The Ashtead Residents’ Association (ARA) Committee is pressing ahead with plans to cut its links with the Ashtead Independent Councillors (AI’s).
Despite opposition from residents at ARA’s AGM in April and at subsequent meetings, the ARA committee is pressing ahead with a ballot which, if passed, breaks the traditional ties between the Association and the Ashtead Independent group of councillors.
The Ashtead Independents work in Ashtead’s “best interest” by being ‘wholly’ independent, which means each councillor votes on local issues in whichever way they feel fit. Members of the group therefore cannot be a member of a national political party; nor can they be whipped to vote in a particular way by a party or even their colleagues in the AI group. For election purposes only, the AI’s are registered as a party with the Electoral Commission as that offers them the same advantages as national parties at election times (you can find out more about these advantages here: Registering as a political party | Local Government Association
For its part the ARA Committee is suggesting that there could be other independent Councillors, with who they would like to work, who are not part of the AI group, but that is also allowed under their current Constitution which does not mention the AIs as such.
As was pointed out by one senior Ashtead councillor at the ARA Spring AGM the whole push for change is, it was suggested, because of a breakdown in relationship between individuals within the ARA ‘Committee and the AI groups. Following those comments, the ARA decided to defer making any changes to the constitution and instead hold open meetings with concerned residents at the Peace Memorial Hall on 12 and 19 July to explain the motions put forward.
The overwhelming view from both these meetings was that there was no need for change. Under pressure from the ARA Subcommittee looking at this matter, motions put forward by Quentin Armitage and Steven Kershaw were subsequently withdrawn, but one by myself was retained after the direction of travel being proposed by the ARA Subcommittee became clear.
The ARA Committee, ignoring the messages from the July meetings (see here), has by a majority vote decided to ballot its members and ask a question which enables them to continue along the direction of weaking its historic links with independent Councillors (whether members of the Ashtead Independents or not). We find this most distressing and are at a loss to understand the Committee’s rationale.
NEXT STEPS – THE BALLOT
ARA is circulating the ballot paper via Ashtead Village News so theoretically, any household who is a member of the ARA will get a copy.
However, in ballot form, the ARA Committee fails to explain the implications of the two points being balloted on, and only presents its particular view rather than including that of the AI’s.
If agreed by ARA members, the first question on the ballot aims to change the traditional relationship between the ARA and the AI,s.
The question to be voted upon reads, “The ARA Committee believes that the ARA should be non-partisan, working on behalf of all residents for Ashtead. It should have no affiliation with any registered political party, and should not support or endorse any candidates for local Mole Valley District or Surrey County Council elections. It should engage with any elected Ashtead Councillor”.
Should this be approved by a majority of ARA ordinary members voting, it will change a system that was deliberately introduced, and which has worked to the benefit of Ashtead residents for some 70 years. Ashtead Independent Councillors were regularly drawn from the membership of the ARA Standing Committee (including Cllrs Hawksworth and Stansfield). It was recognized by the ARA founders that having Councillors not linked to any national party meant that they would have positions and seats on key decision-making Council committees where they could speak and vote in the interests of Ashtead – and not have to follow the whips imposed by the national political groups in the Council or even their fellow AIs.
As pointed out by Cllr Hunt in the recent Ashtead Village News, your independent Councillors currently hold key positions in the Mole Valley District Council; furthermore, they are now the official opposition to the Liberal Democrat administration. In order to continue this productive relationship, the support for independent candidates needs to remain as in the current ARA Constitution. The last sentence is unnecessary as the ARA has traditionally invited elected Councillors who are not independents to key meetings.
If you care about Ashtead and want it to keep an independent voice in Councils, vote ‘NO’.
The second vote concerns the motion put forward, from the AI perspective, at the ARA Spring AGM, but was deferred. That motion, to alter the ARA constitution, aimed to ensure that no member of the ARA Committee should belong to a national or local political party by adding the following words to the existing text on Committee membership:
…. “none of whom shall be members of any national or local political party”.
To ensure this independence is maintained and to maintain the tradition of a non-political ARA Committee, vote YES.
In recent decades and, probably for much longer, anyone who wished to join the ARA Committee was asked to affirm they were not a member of any national political party. This was very much a “gentleman’s agreement” and not included in the Constitution. This motion seeks to formalise the position by making that tradition explicit.
If Committee members belong to national political parties, or there is a suspicion that is the case, this will form a barrier to independent Councillors working, speaking frankly in confidence, and discussing their ideas to the ARA Committee. A situation could even arise where even a majority of the Committee were members of a particular national party which would be against the spirit of the ARA!
The ARA claim to have had advice to the effect “that such disqualification would be unlawful.” The only legal advice submitted, however (see here) is clear that this is not so as the ARA is a voluntary membership organization and not a quasi-government hybrid body as the ARA Committee seems to think. The ARA have not provided any legal opinion to challenge that advice. Indeed, this is something written into the constitutions of some other residents’ associations which support independent councillors, and adoption of this motion would make that clear for the ARA. Note that this is nothing to do with how Committee members decide to vote at elections, but only relates to paid-up memberships of registered parties (including the Ashtead Independents).
So, vote ‘No’ to the first question and ‘Yes’ to the motion – with the overall effect of there being no change to the current constitution and traditional practice.
Ballot forms are to be submitted by 16.00 on 23 October, and results are to be declared at the adjourned ARA AGM on 25 October. A copy of the ballot paper is available to ARA members below: