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The Commissar Strikes

Councillor Barbara PagettWhilst there are still a few traditional Conservatives on Fylde Council, the administration is now mostly controlled by what we would call New Conservatives. These are to conservatism, what New Labour is to the labour party. That is to say neither has anything much to do with the values of the organisation from which they emerged, and neither can be trusted.

Mr. Blair's unlawful war in Iraq turns out not to have been about weapons of mass destruction, but to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He said we were right to do this because Hussein was someone who ruled by fear rather than by convincing others, he appointed favourites to positions of power, and ruled with an iron fist. He would brook no dissent, and used ruthless methods to stifle opposition. We called him dictator, despot and tyrant. The war, we were told, was to introduce democracy into a dictatorship and free the people.

It may surprise you to learn that these same principles are at work in Fylde Council.

There is a man who rules by fear rather than convincing people, who appoints the favoured to power, who rules with an iron fist. Like Iraq's former leader, John (The Commissar) Coombes will brook no dissent, and uses ruthless methods to stifle opposition.

Judge for yourself.

The September meeting of the Council had several important items on its agenda. Two had far reaching democratic and financial implications for residents. 

One of these was the future structure of the Council, and the other was the plan to separate the civic and administrative functions and re-house staff and councillors by selling  the town hall and other assets to fund the process.

Fylde Conservatives currently have a slim majority on the Council, and before the meeting, the conservative group meet behind closed doors to decide how they would vote.

Several of the traditional Conservatives with strong and independent views, notably Barbara Pagett, Colin Walton, George Caldwell and Bill Thompson, have previously expressed concerns on the accommodation and democratic structure issues. It was likely that some of these councillors held views so strongly they might vote with their consciences.

Thus John Coombes, who sees himself as being 'in charge of'  the Conservative group, rather than being first amongst equals, knew that he would have difficulty enforcing his will on these matters. He had set a whip in place on them, but knew that three or four votes against either plan would result in its defeat if, as seemed likely, the non-conservative members of the council voted against them.

Although it was quite unusual, a non-conservative councilor was also present at the Conservative Group meeting before the Council. Trevor Fiddler, a leading member of the four-strong, self-styled 'Truly Independent' group also took part.

On the issue of the council structure, it was he who asked John Coombes what sanctions there were if people voted against the group policy, and was told that it could lead to councillors being expelled from the conservative group. It was also he who pointed out that councillors needed legitimate reasons to be absent on the night of the council meeting.

On the night of the Council meeting, there were conservatives who voted against the party line, but the line was held by 'Truly Independents' who voted with the Conservative party block, thus both the change to a cabinet/politburo system of administration and the demolition of the Town Hall were both approved.

At a kangaroo court on 4th October, following a proposition by would-be commissars Tim Ashton and Elizabeth Clarkson (see update note below), Councillor Barbara Pagett was suspended from the conservative group for two months, and removed from the vice chairmanship of the Development Control Committee. 

This vicious act of tyranny is designed to teach her not to speak up for her electorate, and not to perform the role of heritage champion she was appointed by the Council to do.

And guess who we think is going to be favoured as the new truly independent vice-chairman of the Development Control Committee from which she has been removed? None other than Trevor Fiddler who attended the Conservative group meeting. (UPDATE 23 Oct 05: He is now Vice Chairman)

The introduction of this undemocratic cabinet/politburo system will create a permanent internal struggle for power. There will be intense competition to secure - and then hold - a place on the all-powerful Cabinet. 

In the best Stalinist tradition, Commissar Coombes will rule the roost, killing off those who oppose him, and appointing those who will do his bidding to positions of power, whilst aspirants hang around the margins hoping to catch his eye.

Like Saddam Hussein, unable to carry the argument by debate, he has resorted to rule by fear. He appoints the favoured to power, he rules with an iron fist, he will brook no dissent, and uses ruthless methods to stifle opposition.

The only difference between him and Saddam Hussein or Stalin is the extent of their measures. The thought process is exactly the same.

We salute those of principle who voted with their consciences and the wishes of their electorate in opposing the proposed undemocratic structure and the further destruction of our heritage.

Dated: 7 October 2005

Update 22 January 2006: Simon Renwick has advised 'counterbalance' that he did not arrive at the meeting in time to second Barbara Pagett's suspension, and it was actually Elizabeth Clarkson who seconded the proposition. We are grateful for the opportunity to correct the previous information provided to 'counterbalance' in good faith.


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