Rebel Tories could face de-selection if they vote against local plan

Paul Clarke has been leader of Horsham District Council since MayPaul Clarke has been leader of Horsham District Council since May
Paul Clarke has been leader of Horsham District Council since May
The threat of de-selection would hang over any Tory councillor who decides to rebel and vote against Horsham District Council’s local plan.

In a leaked email to fellow Conservatives, council leader Paul Clarke described how policy had been agreed at a private group meeting in mid-June by a majority of 15 to 13.

Under his group’s rules, he outlined how members should support this decision unless it is a matter of conscience and specific to their ward.

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And even then an exemption would require a discussion with the group leader in advance ‘as it may be possible to agree an abstention as opposed to a vote against’.

While Mr Clarke said he did not wish to ‘beat people with a stick to follow the group rules’, he would like councillors to act in the best interests of the district and think holistically.

He outlined how those who do would most likely feature in a future cabinet and positions of responsibility. But he warned anyone who chose to ignore a group majority vote would be harming any future political career and aspirations and said he had seen members de-selected by their local association. Whilst not in his personal power as leader, he described how the chairmen of both local Conservative associations ‘take a dim view of councillors that vote against group rules’.

He asked councillors who had any issues to come and talk to him and he had already spoken to some members about their concerns and ‘reached agreement with them and expect them to stick to their word’.

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Mr Clarke described how HDC is dangerously close to losing its five-year land supply and should this happen it would be without a plan and in no position to refuse disparate planning applications from developers.

Once the council was at the next stage of the local plan it could show a direction of travel, but a six-month delay ‘will ensure loss of control’.

Mr Clarke was approached to comment on suggestions his email constituted whipping and would mean members of his group have been predetermined on which way they will vote.

In response, he said: “Conservative group meetings are a private space in which members can debate issues and form policy, that is the purpose of them.

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“Agreeing a policy position does not mean that any member is predetermined, whatever their political affiliation. My email provided clarification of the options available to them should they feel unable to support a group policy and the email referred them to the relevant party rules.”

The proposals for the next stage of the local plan are due to be discussed by full council on Wednesday (July 28).