News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Liberal Legend: Can Toby slay the Dragon?

The last four years have not been terribly happy for Shepway Liberal Democrats, but the last eight weeks stand out as particularly unhappy ones. Rocked by a series of defections to the Conservative Party, local leader Lynne Beaumont was forced onto the defensive. She came out spinning as ever.

Thursdays must be a particularly difficult day. The Folkestone Herald is published, complete with the latest commentary on Lib Dem infighting. This week is no exception. This time Lynne Beaumont is facing calls for her resignation from her former rival Toby Philpott, who was deposed as the Lib Dem PPC last year. As Toby puts it:

It is time to cut the personal abuse and get serious about the state the Party is in before it gets too late.

Judging by this week's Herald, the call has fallen upon deaf ears. It would seem that Lynne Beaumont still won't accept responsibility for anything that has happened. Instead she states:

When Toby was here it went disastrously wrong and I don't really want to comment on what he has to say.

She promtly goes on to comment on what he has to say:

He is a very good writer but cannot communicate face to face and that was partly his downfall. I'm certainly not going to stand down because a non-member has called for me to do so. If the members want me to then I will because I want what's best for the group."

That's certainly an intersting take on the situation. It's a departure from the official line previously trotted out by Pravda. The reference to his real contribution to our campaigning could be seen as a rather double edged complement though, given that they won fewer seats than at any time since the merger with the SDP.

The suggestion that things went wrong for the Lib Dems after Toby was selected is a little odd. In the two years or so before his selection, Shepway Lib Dems had split into two parties, suffered multiple defections to Conservative, Green, Independent and Shepway Independents, lost two leaders and suffered heavy defeats in the Folkestone Town Council, Kent County Council, European and Parliamentary elections. If that's not things going wrong, the last two months must be deemed a great success!

I can't help but feel that the statement that Toby Philpott can't communicate face to face is bizzarre. In November 2006, he was one of three candidates put to the local membership as a potential Parliamentary Candidate. Cllr Beaumont was another of the candidates. Given her high profile and support from her husband who had been PPC in the last two elections, she was the clear favourite. Yet, the members chose Toby. If he can't communicate face to face, how bad must Cllr Beaumont have been at that meeting? Can someone who has lost half her elected representatives been seen as a good communicator?

I think that the most peculiar part of her statement is that she won't resign on the basis of comments by a non-member, but will resign if the members want her to. Toby is a member of the Liberal Democrats, albeit in Bromley. Moreover, there are very few members left to call for her resignation now - most of her opponents have long since left. A rational individual might take that as a sign that they are unhappy with the leadership. But who said that Lynne Beaumont was rational?

It's not over yet. Toby has already responded to her comments on his blog. He is considering a formal complaint to the Lib Dems and possibly the Standards Board over the matter. And so the saga continues!

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