Calls for a by-election as former indie councillor joins the Conservatives

It was announced yesterday that former independent Town Councillor Louise Passey has joined the Conservative party, increasing the number of Tories on the council to 19 while reducing the number of independents to just 3.

louise passey, ewan mackey and charlotte hodivala

Louise Passey (left) with Ewan Mackey and Charlotte Hodivala

In a statement Cllr Louise Passey criticised the Independents for Sutton group claiming that it “…is going through a period of great uncertainty and challenge” and that there is a “clear lack of focus, structure, (and) cohesiveness”. She concluded by saying that, “In becoming a Conservative on this Council I believe I am securing the best possible future for all of us who are proud to call Royal Sutton Coldfield our home.”

Some Sutton Vesey residents have expressed their dismay over the move having only elected Cllr Passey as an independent a few months ago. There has also been some calls for a by-election from across the Sutton Coldfeld District.

I put the question of a by-election to the chairman of the Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association, Cllr Ewan Mackey, who said:

“Well first of all there is a cost implication. Last time I was told it was about £55,000 to hold a by-election and as this would come out of the Town Council funds it is not a good use of the money.

“Furthermore, Louise will still represent all the residents in Vesey Ward regardless of how they voted. There has been a call from many parties to rise above party politics and that everyone should pitch in together. It is a bit irrelevant which party Louise stands for when she is going to be fighting on behalf of all the residents of Vesey.”

According to the National Association of Local Councils (NELC) the component costs of holding a local council election would appear to be:

  • Returning officer – the fee they receive;
  • Clerical support – clerical and administrative resources needed;
  • Premises – hiring of polling stations and a count venue;
  • Polling staff – fees paid to duty staff at the polling stations;
  • Postage – the outgoing and incoming cost of postal votes;
  • Ballot papers – the printing costs;
  • Polling cards – the printing costs;
  • Labour – incidental costs, such as the delivery of ballot papers;
  • Transport – incidental costs, such as the delivery of equipment for polling stations;
  • Count – fees payable to staff at the count; and
  • Notices and stationery – for statutory forms, other printing, etc.

In a paper on Local Parish and Town Council Costs, NELC states that…”It is district, borough or unitary councils which manage the local council election process and they can fully re-charge all reasonable costs incurred. Any decisions to reduce or waive the re-charge are ultimately for individual districts/boroughs/unitaries to take.

“Re-charge costs quoted during this research have been £14k (Stanley Town Council) and £11k (Alwoodley Parish Council in Leeds) for a full local council election, and £3k (Shrewsbury Town Council) for a by-election. Further research would be needed to find out if these are broadly representative figures or how far costs vary. They come from larger local councils, so may be at the upper end of the range.”

Although to be clear, the NELC figure refers to direct costs and not the indirect costs which will likely increase the cost quite considerably.

Vesey Councillor at both City and Town level, Rob Pocock (Lab) commented on Cllr Passey’s move to the Conservative party:

“Most Sutton residents want to see a broad range of views represented on the Town Council and do not really want national party politics brought into it. That is why the ‘Independents for Sutton’ candidates got such a strong public mandate at the ballot box just 3 months ago. Only half the voters at this year’s Council elections supported the Conservatives in Sutton, and they certainly don’t want the Town Council to become a one-party state.

“To all those who share this view, I say don’t be disheartened – stand up, voice your independence and speak out for what you believe. There is no mandate on the streets of Sutton Coldfield for Conservative political machine’s obsessive desire for total dominance here. In fact people are fed up with it.

“You get setbacks every day but this is the time when you have to be brave, be bold and believe in the future. A few defections cannot override the underlying verdict of the voters which, year on year, is steadily slipping away from the Conservatives and towards a much broader, more balanced and wide ranging mix of local opinions. I have fought for this aim for many years, and this latest event simply strengthens the resolve of all of us who believe in this better future!”

Also responding to the move and Cllr Passey’s comments Independents for Sutton spokesman, Jim Haywood, said:

“It was disappointing to hear from the press that Louise Passey had decided to give up the independent banner she had been elected under and move to the Conservative group on the Town Council.

“The IfS group has always drawn from across the political spectrum, bringing people together to work for the common good, this is why Louise’s statement is so disappointing. Her desire to work towards making Sutton Coldfield an inclusive town for groups with additional needs is commended and supported by IfS and her focus on a single issue could well have brought results. Louise clearly though feels this point is better served with the support of the controlling group on the council.

“As for the claims in her statement of the group being a route for individual gain, IfS feel this is more than a little unfair as the group works for residents and we help each other but Louise’s decision places her outside of that ethos. She has clearly made a move that benefits her over the group and those who elected her as an independent candidate.

“IfS is a vehicle to enable independent candidates to work together to inform the electorate of their candidacy and to promote the idea of independent residents being involved in the Town Council. As independents we have pooled resources to campaign together. We are not a political machine and we encourage independence of mind and listening to residents’ views rather than pushing a party political manifesto.

“Louise joined IfS because she claimed she was committed to being independent. If she was unhappy with IfS, she could have left IfS and remained an independent councillor that the electorate voted for. Joining the Conservative Party has let down the electorate who voted for an independent councillor and she should now consider doing the right thing and resign as a Town Councillor so that the electorate can decide in a by-election who they really want to represent them.”

Tom Pratt, IfS committee member and founding member added:

“It’s important to remember that Independents for Sutton was only set up in January of this year. Despite not having the sophisticated, established machinery of other local parties, we’ve come a long way in that time, including getting four independent councillors elected in May. Political parties are always in a state of evolution, and this is no different with us. Candidates, councillors and other group members have been contributing to the development of Independents for Sutton into a group which will campaign effectively on behalf of all residents living in Sutton Coldfield – we would also welcome others who would like to become involved in our group.“

See also: Sutton Coldfield Town Councillor Louise Passey Joins Conservative Party

17 Responses

  1. Richard says:

    One of the more amusing incidents in the election campaign for the Town Council was the suggestion by Councillor Mackey that independents were trying to ‘engineer the election in their favour’. He suggested that their proposals amounted to ‘going down the route of North Korea.

    So what do we have a few months on? Holding a by-election in Vesey Ward is, apparently, ‘not a good use of Town Hall funds’. The councillor involved refuses to submit herself for possible re-election. Who said irony was dead?

    A reminder. The Town Council has over £1.5m in the bank with, as far as I am aware, few ideas on how to spend it on. The Steering Group which set the precept to raise such a ridiculously high sum was Tory dominated. Indeed Cllr. Mackey was a member.

  2. Tony Cannon says:

    I can understand Councillor Pocock’ s view, after all he is a lifelong Labour politician who has to attack, on principle, anybody who professes to hold conservative views. However, this actually promotes the discord and division which he professes to want to remove from local politics. Maybe his objective is to promote a socialist agenda through others?

    IFS, I would suggest, needs to distance itself from all political parties to be viewed as truly independent.

    Louise Passey was elected to the Town Council because of who she is and not because she was standing under the IFS banner, if this was not the case all four Independents would have been elected in Vesey as everyone who voted for Liz Parry would also have voted for the other three

    The Town Council is not national politics, to demand a ‘bi election’ is just an example of a willingness to waste resident’s money on a political point which has no bearing on the efficient running of the Town Council. Louise Passey will do the same job irrespective of her political stance and is working extremely hard on behalf of all Vesey residents.

  3. Rob Pocock says:

    Tony Cannon is wrong – I do not “attack on principle, anyone who holds Conservative views”. Far from it, I have my ears chewed off regularly by stalwart Labour people for my tendency to speak out and support Conservative representatives when they talk sense – for example I have gone on record in BCC committee in praising Anne Underwood for her efforts in working with me to save the Town Hall, and also David Pears for bringing the parties together on the Town Council in an embryonic power-sharing agreement. Check the webstream if you want the evidence!

    I also support a strong independent voice on the Town Council and indeed encouraged voters to support independents as well as Labour at the Town Council elections. Supporters of the Independents are downhearted at losing one of their number, I want to encourage them to redouble their efforts in the face of this setback, and I certainly do not support the Sutton Conservatives’ obsessive desire to hold a monopoly on power when they only have the backing of half the Sutton electorate. That is the point I am making. I challenge Mr Cannon to find anything in my statement that is about “attacking on principle, anyone who holds Conservative views” this is a wilful misrepresentation of what I’ve said.

  4. Tony Cannon says:

    I call it as I see it and while I acknowledge that Cllr. Pocock has given credit to Cllr. Underwood and Cllr Pears for their support on some of his initiatives I would like to see some examples where he has done the same in return – I am sure there must be some but I cannot think of any.

    Sutton Conservatives hold on to power ‘as he puts it’ because that is what the majority of the electorate want, there is nothing obsessive about it and that in my view is a misrepresentation on his part, willful or otherwise. Make no mistake if ‘Labour’ thought they could have won control by fielding 6 candidates in each ward for the ‘Sutton Town Council Election’ they would have!

  5. Richard says:

    Oh dear. Another Tory (Mr Cannon was an unsuccessful candidate in Vesey Ward) who thinks democracy is too expensive. The party took a rather different view when Douglas Carswell defected to UKIP. No argument then that a by-election was unnecessary.

    As to Mr Cannon’s point about votes, voters select a candidate by considering, for example, their polices, their personality or a combination of these and other attributes. This accounts for the variation in party support that Mr Cannon finds so puzzling.

    What is certain is that some people voted for LP because she was an independent. Those people have been short changed and to argue that one of the richest Town Councils in the country cannot afford a by-election (and remember, the supposed £55,000 cost is unsupported guesswork) is supremely undemocratic.

  6. Tony Cannon says:

    Yes, Richard I did stand as a first time candidate for public office in the Town Council election and it was a privilege to do so. It was an even greater honour that over 2000 Vesey Residents voted for me.

    I take issue with your point about “one of the richest Town Councils in the country” the money comes from the residents and it is the duty of the council to spend it wisely on their behalf. The Town Council election in May cost the residents over £100,000 The elections planned for 2018 based on the proposed boundary changes will cost the same if not more. All this has to come out of the precept so it is not a question of democracy being too expensive it just about being pragmatic.

    There are six Town Councillors in Vesey ward who represent all the residents, not just the ones who voted for them individually – to suggest otherwise is to undermine the principle of democracy. Louise Passey I am sure will continue to represent all the residents of Vesey Ward in the same way as she is now.

    Finally, there is no comparison with the Douglas Carswell situation at National level and to try and draw one is disingenuous

  7. Paul Long says:

    I can’t sit by and not comment any longer. Tony’s comments seem to suggest that we just accept his version of democracy. Democracy does have a cost associated with it, and unless we want to be a North Korean state as suggested by Ewan Mackey then we must be prepared to pay for that democracy. The £50,000 figure is dreamed up out of the sky and Najm’s brief but factual research suggests it could be as low as £3,000 but certainly not as high as 50k. A by-election is certainly not a waste of money but a process of letting residents have a democratic vote. I can imagine that if a Tory had defected to IfS or Labour that they would be screaming for a by-election.

    Further, to suggest that people only vote for a person is naive at its best. Some people vote for a person (as typified by Rob Pocock) but many simply vote for a party. Look at Four Oaks Ward – are you seriously suggesting that people in Four Oaks knew who the six Tory candidates were individually? Some will have done, but most voted because they wore a blue rosette.

    Then there is the alphabetical rule. Who was the Tory who gained the most votes in Vesey? Top of the alphabetical list. Now Jan is a good councillor and I wouldn’t knock her, but the reality is that the other 5 didn’t get as many votes because they came further down the list alphabetically – there is a lot of research to back this up.

    So, if Louise had stood as a Conservative, then how many votes would she have got? Bearing in mind she got the fewest of the elected IfS candidates, then it is unlikely she would have been elected at all. Such a shame for Tom Pratt who lost out by the alphabetical rule and who would have made a superb councillor.

    So, looking at it pragmatically with all the evidence, the only fair and morally right thing to do is to test out the feeling of the electorate and for Louise to resign and call a by-election. If she is re-elected, then fine, but the voters must be allowed to decide. The only reason a resignation would not happen would be if a councillor felt they might lose or did not have the scruples to let the public decide. Legally Louise does not have to resign, but morally is a different matter. Let’s leave it to her to decide if she wants to do the morally right thing or not.

  8. Tony Cannon says:

    I wondered where you had gone Paul, we were not talking about Four Oaks Ward or Conservative Candidates for that matter. We can also debate election theory at length but that is what it is theory.

    I have been called many things but very rarely naive which I must say I find condescending on your part.

    You seem to want to move the discussion in to hypothetical areas which is a waste of time. In 2018 the town will pass its verdict on all councillors who stand for re-election. In the meantime, I suggest you concentrate on making a meaningful contribution to the programs which will benefit all residents as per your remit and stop your attempted character assassination which is totally unjustified and perhaps a symptom of the problem within IFS

  9. Richard says:

    Tony, there is every comparison with Cardwell since the principle involved is the same, namely, should someone who switches allegiance after they have been elected, resubmit themselves to their electorate?

    Someone leaves the Tories – you want a by-election.
    Someone joins the Tories – you don’t.

    And if the last election cost us so much – who signed off on the invoice? I don’t recall seeing it in Interim or Town Council minutes and my impression was that BCC bore most (or all) of the cost.

  10. Tony Cannon says:

    Sorry Richard but you need to study the ‘Interim Parish Council Papers’ more closely, there was some discussion with BCC about a reduction but I do not think that had a positive outcome, there was also a suggestion that the election costs be atomised over the life of the council so the full cost did not hit in one year.

    As far as Carswell is concerned there was no UKIP Parliamentary Party for him to join but I am sure someone with much greater knowledge of the legalities involved can confirm whether under those circumstances he could have continued to serve as an MP without a by election having resigned the party whip – I suspect not. I would also re-iterate my point that each ward is represented by 6 ‘Town Councillors’ not just one as in the case of Carswell. and Clacton.

    This then brings me back to the principle of not wasting the resident’s money on un-necessary expenditure which does nothing to improve services or facilities within the town.

  11. Paul Long says:

    Tony, your attempt at making this personal does not help. The election theory was to explain how people don’t all vote for a single person but vote for a party, a person or a combination of both. This was to back up the point that if somebody joins a different party, they should give the electorate an opportunity to decide if they still want that person to become elected.

    Regarding problems within IfS, there is no longer a problem.

  12. Paul Smith says:

    I have to post a comment here: I voted for Louise Passey in the election because she was an independent. I wanted a balance of power in the new council, and would certainly vote differently now.

    To suggest that it is “irrelevant which party Louise stands for” is insulting to voters. If it is irrelevant then why have parties on the ballot paper at all?

    Holding a by-election when someone changes their political allegiance is common practice for good reason: most voters do not know the candidates personally, and party allegiance – and the balance of power – is a key factor in how votes are cast.

    If Louise was an honourable politician she would resign and trigger a by-election to confirm whether she still had a mandate to represent the voters. Refusing to do so undermines her credibility and the credibility of the council when it has barely begun.

  13. Tony Cannon says:

    Louise is doing excellent work on behalf of the more vulnerable in our society and personally I want that work to continue and not be disrupted by a by-election which will make no difference to the balance of power on the council. However, that is my view and I accept that not everybody will share it. I have not said anything to insult the voters and that is an attempt to dissemble on your part. I have stated merely that the council has a duty not to waste money on unnecessary expenditure.

    • Paul Smith says:

      Tony, I was referring to the quote in the article from the chairman of the Conservative Association, there was no reference to your comments.

      I don’t accept that someone doing good work is an argument for not being “disrupted” by a by-election. I’m sure most politicians are doing good work when their switch of party triggers a by-election. It’s more about proper democratic process. I disagree that a by-election is “unnecessary expenditure”, I’d say it is fundamental to what a local council does. If anything it is harder to do good work when anyone can turn around and say “You don’t have a legitimate mandate”.

      • Tony Cannon says:

        Thanks for the clarification Paul – I think we will have to agree to differ on this one. All councillors, both City and Town will face the electorate under the new ward structure in 2018 which is not long to wait. Come next year everyone will be in campaigning mode again.

  14. Rob Pocock says:

    mmm – politicians who don’t want their good work to be disrupted by the distraction of elections – and wouldn’t schools be so much easier for teachers to run if it wasn’t for those wretched children running around the place???