Keith House has signed a letter to The Times newspaper attacking the speed and scale of spending cuts and criticising Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
The leader of Eastleigh council joined 17 fellow Lib Dem leaders and 71 local party heads to pen what The Times has described as an ‘open revolt’ and a ‘serious blow to the coalition’.
Following less than 24 hours after the resignation of Libe Dem peer Lord Okeshott after speaking out against a Chancellors George Osborne’s handling of the banks, does this letter point to a party in the process of splitting from the bottom to the very top?
Keith House may have good cause to worry about the scale of the cuts.
Although he recently appeared on the ‘Politics Show’ boasting how the council had anticipated and budgeted for a drop in income, an email circulated to councillors from finance boss Nick Tustian claims the net effect of cuts to the government grant could be deeper than they first thought.
Much of councillors ire is directed at the Communities Secretary. In addition to cutting council funding, plain speaking Mr Pickles has handed down various edicts including guidance that parking regulations should not be used for general fund raising or in order to discourage car use as part of a climate change strategy.
Mr Pickles is also celebrated by editors of hyperlocal news sites across the country for his criticism of council run newspapers like Eastleigh’s appalling ‘Borough News’ which he has described as ’Town Hall Pravdas’.
Writing to The Times the councillors warned that the ‘front loaded’ cuts in funding are too quick and too deep and will cause hardship and could even damage ‘the recovery’:
“These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable.
Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making public-sector savings in a way that can protect local economies and the frontline, the cuts are so structured that they will do the opposite.”
The councillors also complain that Mr Pickle’s robust style is unhelpful and accuse him of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ and of ‘waving a big stick’.
“Instead of chastising and denigrating local authorities through the media, the Government should deploy all its efforts to help councils minimise the impact on vulnerable communities and frontline services”
Mr House’s action hints at a growing dissent within the local party.
Ex Mayor Glyn Davies-Dear recently broke away from the Lib Dems to form a independent group along with two other councillors who were shown cutting up their party membership cards on TV.
Councillor Davies-Dear told the media of his disillusionment with the Liberal Democrats and how Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne had made him ‘feel dirty’ while another said:
‘The Coalition is making people’s lives hell with tuition fees, putting up VAT and ripping the NHS apart”.
In November The Daily Echo reported how 21 Lib Dem councillors had written to Chris Huhne to express their dissatisfaction with the u-turn on tuition fee rises.
Top secret minutes of an Eastleigh Lib Dem party meeting leaked to Eastleigh News describes how party loyalists angrily attacked those had taken part in the protest – including Dan Clarke, who as a former Labour PPC had played a key role in boosting Mr Huhne’s majority at the last election.
Councillor Clarke reportedly told his critics that individuals should:
“Follow their conscience rather than mindlessly follow a party line which had totally changed since the last election.”
In an editorial The Times accused Mr House and his colleagues of
“Trying to salvage seats in the local elections’