County Council stoops to new low
The few members left in the public gallery by the time we got to Item 9 on the agenda were ashamed. Horrified perhaps. It is sometimes hard to believe the evidence of your own eyes.
A simple motion at the Somerset County Council meeting in support of 40 Commando and their association with the town of Taunton should not have been controversial. Surely everyone could get behind that? The motion was proposed by Simon Coles, a LibDem councillor, seconded by Alan Wedderkopp, another LibDem. It merely asked SCC to resolve to oppose the closure of the 40 Commando camp (scheduled for 2028); that the Leader of the Council write to the Secretary of State to express opposition to the plans and to write to Somerset MPs and lobby them for support too.
What could possibly be objected to? Well predominantly it seemed the fact that it was put forward by two LibDem councillors. Almost immediately a Conservative Councillor, Guiseppi Fraschini proposed a counter motion. This seemed to have a lot of similar words but specifically referenced the MP for Taunton Deane. Otherwise it added nothing,
The meeting then dissolved into a lot of political point scoring. It was hideous to behold. I want my resolution, not your resolution. I won’t vote for yours unless you vote for mine.
Eventually a councillor with a shred of decency, a former military man himself, Andy Kendall called it for what it was. He told the meeting “it is really shameful the way this has been turned into a political football”. Sentiments immediately echoed by Independent Councillor John Hunt. Perhaps the motion could be postponed so all political leaders could come up with a wording all could agree on?
However shame is something SCC members appear to have limitless supplies of and decency appeared to be in a tiny minority. Councillor Fraschini persisted in asking for his motion to be put.
But if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Councillor David Huxtable managed to leverage proceedings to a new low. Now the Conservatives knew they would have their motion put and there were a majority of Conservative Councillors in the chamber. So Cllr Huxtable asked for a named vote.
This, for those who are unfamiliar, is a device to get every councillor’s vote on the record. So knowing that the Conservatives had a majority for their motion, Cllr Huxtable’s move was as blatantly political as it could be. The truth is by trying to force opposition members to vote against the Conservative motion, they would then be on the record for not supporting 40 Commando. Given that the LibDem opposition had introduced the original motion, I think readers can draw their own conclusions.
Needless to say and in the spirit in which this whole issue was discussed, Cllr Huxtable insisted his move was not a political one.
In other news we have recently learned that the pope is not a Catholic. And that bears do not go to the toilet in the woods.
By the time the meeting moved on to a vote, there were four motions all to be voted on by a named vote. The Conservatives got their wording passed and the other motions rejected. The vast majority of councillors voted exactly along party lines.
What was at stake? Nothing trivial. The future of 40 Commando, the contribution they make to Taunton’s economy, supporting schools and to the community at large. These men and women, our serving armed forces, their wives, husbands and families are human beings. County Councillors turned them, their futures and the future of the base near Taunton into a cheap political football in the most shaming and embarrassing way.
In the end it seems only right to point out the tiny handful of councillors who actually acted with their conscience.
Believe it or not a small number broke with party lines to put the interests of 40 Commando ahead of political expediency. Councillors Rigby, Kendall, Redman, Ruddle and Vijeh each went against their party on at least one of the four votes whilst the two Greens, Cllrs Dimery and Clarke, voted for the final Conservative motion.
The fact that a motion was passed in support of 40 Commando should be a matter of communal pride. Somerset County Councillors contrived to make it a deeply embarrassing and shameful experience. Our armed forces deserve better than this.