VONC: What happened in the meeting?

VONC: What happened in the meeting?
Photo by Tim Marshall / Unsplash

On Tuesday, Labour launched a vote of no confidence in the Lib Dem/ Green minority administration. We wrote about what might happen, and why here.

TL/ DR: it was always going to be a numbers game.... But did the tide turn, or was it simply making waves for nothing?

Ahead of the vote, two major questions were left unanswered.

  1. With the newly elected Lib Dem MPs likely to be in London, how would that affect the final votes tally?
  2. What would the Conservative position be? Demand concessions? Ally itself with one or other party 8 months ahead of the next County Council elections in a new coalition?

One at a time then. New Lib Dem MP's Freddie van Mierlo and Calum Miller were indeed in London, while there were absences from other parties too.

The Conservative position was helpfully explained by leader Eddie Reeves on Monday. It seems there is no love lost between Labour and any of its opposition, and Cllr Reeves was clear ahead of the meeting his group was unlikely to vote for the Labour motion.

An amendment likely doomed to failure on numbers, given the Conservative position, but given the agenda was published, still had to go through the motions?

In lieu of our customary live tweet, here are selected extracts of this meeting. It is fair to say there were fireworks. Read on.

The meeting started with petitions to the council. Before the meeting even started, petitioners were asked to condense their speeches to a mere 90 seconds, to allow as much council business to be conducted as possible.  Tech issues meant  councillors reading out petitions from residents as some were unable to join and speak.

Petitions were heard on, among other things; the Oxpens bridge, OUFC's stadium move and resident consultation, Abingdon reservoir, the spare seats bus scheme, Thames Water and flooding, stepdown beds in Henley and SEND.

There were specific questions on items ranging from traffic filters, bus passes for asylum seekers, air pollution data, a crossing in Blewbury, a junction in East Oxford, becoming a Council of Sanctuary, and a list of things the Council would like to see devolved to it under the Labour government.

All of this is illustrative of the wide range of work the County Council does and on which residents engage with it and in this respect this meeting was no different to any others of late.

And then the Council came to the vote of no confidence, as proposed by Cllr Brighouse (Lab), who reiterated the written motion which we laid out in brief here. We extract the salient points from the debate here, by party. The stream is here with the speeches beginning at around 3 hours 5 minutes in:

The Labour Party

In support of the motion, across various speeches Labour councilors cited issues with school transport, the ongoing controversy over Oxford United, and limited consultation with residents on LTNs 'setting neighbour against neighbour'.  They also held up issues with SEND and HIF1. Additionally they complained at  'delivery not delay' and 'democracy not darkness' (Cllr Enright), a point of view which was supported by Cllr Philips who cited a speed camera in Barton Park going up without her knowledge. After the meeting and Cllr Enright offered this further clarification:

'Any minority administration must adjust the way it governs to involve the other parties, or it faces the prospect of losing vote after vote. Also it must acknowledge it does not command the support of most of the people of Oxfordshire, with only 23 out of 63 councillors. No such adjustment has been made, freezing out the 40 councillors not part of that group. This is not democracy, it is darkness. Let’s hope the concerns expressed will now be taken to heart by the minority administration, for the good of all Oxfordshire residents, who are longing to be heard and involved. That goes for all councillors too.'

Cllr Baines, responding for Labour, and supporting the motion, called the coalition  - 'an administration that blames others rather than taking responsibility'.

Cllr Brighouse, summing up, said  'The stories that have been told in this chamber are slanderous'. 'The Leader launched into a personal attack which she does whenever she feels threatened'.

Liberal Democrat/ Green

Cllr Leffman (Lib Dem, Council Leader) countered at first that she was puzzled  'If you're not being heard it's your choice. You decided to leave the alliance'.  Cllr Leffman then related the circumstances leading to the dissolution of the alliance describing Brighouse's behaviour as 'uncontrolled rage' and saying 'we needed somebody we could trust to manage SEND and improving our service delivery'.

Cllr Sudbury (Green) , said that 'Vote of No Confidence 101 is to highlight your opponent's failures, not your own. Yet both the SEND and the HIF 1 debacle were under Labour county members ... We have better things to do. We should be building a city on a hill not squabbling in the gutter'

Cllr Gregory (Lib Dem) summing up to oppose the motion, firstly pointed to green shoots of progress on SEND since Labour had left the alliance.  Secondly she pointed out that this motion was published on the night of the general election, where thousands of progressive voters came together and celebrated, calling it 'a shame'

The Conservative Party

Cllr Reeves' speech was in line with his earlier published content- he called the motion 'The right right motion from the wrong political group at the worst possible time"  saying 'I am not going to plunge this countil into chaos for the sake of making a facile political point.'

Cllr Corkin called the motion a 'collossal bout of navel gazing' adding  that 'Cllr Brighouse bringing this motion is like an arsonist complaining about the size of the blaze', and saying  'The right place for this is at the ballot box next May not this shoddy, self serving motion.'    

Cllr Mallon called the motion  'Two fleas arguing over the dog they live on' saying  that the Conservative side of the house would hold both the government and the county council to account.

The council then moved to an electronic vote, the result of which was  Yes 12,  Abstentions 16, No 19. The motion thus fell, and the administration continued with no formal change, at least until the next County Council elections in May 2025.

The Clarion reports. It is not for us to say how Council should spend its time. But we will give the final word to Katie Nellist who spoke at the beginning of the meeting on SEND, who 'has been in the SEND system for six years'. Her speech in full is below.  Her words on the motion were addressed to all councillors.

'During the October emergency council meeting on SEND you all agreed to work in a cross party manner to fix the issues on SEND...SEND should not be political and motions like this are stopping you hearing other motions about important topics today....I just want you all to stop playing politics with our lives and futures. Please do better'.