COMMENT: Courage and change

Our comment
Our comment

In a tough financial climate and with central government banging the drum for ever more homes on green fields, running a local council is no easy business.

So we don’t condemn any local authority for taking decisions that do not suit everyone.

But in such circumstances it is more important than ever that the processes are open, transparent and inclusive.

A community will accept bad news better if its views have been genuinely considered and it knows every reasonable alternative has been tested.

Horsham District Council’s record has been lamentable.

In July 2013, its ruling Tory group forced through a Hobson’s choice option to dump a huge share of its development in North Horsham with a whipped vote.

All meaningful discussions were held in private, often in secretive group meetings with minutes marked confidential.

When a councillor - in this case Christian Mitchell - had the temerity to campaign on behalf of the people who elected him against these plans, he says he was first dragged before a secret court and then stripped of his chairman elect role.

Party politics on a council should never trump genuine public consultation; and the last few years have dragged democracy to a new low.

Too often the authority has behaved like a private club and its actions have given the impression of being controlling, spiteful and at time thoroughly unpleasant.

Is it any wonder that in the midst of this, the former deputy leader - the mild mannered gentleman Roger Arthur - quit the role and the party and defected to UKIP? Or that the legitimate opposition the Lib Dems considered themselves so marginalised they often had to turn first to this newspaper for information about what was being decided in their name?

In protest, a year ago, the County Times’ launched a non-political free speech charter which won signatories across the party spectrum including leading Tories such as the chairman of the Horsham Conservative Association Brad Watson OBE.

Mr Watson is a man of principle.

But the cabinet and a number of backbenchers at HDC would have nothing to do with it.

So today, we applaud the grass roots membership of the association for not nodding through the same old names as candidates again in the May elections.

They have acted with courage and determination to deselect two key members of the administration - including deputy leader Helena Croft.

It is not in their power to remove the leader Ray Dawe as he is answerable to the South Downs equivalent.

As a newspaper, we do not hold Croft and Rae individually responsible for the problems we have described.

Both have worked hard and in their own ways sought to do their best and we wish them well in their futures.

But they answer to the members of their association - ordinary residents of Horsham - and those people felt they could find better alternatives to uphold the core values of the Conservative Party.

It’s what democracy is all about - and today we celebrate it.

See also Inside report - who called time on councillors as Conserverative representatives?