NORFOLK POLITICS: POWER, CORRUPTION, AND LIES?

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by Phil Di Palma, Norwich Green Party

There has been widespread Labour Party outrage since 9th May,  when the four Green councillors on Norfolk County Council (Norfolk CC) made public their decision — agreed in April after many months of discussion — to no longer support Labour’s George Nobbs, leader of a so-called “Rainbow Alliance” of Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP councillors since 2013. Two recent pieces in the Norwich Radical, by Josh Wilson and Hannah Rose, discuss this issue and the Greens’ role in a “Left Alliance”. Here, I will answer the questions “how can the Green Party justify withdrawing support for a party of the left”, and “has their decision resulted in a ‘new order’ at Norfolk CC?”.

Labour’s Record on Norfolk CC

Greens point to the Labour-led Alliance’s poor record under George Nobbs:

  1. Freezing Council Tax in 2014-15, at a time when even some Conservative-led councils were increasing it. Greens calculated that if Council tax had been increased by the legal maximum in 2014-15 and 2015-16, there would have been over £40m per annum more for services by 2019-20.
  1. Proposing £12m of cuts to Adult Social Care wellbeing payments in the period 2014-17, despite strong opposition from campaigning groups (the ramifications of this are still being felt today).
  1. Agreeing to put £1m back into the wellbeing budget after strong pressure from the Greens, then neglecting to mention Green involvement in the decision (a nail in the coffin of future Green deal making with Labour).
  1. Backing the £178.95m Northern Distributor Road (NDR).
  1. Letting Balfour Beatty hike their NDR contract by £30m (20%) without any negotiation, then bypassing proper committee scrutiny of the £9.9m portion for which Norfolk CC was responsible (Norfolk CC was subject to successful legal challenge on this by local campaigners).

(George Nobbs © Bill Smith)

  1. Supporting the King’s Lynn incinerator until forced to back down. George Nobbs often claims to have “stopped the incinerator”, but his 2013-14 Labour cabinet did everything they could to keep the project going. Intensive lobbying got the PFI credits removed, but he tried to hold out for several more months and build it without PFI money.
  1. Bullying one of their own councillors out of the Labour Party (listen to Alexandra Kemp’s Radio Norfolk interview here).
  1. Entering into a badly-negotiated draft devolution agreement with George Osborne which would almost certainly bequeath a Tory Mayor to East Anglia for the next 30 years, then realising in April that devolution was “a shambles”. See here for the Green argument.

Principled Politics?

In spite of this litany of failure, Labour maintain that Greens should support them to “keep the Tories out”.  Nationally, Sadiq Khan created an anti-Green unit which tried hard to unseat Caroline Lucas MP, but… hey, we should still support them because they hate the Tories more than they hate us!

The Green Party is an independent party with its own principles, policies and electoral following. It is not obliged to support any other party or parties, especially when those parties pursue an austerity agenda counter to Green principles.

On Norfolk CC, Green councillors backed the Alliance on a case-by-case basis for the past three years, but Labour’s ‘work together to keep the Tories out’ mantra was one-way, with little given in return. Norwich City Council is an even worse example of Labour partisanship. Labour’s attitude seems to be: support us on the County Council, while we shut you out on the City Council and shout down Green proposals which would benefit the city.

But didn’t the Greens ‘let the Tories in’ at Norfolk CC?

No. Labour’s claim that Green abstentions in the leadership vote “handed power to the Tories” relies on it being true that the Alliance controlled the Council prior to Monday 9th May, and that the Tories control the council now. In reality, the situation is more complex.

Ever since a Tory by-election win in November 2015, the make-up of Norfolk CC has been 41 Con, 14 Lab, 13 UKIP, 10 Lib Dem, 4 Green, and 2 non-aligned (1 ex-Lab, 1 ex-Con). The committee system, where most of the power lies, has a political balance based on these numbers. The Tories still have a 9-8 majority on two of the five main committees, with Alliance (plus non-formalised Green support) majorities of 9-8 on the other three. Committee memberships didn’t change on 9th May.

(Norfolk County Council election 2013 map © Wikimedia)

What has changed is the Leader/Deputy Leader of the Council, and chairs and vice chairs of committees. For example, the former chair of the Environment, Development and Transport committee, who will now be able to spend more time on his Norfolk estate watching his trees sink beneath the climate change floodwaters, was Cllr Richard “Toby” Coke, a UKIP climate change denier.

During Monday’s AGM, after the Conservatives’ Cliff Jordan had been voted leader, Green councillor Elizabeth Morgan asked Liberal Democrat Dan Roper why the Alliance was not proposing a slate of chairs and vice chairs for the four committees still to be voted on — a slate which the Greens would almost certainly have supported. He replied “we are throwing in the towel”, or words to that effect (see my Twitterspat with Dan Roper about this).

As a result of this Labour/Alliance weakness, Tory chairs and vice-chairs were elected unopposed to 4 of the 5 main committees. Chairs not only have casting votes in the event of a tie through absence or abstention, but also some control over the agenda. Those casting votes will now be Tory every time — no wonder Labour have been desperately trying to scapegoat the Greens.

Time and again, rather than attacking the Tories, Labour has directed its anger either internally (see Woodcock, Mann, Streeting et al, who attack their leader at every opportunity), or against the Greens.

As a small political group, the Greens’ job at Norfolk County Council is to scrutinise decisions and speak truth to power, not acquiesce in the mistakes and damaging policies of a larger party, whoever they may be.

Featured image: Norfolk County Hall © mira66 / Flickr

9 thoughts on “NORFOLK POLITICS: POWER, CORRUPTION, AND LIES?

  1. Earth calling Planet Green…you have just turned over leadership and control of a £1bn+ organisation to a Tory party that nationally stands for everything you claim you oppose.

    Locally on the issues you claim to care most about, you have let in a Tory leader that stands for the polar opposite of what you say you believe in. And a Tory deputy leader that was last in charge as services for the most vulnerable children in our County were wilfully wrecked.

    It gets worse. You even voted for a Tory deputy chairman [sic] of the County as Labour opposed. Of your own accord, you put your hands up to vote for a Tory.

    And you’ve done all of this without a shred of legitimacy.

    – Local Green voters turn into Labour voters at General Elections because it’s their chance best chance to oppose the Tories. Your voters are against the Tories.

    – Before you handed over the County to the Tories, you didn’t tell local voters that was your plan in the recent City Council election. If you’re so proud and sure of your supposed principles – why not? The answer is, you knew the response you’d get and you’d lose votes.

    – In 2013 when these Green County Councillors got elected, people though they were voting for a party that opposed the Tories. Instead, they got Councillors who let the Tories in.

    “The Green Party is an independent party with its own principles…” What [expletive deleted] principles are those?

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  2. “My personal belief is that progressives need to look very carefully at the electoral arithmetic and begin to think about where we need to work together to beat the Tories.” Guess who said this? Not Councillor George Nobbs but Caroline Lucas MP in February this year. The Greens’ abstention was a political miscalculation so massive it is visible from space, though not apparently so far from Brighton & Hove.

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  3. On the 9th May, the Association of Green Councillors boasted (I kid you not – check it out on their website): “Norfolk’s four Green county councillors have toppled the Labour leadership of the county by abstaining from voting for the Labour councillor George Nobbs who was seeking re-election for a fourth successive year. As a result he lost the election for council leadership today (Monday 9 May) and a Conservative won, leaving them to run the county”. Forget the nonsense and spin, the end product is Tory control. Good thing? You decide, but I know it won’t help any Green causes.

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  4. I wear my Labour Party membership on my sleeve and most people I meet soon realise that I’m a member. Since the Green Party councillors abstention handed the County Council leadership to the Conservatives, I have had people, not all Labour voters, literally go out of their way to tell me how betrayed, let down or simply astonished they feel at this decision; the words unforgivable, unbelievable and irresponsible have been used on more than one occasion. Frankly, Mr Di Palma’s rant will do nothing to heal the wounds the Greens have inflicted on themselves, and what is more important, the people of Norfolk.

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  5. I’ve heard a lot of attempts to justify this decision, but none of them entirely convincing, and many of my friends who still remain with the Greens are not happy about it (full disclosure: I left, and have been an active Labour supporter since the leadership contest). Personally, I oppose the NDR – but the Tories are not going to reverse that decision, so it’s irrelevant in terms of outcome. As for the incinerator, the Tories won’t rule out reopening the project, which I suspect means they would like to reopen it but are hoping to strengthen their position first – something it seems the Greens have now aided. It is also going to be unpopular that the Green County Councillors knew well in advance (as did Natalie Bennett) what they were planning but either their City Council colleagues didn’t, or they knew but kept quiet about it while seeking re-election. This seems like relevant information the voters might have cared to know, and I can’t see it playing well on the doorstep.
    On a wider perspective, we may see more coalitions and alliances and parties supporting each other on a case-by-case basis, especially if we get electoral reform. That is a risky thing for all parties (as recent experience has shown – hallo LibDems!) and for it to work people have to treat each other with respect and be less tribal, but also more policy-oriented. They also might have to be better negotiators and more clear about articulating what is negotiable for them and what isn’t. To take an instance which the article makes much of, why on earth did the Greens enter an alliance without specifying that the Environment, Development and Transport chair should not be a climate change denier, for goodness sake? Have they only just noticed the power that role carries, or what?
    Anyway, there it goes: it seems some opportunities have been lost by everyone. It might be a difficult time for the Greens, as they seem to be in the process of moving away from their opposition to austerity (which for many voters, including myself, was a great attraction in 2015), and also perhaps returning to their position as a small party of protest rather than actually effecting change – which means also taking responsibility and not letting the best be the enemy of the better.

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  6. This really isn’t helping the Greens in any way. They are coming across as petulant and cross. Clearly they could have prevented Cliff Jordan becoming leader. I think this might be the nail in their coffin as far as Norwich/Norfolk is concerned, which is a great shame.

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  7. At best this is a pack of lies, half truths and distortions cooked up on behalf of Green councillors who handed the county council to the Tories. Natalie Bennett confirmed she knew about it in advance so if the Green Party are so principled perhaps they can explain why their intention to give power to the Tories wasn’t trumpeted in their election material this year. If they are really arguing that what they did made no difference then what was intended as an empty and meaningless gesture has backfired as they clearly have no idea how the county council works.

    Scraping the barrell looking for anything that can be distorted retrospectively as a thin justification is a sad reflection on the depths the Green Party have sunk to in the wake of their mauling at the hands of the electorate. Shame they haven’t taken a leaf out if their colleagues in Worcester’s books. They just formed a Labour led rainbow alliance to keep out the Tories.

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