Old Hands Welcome New Faces To Cambridgeshire County Council

doorkeeper17:20 Tuesday 7th May 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The political fallout following the County Council elections continued today. The results left no party with an overall majority. The Conservatives are the biggest party with 32 of the 69 seats. The Liberal Democrats are second on 14. UKIP third on 12. Labour have 7, and there are 4 Independents. A number of questions remain, the foremost of which is, after the loss of Nick Clarke’s seat, who is going to lead the Conservatives, and therefore most likely lead the County Council. It’s looking like it will be the Acting Leader, Mac McGuire versus Whittlesea’s Martin Curtis in that contest, which is at two o’clock on Friday. And then the question remains of whether an official alliance of parties will be formed, or is needed, to run the Council. That’s certainly been on the mind of Peter Reeve, the UKIP councillor for Ramsey, who explained earlier on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that he would like to see a coalition of the minority parties. (TAPE)
PETER REEVE: It would be very difficult in terms of the numbers, but technically if I could get, and I am being very proactive on this, if I could get Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Independents to all agree that we should have a coalition group, there is no need to have the Conservatives in power. .. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: .. The idea that UKIP could form a coalition with Labour was given short shrift by Paul Sales, Leader of the Labour Group. (TAPE)
PAUL SALES: You cannot be serious. The Labour Party in coalition with UKIP and the Liberals? Peter is a very enthusiastic guy. He fails completely to understand the way the Council works. The most likely outcome is going to be that the Tories will form a minority administration. I’ve been a member of a minority administration, and that would be sufficient for most things. But any sort of a formal coalition is completely impossible. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: And Conservative Mac McGuire, the Interim Leader of of the County Council, was equally dismissive. (TAPE)
MAC MCGUIRE: I mean gosh, that’s the best laugh since the last time I watched You’ve Been Framed on television. Paul’s absolutely right. What an unholy alliance that would make. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: An unholy alliance. Well, we’ll hear more from Peter Reeve in just a moment or two, the Leader of UKIP, but Kilian Bourke is Leader of the second largest party, the Liberal Democrats, and he joins me live now. Kilian, hello.
CHRIS MANN: Would you form an alliance with UKIP?
KILIAN BOURKE: I think it’s interesting as a thought experiment, but in practice there seems very little reason to think a policy agreement between the opposition parties is possible. It would be a bit of a motley crew, an the policy differences between the groups are just too extreme.
CHRIS MANN: But for democracy to work, surely the biggest party has to attempt to form an administration first.
KILIAN BOURKE: It will. That’s normally what heppens. There’s nothing stopping other parties from doing so themselves behind the scenes if the numbers stack up. But I simply don’t see how the four opposition groups could club together. We’ve just had an election where it was very clear how big the policy differences are. And it’s hard to see. Where is the middle ground?
CHRIS MANN: Would you do a deal with UKIP?
KILIAN BOURKE: I .. I .. No, I can’t see how it would be possible. The Liberal Democrats want to invest in public services. We take climate change seriously. UKIP want to freeze council tax. They don’t support subsidising our bus services. They deny global warming. Where’s the middle ground?
CHRIS MANN: Of course the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are in power nationally, so you could form a very big party together, couldn’t you, locally?
KILIAN BOURKE: I think the Conservatives need to understand that they have lost our .. they’ve run the County Council extremely badly for sixteen years, and I don’t see that a coalition with the Conservatives in which they had 70% of their policies implemented or something like that would be an attractive prospect to the public. They need to acknowledge that they’ve lost our, and we need to move forward.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Going forward in the interim, do you think the Conservatives need to do a deal, an official deal, with anyone? Will they try and do that, or will they just carry on?
KILIAN BOURKE: I would say two things. Firstly I think we need to change how the Council works. So I’ve submitted a Motion to the first Full Meeting of Council, and we want to shift decision making power away from a cabinet system towards something less centralised that reflects the political climate. The political climate has changed. The Council needs to change with it. In terms of how decisions are made moving forward, I think that other councils and Parliament work by having shifting majorities, and there will be occasions when Labour and the Tories agree, and there will be times when other combinations forming a majority agree, and we’re always talking to other parties about trying to agree positions on individual policies.
CHRIS MANN: When I talked to Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, to Labour and others about UKIP, you all seemed to react as if there was a bad smell under your nose. Are they not welcome?
KILIAN BOURKE: I think they took a lot of people by surprise. It’s not entirely clear what they stand for in terms of local government. My impression is that they’re a libertarian party, which actually is a very extreme form of right wing politics, which is really against taxation to a large extent, and against public services, against public transport, and they don’t take climate change seriously. And we have to see what they stand for, what they propose.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Peter Reeve is the UKIP Leader. You’ll be meeting with the County Council again when he brings his other eleven members. Peter.
PETER REEVE: Good afternoon.
CHRIS MANN: Right wing?
PETER REEVE: Right wing is absolutely ridiculous. UKIP is a libertarian party. It’s at the centre ground of public opinion. It’s always interesting listening to these politicians when they come out, because suddenly I realise again just how out of touch they really are. The Labour Group Leader is trying to cover up the fact that those above him, who give him his orders, from his party, are refusing to work with the Liberal Democrats, not with UKIP. And for him to say we don’t understand how councils work, I’ve spent four years working out how that council works, and I see quite well what’s going on.
CHRIS MANN: They seem to have mocked you though, don’t they, with your suggestion that you could form a coalition. No-one’s prepared to go into it with you.
PETER REEVE: Well let’s just listen to what Kilian just said. I said technically, and it would be very difficult, but technically we could. And whilst we’re waiting for the Tories to stop bashing each other up and decide who their new Leader is, and in fact I’ve just received an email from the Council saying they don’t know who their Acting Leader is right now, I’m being told that Nick Clarke is still Leader of the Council. And what Mac’s told us is complete chaos. But that’s a story probably for tomorrow, for the morning shows. What Kilian is suggesting ..
CHRIS MANN: You got an email from the Council saying that Nick Clarke is still the Leader?
PETER REEVE: It’s been suggested to me that because of legal changes in 2011. Mac McGuire isn’t the Acting Leader.
CHRIS MANN: I understood that Nick Clarke was a councillor until Sunday night.
PETER REEVE: Cabinet Members are only Cabinet Members up to Sunday night, but that doesn’t apply to the Leader of the Council.
PETER REEVE: That’s a story for tomorrow. Today’s story though, and I’ll take issue with Kilian. UKIP is .. our group is very much in favour of public transport. In fact we’ve been much more innovative than the other parties by providing solutions to the gap ..
CHRIS MANN: You see one of the problems with UKIP is yes, people have voted for you. You’ve had a protest vote there. But most of your members didn’t even put out any publicity.
PETER REEVE: Now Chris you ..
CHRIS MANN: They don’t stand for anything do they?
PETER REEVE: Chris, you know it’s not a protest vote at all as much as I do.
CHRIS MANN: Well these people didn’t put out any publicity. They didn’t do any campaigning. How did people know what they stood?
PETER REEVE: One of two of them didn’t. The majority of our candidates were very clear. We were very clear on where we stand on taxation. Kilian seems very clear about where we stand, although he doesn’t get that we look to alternative measures. There are other options in terms of much more along the lines with the Cambridgeshire Future Transport, but run properly in a way the Tories haven’t.What’s really interesting is what Kilian said afterwards. He said exactly what I proposed this morning, moving away from the cabinet system …
CHRIS MANN: So there is agreement here.
KILIAN BOURKE: There is a point of agreement in that this morning I submitted a Motion to Council which calls for a re-aggregation of powers away from the Cabinet, possibly switching to a committee system, possibly having beefed up overview and scrutiny, but essentially giving ordinary members, ordinary councillors, a say in the day to day decision making of the Council, and trying to involve the public more as well. And look, I’m going to talk to all of the political groups including UKIP, and see if we can shift power away from the centralised way in which the Conservatives have been running it, and try to forge a cross-party agreement on individual policies ..
PETER REEVE: And that’s exactly what I said in my interview this morning.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And you welcome that.
PETER REEVE: I do very much welcome that. UKIP have always said they oppose the cabinet system.
CHRIS MANN: We have to leave it there gentlemen. Thank you both for joining us.