EXCLUSIVE: Tory chairman tells ex councillor ‘party is better off without you’, cabinet member says candidate selection ‘a fiasco’ whilst leader tells of ‘disillusioned’ supporters
PUBLISHED: 11:58 22 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:58 22 April 2014
A series of heated exchanges via email (printed off and leaked) reveal tensions at the most senior level of NE Cambs Conservative Association over selection of local council candidates.
They also show acrimony among some members with a former council chairman arguing the dissent meant “UKIP can just watch and pick up the pieces”.
And the emails also reveal council leader Alan Melton rebutted criticism of him by the association chairman telling him “I don’t give a damn whether you like my comments or not.”
Meanwhile the chairman told a former Conservative councillor “the party is better off without you: democracy is not for you. What a really sad man you are”.
Nine emails – confirmed as authentic by those involved- were all conversations that began on March 5, the day after Chris Seaton, the deputy leader of Fenland Council, narrowly won re-selection for next year’s hustings.
But the margin – by one vote- angered colleague Michael Humphrey, a former chairman of Fenland Council and cabinet member for finance.
At 12.19 the following day he told association chairman Robert Sears that it was “time for you too look again at this ridiculous situation we find ourselves with, the result of which means we now look like having to have a by-election in Roman Bank, great fodder for the press and opposition. Lord only knows what our MP will think.”
At the selection meeting Phil Hatton, formerly one of three ward councillors, stormed out after being refused entry and he subsequently resigned forcing a by election (to be held on May 8).
He was excluded from voting on the grounds of not living in the ward and although had intended to stay on until next May decided to stand down immediately.
Cllr Humphrey told Mr Sears that “we may have three members selected but at what cost? Step back and reflect, we lost more than we gained last night, that’s for sure.”
He described the association rules – whereby sitting councillors must face re selection- that it was “a fiasco; it might be the ‘rules’ need to change but they are wrong and need to change.”
Cllr Humphrey called for changes since the process of selection meant “we are destroying our membership; UKIP can just watch and pick up the pieces”.
He argued that “the present set up” which allows new members a vote for a candidate “means good councillors, experienced councillors, are at risk of not getting selected just because someone fills the room with his/her mates. Surely that was not the intention? The pattern of votes showed a division amongst supporters: you are putting good people up against each other, you are creating conflict within our supporters and look at the result- a sad day for sure.”
Outgoing leader Alan Melton emailed him that evening and “I have to say that I agree with every word. We are treading a dangerous path; we Conservatives have made political capital over the years at the way the Labour Party held such caucus meetings – and still do, Falkirk!-. What sticks in my claw is that the disloyal and disruptive members of our group get sympathy from association officers and get a free ride, even after sending vile emails and brief the press. Will they ever learn?”
Mr Sears was less than amused, telling Cllr Melton later that evening that “I take great exception to the tone of your email. Whether you like it or not the rules are being adhered to and all councillors should have no fear in reselection if they are deemed to be doing their job.
“It is for you as group leader to control your group in the way you see fit and in no way would I interfere with that. I expect you as a senior member of the Conservative Party to respect and adhere to the rules and regulations.”
Mr Hatton joined the exchanges, suggesting to Cllr Melton that the association looks for a new chairman “who is less pompous and arrogant and lives in a real world”.
The former planning committee chairman added: “For Robert to say all councillors should have no fear of reselection if they are doing a good job is the biggest load of crap ever, what planet is he on?
“At the selection it depends on how many cronies each candidate has in the room on the night and most of those cronies do not know the history of sitting councillors, they are only interested in voting for their friend.”
He said Chris Seaton was doing an excellent job “but nearly lost his selection to a complete novice because of the numbers of friends in the room. The voters want down to earth local people who they know – not some jumped up wannabe prime minister types”.
Mr Sears, who replied the same day, March 6, accused Mr Hatton of hiding behind an email by not saying what he had to say to his face and suggested they meet.
However Mr Hatton declined, emailing the chairman later that day with a series of comments that concluded with “a word of advice: you need to listen to what you are being told by your members instead of burying your head and trying to defend and justify the existing system”.
By 9.45pm Mr Sears had enough telling Mr Hatton “what a really sad man you are. A small world you live in, a rather larger one I live in. All I can say is the party is better off without you, democracy is not for you. For your information all rules and regulations have been carried out to the letter, rules made by someone much senior than me.”
He added: “And of course you are hiding behind an email. Little people always do. Nevertheless I wish you well for the future.”
By 10.22pm, the same evening, Cllr Melton was firing off an email to Mr Sears suggesting that “I don’t give a damn whether you like my comments or not. My views are shared by a substantial number of my group and whether you like it or not you need to understand that 34 councillors are our shock troops at election time.”
He said that those who were left “are currently disillusioned with our party” pointing out also he had taken the chairman’s advice and spoken to former finance portfolio holder John Clark (now a candidate to replace him).
“John totally rebuffed me and made it clear that he would never support or be loyal to me,” Cllr Melton added.
An undated later email from Cllr Seaton sent to Mr Sears said: “I have sought to keep my silence but this series of unhelpful messages must be brought to an end. There ought to be a more adult way to conduct association business than purely name calling.
“Passions are running high and issues have to be addressed- not ignited by childish tit for tat”.