Leicestershire County Council's Tories and Lib Dems square up in bitter pre-election row
A bitter pre-election row erupted between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at Leicestershire County Council yesterday.
Members met at County Hall for the last full council meeting before voters go to the polls on May 2.
The ruling Tory group reacted angrily to a motion proposed by Liberal Democrat leader Simon Galton.
It asked the council to publicly deplore “the recent conduct of certain members which has shaken public confidence in the council as a community leader and expresses regret at the Conservative Group’s delays in taking swift action to deal with it.”
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He was referring to the former Tory council leader David Parsons censure for failing to promptly repay to the council cash he claimed for European trips and former Tory deputy leader David Sprason being sacked for giving an interview to the Mercury about his watching of a pornographic film on a council laptop in 2007.
Coun Galton went on to ask the council to welcome the opportunity, after the election, to re-establish it’s previously good reputation “and restore the trust of the people of Leicestershire in their elected representatives.”
The motion went on to say that “in contrast with the recent four years under this Conservative administration” in the future there will be the highest standards of conduct, a compassionate approach to people in need and the delivery of high quality services.”
He said under the Tories the council had been distracted from important business of providing services.
He said: “This motion seeks to acknowledge the biggest crisis the council has had to deal with for many years.
“The council’s name has been dragged through the press and the council made a laughing stock.
“It is essential we draw a line under this after May 2.”
Tory leader Nick Rushton said it was the grubbiest motion he had ever seen at the council and said he would not be lectured by the Liberal Democrats. He accused them of negative campaigning ahead of the election.
Conservative deputy council leader Byron Rhodes told the Liberal Democrats “that people in glass houses should not throw stones” and referred to scandal that had hit the Lib Dems such as former environment minister Chris Huhne, recently jailed for perverting the course of justice.
Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Bray said councillor Rhodes had engaged in a game of “sleaze top trumps” and claimed the Tories on the council had passed budgets allowing the former leader to “live the high life” including spending thousands of pounds refurbishing his office while the council made staff redundant.
His Liberal Democrat colleague Don Wright told the Conservatives, all councillors had been affected by the fall out of some of their members’ conduct.
He said: “It cannot be disputed this has cast a shadow over the activities of the council. We had repeated headlines in the media.
“We clearly had a drop in public confidence.
“It is necessary, when the new council is formed there must be a restoration of public trust and the re-establishing of public confidence.”
Tory cabinet member Blake Pain said he was proud of his party’s record and called the motion underhand, cynical and hypocritical.
He said: “If you scratch under the surface of Liberal Democrat holier than though protestations of innocence, the yellow puss starts to rise.”
The Tories then accused the Liberal of gutter politics and Conservative member Davis Snartt proposed an amended motion.
It asked the council to recognise his party’s decisive action in dealing with disciplinary matters which had already restored the authority’s high reputation.
He said, of the Liberal Democrats: “This is scraping the barrel, to bring this motion at this time ie going into a county council election.”
Liberal Democrat Keith Lynch replied: “This amendment is a desperate attempt to avoid the damage caused to the council reputation over the last four years.”
Tory Richard Shepherd said: “”When I first read this motion I thought it was lazy in its thinking. I was wrong to say it is lazy. I judged it too kindly.
“At a national level they are part of a Coalition Government dealing with enormous problems. The Lib Dems are desperately looking for a way to distance themselves from this.
The Tory amendment was eventually passed by 30 votes to 18.
No Labour councillors spoke during the discussion.
Liberal Democrat Mike Charlesworth told the Conservatives: “This amendment is an attempt to whitewash an appalling record.
“The ruling group has to be held to account. In a few weeks time the voters will have their say.
“You will be remembered for your group’s shameful conduct.”
Coun Sprason, who defected from the Tories to join UKIP, said: “It is childish. If people are looking at this the must think we are a bunch of children.”