Above: Cllr Arthur Graves
Published: 20 April, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
THE Lib Dem opposition at the Town Hall was thrown into disarray on Wednesday when one of its senior councillors left the party and accused his local colleagues of having no strategy, poor organisation and no leadership.
Councillor Arthur Graves will remain as an independent councillor until the next election in two years’ time when he will stand down.
He told the Tribune he had already cancelled his direct debit to the national party when a debacle over his opposition to controversial new parking rules – introduced by Labour earlier this month – brought things to a head.
His departure revealed a split in the party over the issue. Lib Dem leader Councillor Terry Stacy supported the plans to introduce free parking spaces but Cllr Graves was against.
Several of those bays – which will allow 20 minutes free parking – will be in his Archway ward.
He argued they would encourage more drivers into the borough at a time when the council had also agreed – just days later – a range of measures to discourage car use.
Cllr Graves was the driving force behind ‘calling in’ the decision, which means trying to have it looked at again by the ruling executive. Five Lib Dems signed the application, which was considered – and rejected – by the Town Hall’s Labour-dominated overview committee on Monday.
Significantly, the Lib Dem leader was not among them. He is said to have been “embarrassed” by the ‘call-in’ because he had spoken in favour of the policy.
But Cllr Graves said he was left exposed because, when quizzed by Labour on what the Lib Dems would do instead, they had no answer.
“I am still a liberal and have not left because of political reasons,” he said. “It is because of disorganisation at both a national and local level. We’ve had a chief whip who for the last two years has done nothing, and has not turned up. That describes the lack of leadership in the local party.
“Terry is a nice guy but there has been no leading. He asked me two years ago to be shadow executive member for environment and I said: ‘Great, what are we going to do?’ He said: ‘Strategy light. Let’s see what comes up’. But there comes a point when you need a strategy.
“It’s very frustrating. It came to a head over the parking ‘call-in’ because I had to present a case I felt strongly about and it was trashed because we don’t have a strategy.”
He added that he had also left the national party because it had spent more than a year trying to appoint a North East London candidate for the elections to the London Assembly. He had put his name forward, but because he was the only candidate he was told there couldn’t be a decision.
He withdrew, after which, he said, party apparatchiks panicked in January when they realised they had no candidate and so appointed the then sole candidate.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. He added that he had been elected to the council for a four-year term and would serve it out.
Town Hall sources said that Cllr Graves was spotted leaving his leader’s office on Monday with “a face like thunder”.
Cllr Stacy was unavailable for comment yesterday (Thursday), but the local party chairman Councillor John Gilbert said: “Terry feels embarrassed that we called in the parking decision after he spoke in favour of it. We are not split on the issue. There is just a slight disagreement.
“The council agreed a traffic-reduction policy just a few days after encouraging traffic by introducing free parking. We all think that is contradictory. Arthur has resigned from the Lib Dem group, but there isn’t a fundamental policy difference between us. I am sure he is united with us in opposing most of what the Labour group is doing and will continue to vote with us. Should he want to come back I’m sure we’ll welcome him with open arms.”
He also dismissed Cllr Graves’ claims that the party was disorganised or lacking in strategy, or that chief whip Councillor Paula Belford “did nothing”.
“I don’t agree that there’s a lack of direction,” he said. “That’s a point he made to us as well. The remaining 12 of us are clear about the direction in which we are going. Arthur may have had a different view from many of us with the ‘call-in’ of the parking – because we have different ideas about direction. That doesn’t mean we have no direction. We have a slightly different direction from him. But I don’t think that direction is fundamentally different.
“The chief whip has certainly turned up. She has been an excellent chief whip and I had a good conversation with her just yesterday.”
Cllr Graves’ resignation marks a new low point in a disastrous two years for the party, which lost control of the Town Hall in a landslide swing to Labour in 2010 and is now reduced to a rump of just 12 councillors.
Labour’s transport chief Councillor Paul Convery rubbed salt into the wounds this week.
“The Lib Dems are completely split on this,” he said. “This morning I asked the Lib Dems who is speaking on behalf of them because this is a policy that Terry Stacy had welcomed and Arthur has gone out on a limb against it. Arthur fell flat on his face on Monday night.
“It’s Terry’s fault because he has not kept a firm grip on his members. You can’t say one thing to one group and another to a green audience.”