To lose one former Lord Mayor may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose two is rather more than mere carelessness.
Yet that is what our local Tories have done, dumping both Heather Taylor and George Metcalfe as they select their candidates for the May 2019 local elections.
To describe this as ungrateful would be an understatement, unless you believe that being appointed Lord Mayor is the equivalent of a tap on the shoulder for long serving councillors to, in effect, let them know their time is up. Which might be worrying news for Rosemary Doyle, among others.
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Of course, if it was Labour behaving in this way, there would doubtless be an outcry about far left infiltration or a coup, or some other guff about political bloodletting.
But the Tories, it seems, think they can get away with this simply by claiming that they have “set a very high bar” for candidates.
Leaving aside that this suggests that they think those they have deselected (and I suspect there will be more to follow) are sub-par, it would be surprising if the Tories have suddenly found a source of new high calibre candidates willing to sit around on the backbenches as the authority continues its feeble policy of decimating services in obedience to its Whitehall superiors.
But we will have a better idea once the replacement candidates are announced.
The word on the street, though, is that actually there will be a reshuffling of the chairs rather than new blood.
It seems that existing Tory councillors in central wards of Whitstable and Canterbury have made the calculation that, given the unpopularity of the government and the looming Brexit outcome which seems likely to please (almost) no-one, their chances of re-election in their existing seats is slim.
Some Tory councillors, we know, have already decided not to stand again, and in at least one case has already in effect left.
That has been covered up by their being taken off all committee duties and allowed to turn up only for full council meetings – just enough attendance to prevent a by-election being required.
This manipulation is not only deeply cynical, but it is an insult to the people they are meant to speak for and a failure of the system which leaves their wards under-represented in the council.
The Tories brazenly engineered the mostly multi-councillor ward structure which allows this to happen. While Labour argued for one member wards across the district, the Tories created a ward structure of staggering incoherence which has one, two and three member wards, boundaries which have neither geographical or historic rationale, and wildly varying numbers of electors. Those wards will not survive the massive homebuilding projects going on, either.
Why did they do this?
Because they believed this structure guaranteed them a majority.
If you don’t believe me, here are the approving words of Neil Baker, one of the leading Tories, on his Twitter feed in May 2017, apropos of the way the new Kent County electoral divisions had been engineered by the Tories: “… stick all opposition votes in one seat, let them have it, win the rest.”
You can see there are no democratic scruples troubling Cllr Baker, who also supported the bizarre new boundaries for the district council wards in 2015.
Those rewarded the Tories with 79% of the seats on the council, despite only winning 39% of the votes cast, while Labour won only 3 seats despite getting 23.4% of the votes and the Lib Dems got the same number of seats with only 14% of the vote. That result may be nice for the Tories, but democratic it ain’t.
Nonetheless, after Labour’s win in the 2017 General Election, the Tories are now realising that the central urban areas of this district – including Herne Bay- are vulnerable to a Labour surge and are running for what they think (or hope) are safer seats.
George Metcalfe and Heather Taylor have just got trampled in that stampede. They probably won’t be the last.