a three- line whip does compromise the impartiality of members who are whipped.
In a previous letter [Oct 2013] I suggested that there may be a case for some investigative journalism. Surely now there must be, and I encourage the Editor to review this.
There is just too much taking place in secret and in an undemocratic style, and this comes up weekly in your publications and is experienced by those who attend the council meetings, where staged management is the be all and end all. The electorate are mere mortals.
Langhurstwood Road, Horsham