07:20 Thursday 29th May 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Arrogant aggressive and bombastic. Words used by the Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson to describe the Leader of the Council there Marco Cereste. It follows an interview councillor Cereste did on the Bigger Breakfast Show yesterday with me where he insisted he would stay as Leader, despite the fact his party lost overall control in last week’s local election. I asked him whether the results meant he should question his position as Leader.
MARCO CERESTE: No. Absolutely not. What it is is a message that we’ve got to understand, and we as a Conservative Group understand it very very well. Because we are the only party in the country that is offering a referendum on Europe. We understand the message very well. We respect the voters’ views. And we will be working .. we will be working to make sure that we listen ..
CHRIS MANN: We’re talking about Peterborough City Council, not what’s happening in Europe, and the fact that you’ve lost overall control.
MARCO CERESTE: No. No. I disagree. No. No. No.
CHRIS MANN: Is that not a vote about you Marco?
MARCO CERESTE: Listen. Listen. If you want me to continue speaking to you, then you must let me speak. If you want to listen to yourself, you don’t need me on the other end of the telephone.
CHRIS MANN: Do you not agree that this vote was about matters to do with Peterborough City Council?
MARCO CERESTE: What I’m saying to you is that whilst the vote elected local authority councillors, throughout the entire country the same thing repeated itself. So it’s a national issue. That doesn’t mean that we locally don’t need to listen to the voters, because we absolutely do need to listen to the voters. And we as a party will listen to the voters.
CHRIS MANN: So how will you be doing that? What are you going to change?
MARCO CERESTE: Well what we will do is we will continue to do what is necessary for Peterborough, and that is to deliver good services efficiently, effectively, keep the council taxes low .. as low as we possibly can, and work within our budget, which is what we’ve been doing all along. And if you look at the record of our Conservative administration, it is phenomenal. We are outperforming most of the cities in the entire country.
CHRIS MANN: So that’s what Marco Cereste had to say live on this programme yesterday morning to me. Listening to that was Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, a fellow Conservative of course, and he joins me now. Morning Stewart.
STEWART JACKSON: Good morning Chris.
CHRIS MANN: What did you think of Marco Cereste’s attitude to what happened at the polls?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’m disappointed, because as I said this morning in my Telegraph column, in the Peterborough Telegraph, there’s been a failure to acknowledge the verdict of the electorate, that the party has lost overall control of the City Council. And I think this bombastic business as usual pretty arrogant attitude, an unwillingness to take criticism, no humility or contrition, really gets up people’s noses. And I think we need to take a different approach. We need a more collaborative approach, a more consensual approach, less confrontational. And we need a Leader who’s going to listen a bit more.
CHRIS MANN: And yet he was re-elected as Leader of the Conservatives unopposed apparently.
STEWART JACKSON: Well he was, but the nomination was put in before the local elections, so the group meeting was fixed. And obviously people were not aware of what the results were. Under councillor Cereste a third of the group has been lost in the last four years. They’ve gone from 43 to 28 seats. So the idea that everything is going well is not true. I have knocked on doors for four Conservative leaders in the last 15 years, and the doorstep response to this particular Leader has been absolutely terrible in the last local election. I’ve knocked on doors for Neville Sanders, Ben Franklin, for John Peach, and it’s been very very difficult.
CHRIS MANN: So what is it about Marco Cereste that so divides opinion?
STEWART JACKSON: Well he’s very dynamic. He’s very ambitious. He does have strong opinions. Those are all commendable assets. But he has pursued some incredibly unpopular and disastrous policies. The so-called energy park solar farm white elephant, the brown bin charge, hiking executive pay a few weeks before the local elections, there’s no political nous there And it’s not just Conservative supporters and voters that have been angry, it’s council tax payers of all parties, who support all parties. And I think that is very worrying. And the other thing is that he’s completely out of touch on the issue of immigration. He seems to just parrot this line that unlimited immigration to Peterborough is a good thing and should be welcome, when people in the city from all backgrounds don’t take that view.
CHRIS MANN: In your column in the Peterborough Telegraph today which I’ve read you’re pretty strong, comparing him to Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Explain that one.
STEWART JACKSON: Well there just doesn’t seem to be the same sort of cut and thrust and give and take in the ruling Conservative group that there does in other healthy groups ruling and running local authorities across the country, where opposition is debated, dissent is seen as a healthy thing, candid friends are welcome. All these things are not welcome. There seems to be, with this Cabinet system, an issue of “if you’re not on my side you’re my enemy”.
CHRIS MANN: So does he treat it like a personal fiefdom then? Is that what you’re saying?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I think some people might make that accusation.
CHRIS MANN: Is this why people are turning away from traditional parties, from your own party, because of this kind of behaviour in general amongst Conservatives?
STEWART JACKSON: One of the things that concerns me is that many of the councillors in my own constituency have just been pushed to the margins in Peterborough. They’ve not been given the opportunity to influence policy, or have a say. I’ve not personally had a meeting with councillor Cereste for eighteen months, and I think that’s pretty shocking really.
CHRIS MANN: Have you tried to talk to him?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I do, but it’s sometimes very difficult. Despite what people say I have a very cordial relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, with Gillian Beasley the Chief Executive. I have a very good relationship, and I think he’s doing a great job, with John Holdich the Deputy Leader, who’s got a tough job running education in the city. But the Leader is something else, and I do think that we need a new approach. We need less grandiose vanity projects, and more new policies on things like housing, cleaning the streets.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s just imagine that Marco Cereste is listening. Maybe he is Stewart. Send him a message now. What would you say to him? Marco ..
STEWART JACKSON: I think he needs to understand that the electorate sent a message that they weren’t happy with some policies, that a business as usual approach to try and cobble together a majority on the Council is not the right approach. He needs a fundamental review of the way the Council is governed, and also the policies. We need to get back to bread and butter issues, improving schools, looking after the vulnerable people, cleaning the streets, and dump these silly vanity projects which have proved so unpopular like the energy park.
CHRIS MANN: OK thank you for that Stewart. Just a couple of questions about you. There’s a prediction in one of the leading Conservative blogs today that you might be back in favour with the Prime Minister, possibly as a whip. Have you heard anything?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’m keeping the phone on loud in the reshuffle Chris. Obviously I was in the Whip’s Office in Opposition. I’m a sort of poacher turned gamekeeper. I’m pretty independently minded, but I want to see the return of David Cameron and the Conservative-led Government, and I will do any job that’s asked of me.
CHRIS MANN: And speculation again in the papers today that Andrew Lansley’s about to stand down from South Cambrididgeshire’s seat of course, to take a job in Brussels. I asked him about it last week. He wasn’t denying it so to speak. What have you heard?
STEWART JACKSON: Well he was quite cagey I noticed. I listened very carefully to the language he used. I don’t know any more than anyone else but I think he is now the bookie’s favourite, so watch this space.
CHRIS MANN: Stewart Jackson, thank you very much indeed for joining me.