A recent opinion poll showed the LibDems lack any credibility. It is easy to see why.
LibDems jump on any passing bandwagon, are all things to all men. LibDems were against the war with Iraq, then once war began, fell in behind Bliar, then when it all started to fall apart, were once again opposed to war (and of course always had been). Leading up to the last local elections, LibDems passed themselves off as the anti-EU party, once the elections were safely out of the way, they were urging Bliar to do more to force ever closer union. LibDems like to portray themselves as community activists, pushing for decision making at the lowest possible level, but this is not compatible with the EU. Everyone can see this, but not it seems the LibDems, whose political philosophy, if they they have one at all, could be summed up by, 'have your cake and eat it'.
Jenny Tonge MP spoke out against the abuses and atrocities taking place in the Middle East. For having the audacity to tell the truth, she was summarily dismissed from the LibDem front bench team. Jenny Tonge is at the forefront of the call for the impeachment of Bliar. Her fellow LibDems sit on their hands. Jenny Tonge is willing to work with activists and has earnt their respect. Is that why she is not made to feel welcome within her own party? As Jenny Tonge MP has found to her cost, integrity and climbing the greasy political pole do not necessarily go hand in hand.
No small wonder then that during last week's LibDem shindig down in Bournemouth, the BBC website had an icon of Charles Kennedy facing both ways at once as the link for conference information.
In Farnborough, every time the community organises to oppose something, the LibDems try to claim the credit. If they were to be believed, they stopped an unwanted Test Drive Centre in Cove, are leading the fight on the closure of local Post Offices, were at the forefront opposing a business airport. All of which is news to the local community. At least one member has tried to claim he was opposing the unwanted town centre redevelopment. We can only assume it was an accident when his hand shot up in favour of granting outline planning consent at a recent planning meeting and when he spoke in favour he didn't know what he was talking about.
LibDems claim to be the new green party. It takes more than a thin veneer of greenwash to make a party green.
The LibDems pushed through the Newbury Bypass. The LibDems are pushing expansion of Liverpool Airport. In Farnborough, the LibDems helped push through an unwanted business airport. In Farnborough, the LibDems are pushing through unwanted town centre redevelopment, which includes demolition of half the town centre for an unwanted superstore and demolition of social housing for a car park for the superstore.
The only green parties, those with a genuine environmental and anti-war agenda, are the Green Party and the recently formed Respect alliance. In pretending to be green or anti-war, the LibDems are only doing the one thing they are good at, jumping on passing bandwagons. And not forgetting, they are the convenient dustbin into which to cast a protest vote.
A close look at the childish antics of the Farnborough LibDems, who the local community see as a bunch of useless tossers, and it is easy to see why the LibDems lack credibility.
Their group leader was down at last week's LibDem shindig in Bournemouth telling everyone how well they had done in the recent local elections, that the Rushmoor LibDems had gone up from 10 to 12 seats on Rushmoor Borough Council.
Er, not quite, as a closer scrutiny of the results shows.
The Rotten Borough of Rushmoor consists of the towns of Farnborough and Aldershot, and what we have to tell is a tale of two towns. In Farnborough, the LibDems bucked the national trend. They failed to capture a marginal seat from the Tories and only just managed to hang on to other seats. They failed to add a single extra seat. Whereas in Aldershot, community activist Peter Sandy standing on a LibDem ticket took a safe Labour seat, pushing the Tories into a humiliating third place. LibDems were third in this seat at the previous election. Another Aldershot seat was taken by the LibDems with the candidate dangling on the coattails of Peter Sandy. And in the surrounding wards the LibDem vote improved.
One would have expected the LibDems to have been pleased at this amazing result, especially in light of their abysmal Farnborough performance, but no, they went straight over to the Tories at the election count and said they did not wish to see Peter Sandy elected and it was a problem that would have to be sorted out.
Within days of the local elections, Peter Sandy was summoned to appear before the leader of the Farnborough LibDems. Not, as one would have expected, to be congratulated for an excellent result, but to have the riot act read to him. He was told he was to stop criticising Pavilion (a local housing association), stop criticising useless council officials, or in other words, stop acting on behalf of his constituents.
And so it has gone on. Instead of supporting a hard working councillor and following his good example, the Farnborough LibDems, especially their leader, have done everything possible to undermine him and sabotage his good work.
- Farnborough LibDems running a whispering campaign, telling the Tories they wish he had never been elected, and that they wish to see him kicked off the council.
- The leader going behind the back of Peter Sandy to Pavilion to tell them they did not need to carry out the repairs he had submitted on behalf of tenants.
Peter Sandy has been told who he can and cannot speak to, that he cannot speak to the press without the permission of the leader. This is a bit rich coming from a leader who at the previous two local elections, behind the back of his own party, had secret negotiations with independent candidates that he would not run candidates where they were standing. He was shit scared that if they had run candidates across Farnborough, his little group of useless councillors would have been wiped out. The LibDem leader then failed to keep his word and ran candidates anyway. LibDems once again being all things to all men.
Meetings of the Farnborough LibDems are like a meeting of schoolchildren. The leader throws childish tantrums if he does not get his way, shouting at those who do not agree with him, that he is the leader and they must do as he says.
One would have thought the LibDems would have been pleased to have a hard working councillor. But it seems a councillor of independent mind, is not what is wanted. The leader wants mindless sheep, lobby fodder.
The problem for the Farnborough LibDems is that having a councillor who is working hard on behalf of the local community, who week after week is exposing maladministration in the local council, is showing them up for how useless they are. And the leader cannot understand why the local press never seem to wish to talk to him. Maybe it is because he never does anything interesting, and certainly never has anything worthwhile to say. And if the press did talk to him or he was quoted, he'd only be made to look a fool as he hasn't a clue what goes on in Farnborough, let alone Aldershot.
The pathetic excuse of the Farnborough LibDems is that they have full time jobs and Peter Sandy does not. Conveniently forgetting that a near-fatal workplace accident left Peter Sandy disabled. In a wheelchair, Peter Sandy does more than his so-called able-bodied colleagues. The truth is that Peter Sandy cares, it is that simple.
A measure of how useless the Farnborough LibDems are, is that if people of Farnborough want anything done, they have to contact Peter Sandy, an Aldershot councillor, as they know to contact Farnborough councillors is a waste of time.
The big difference is that Peter Sandy works with the local community, not against.
Peter Sandy, together with activists in the local community, has been pushing Pavilion hard to carry out repairs. Privately, Farnborough LibDems fall over backwards to find excuses for Pavilion and do nothing themselves.
Following a damning Audit Commission report on Pavilion, Peter Sandy invited his fellow Farnborough LibDem councillors to visit Aldershot and see for themselves the state of Pavilion estates and hear what the tenants had to say. Such was the concern for the plight of the tenants, that out of ten Farnborough LibDem councillors, only two bothered to turn up. After about an hour, they had had enough, made their feeble excuses and left. Assurances given to tenants by the leader during his brief visit have proven to be hot air, weeks later, nothing has been done.
For some reason, the Farnborough LibDem leader is paranoid at what he might read in the local press or on Indymedia UK, paranoid at what local community activists are up to. He repeatedly calls Peter Sandy to ask what local activists are up to, other Farnborough LibDem councillors make late night phone calls to make defamatory comments about local activists.
Declaring war on local activists who are working hard on behalf of the local community is not a very good move. Not unless the Farnborough LibDems wish to face annihilation.
The obvious solution to the dilemma the Farnborough LibDems find themselves in, actually get out there, work with the community, seems to be beyond them. But that means hard graft. It is a lot easier to simply attend meetings, collect expenses and jump to the tune of council officials.
It should be noted that this criticism of Rushmoor LibDems only applies to the councillors in Farnborough (and then not all). It does not apply to Peter Sandy or his fellow grassroots LibDems in Aldershot who have been working hard on behalf of the local community, especially tenants of Pavilion. Although even in Aldershot, there are one or two who don't seem to be pulling their weight (who for the moment will remain nameless).
The LibDems have two councillors in Aldershot, but may as well have only one, as the other councillor has yet to be seen to do anything. At council meetings he sits dumbstruck and has to be told how to vote. His only activity is to stuff his face with biscuits and occasionally walk around to the Members' room to stuff his face with sandwiches. On present performance, his chances of being reselected for the Aldershot LibDems are extremely remote.
Peter Sandy has demonstrated infinite patience that he has tolerated what has been going on for so long. There must have been many occasions when he has been tempted to resign from the Rushmoor LibDem group and dissociate himself from the Farnborough LibDems, if for no other reason than being tarred with the same brush.
The final straw for Peter Sandy came when he was told that if he agreed with a report on Indymedia UK, he would be kicked out of the party. Furthermore, anyone else who agreed, would also be kicked out of the party.
What we are seeing with Peter Sandy is a new breed of councillor, one who works with the community not against. The old breed you see at election time, never to be seen again.
With Peter Sandy he is working with the community, regular meetings are held to which the community is invited, between times he is out on the street. The council is there to serve the people, all its resources are there to be used on behalf of the people. Not quite participatory democracy, not yet Porto Alegre in Brazil, but a big step in the right direction.
Traditionally, politicians seek power so they can lord it over the peasants. We should all know our place, it is not for us to attempt in anyway to influence decisions made by our lords and masters, or if we do, we are abusing the system. Elections are about grabbing and holding on to power, getting your snout stuck into the trough. Thankfully, things are beginning to change. The people see politicians as enablers, there to pull the levers of power on our behalf.
We need a lot more councillors like Peter Sandy, not just in Rushmoor, but across the country.
Peter Sandy, as a community activist, was always able to work with councillors of all political parties. This continued once he was elected as a new councillor, with the notable exception of his own party.
One member who also sits on the board of Pavilion, is currently under investigation by the Standards Board for England and facing the possibility of five years disqualification as a councillor, for voting through a planning application to which Pavilion were an interested party. This has now triggered a Judicial Review to quash the planning application, with the relevant councillors facing the possibility of surcharge if the taxpayers accrue costs. No action has been taken against the councillor for bringing the party into disrepute, and the party has just re-appointed him to the same planning committee!
Could this be because he just happens to be the father-in-law of the leader of the Farnborough LibDems? This would also explain the inaction over Pavilion and the attempts to discredit Peter Sandy.
In resigning from the Rushmoor LibDem group, Peter Sandy has the full backing of the Aldershot LibDems who are appalled and disgusted at the disgraceful treatment of their hard working councillor. Peter Sandy also has the full backing of the local community, who like the LibDems in Aldershot, are equally appalled and disgusted at the way in which their hard working councillor has been treated.
Monday night, the Farnborough LibDems resembled a meeting of headless chickens, but they have no one to blame but themselves. The only surprise is not that Peter Sandy resigned, but that he stomached this useless bunch of hypocrites for so long. The leader has a lot of explaining to do, how he drove out their best councillor.
The leader's paranoia increased still further, when the local press tracked him down on Friday and sought his comments that he had lost his best councillor. He didn't know. He did not know because he had not bothered to check what was in his official council pigeon hole.
A measure of how low the leader has sunk, once he learnt from the local press on Friday that a councillor had resigned from his group and the reasons why, he spent the rest of the weekend doing his best to discredit Peter Sandy. Such tactics have a very nasty habit of backfiring. The leader forgets at his peril, that Peter Sandy has the full support and backing of the local community. Attacks on Peter Sandy, who is only performing to the best of his ability what has been asked of him by the local community, are seen as direct attacks on the local community.
Farnborough LibDems are going to have a hard job explaining their activities at the next election, especially as Pavilion tenants form a large part of their electorate. And less anyone should forget, it was the Farnborough LibDems who pushed through privatisation of Rushmoor council housing a decade ago.
Charles Kennedy would be well advised to launch an urgent inquiry into the dysfunctional Farnborough LibDems. Apart their activities in relation to Pavilion and Peter Sandy, which have brought the party into disrepute, they have probably thrown away the best chance they ever had of dislodging a highly unpopular local Tory MP at the next general election. Unless of course Kennedy does not care that his councillors in Farnborough are a local laughing stock.
But whether or not Kennedy cares and/or launches an inquiry, the situation with the Farnborough LibDems is not good for local democracy.
A special thanks to LibDems in Farnborough (who for obvious reasons will remain nameless), without whose help and insight, this article and previous comments, would not have been possible.
Rebecca Chard, Sandy walks out on party, Aldershot Mail, 28 September 2004
Peter Sandy quits Lib Dems, Farnborough Mail, 28 September 2004