As I understand it, until the recent furore, Wales Ward was looking forward to the local elections, expecting the candidates to be, Dominic Beck for Labour and Gavin Sharp the sitting Tory councillor.
In recent years Wales Ward has developed into something like a private electoral argument between Tories and Labour, everyone else being squeezed out in the rush. The exception was last year when the extra turnout ensured the unexpected victory of Labour. Wales Ward is also represented by Jennifer Whysall for Labour and Thomas Fenoughty for the Tories.
The story starts with the announcement by the Labour party of their selection of Dominic Beck, an 18 year old student, as their standard bearer. This immediately caused problems for Rotherham Labour Group, when the Advertiser printed his refreshingly truthful and honest observations on the ongoing expenses scandal! This resulted in him receiving ‘advice’ from those not quite so fresh and inexperienced.
Ward voters were, I understand, not much impressed with Labour’s choice and were very likely planning not to turn out to vote in the usual numbers. Labour had a problem therefore.
Rule No 2.5 part F of the political dirty tricks rule book reads: ‘If you are in trouble, play the opponent, not the ball’
The story now focusses upon Gavin Sharp, the sitting Tory Councillor. His attendance has been pretty abysmal, since being elected 4 years ago and he started to come under pressure. He acted on 17th March promptly resigning his seat. If he thought this would make the story go away and avoid further embarrassment he was wrong. His resignation, unfortunately, only fuelled the fire.
Last Friday, the story exploded on to the front page of the Advertiser under the headline, £1,179 AN HOUR! the online story, £46,000 bill for ‘missing’ councillor. This rather public humiliation will have been most unwelcome to him, as he is a Bank Manager and Magistrate.
Surprisingly for such a local matter, the Tax Payers Alliance were amongst those giving him a good kicking, in the shape of Emma Boon.
Unsurprisingly, Jane Austen speaking on behalf of Rotherham Labour Group, milked the issue to extract the maximum political capital. I think she could have made a much better job of it, unsubtle she isn’t.
Most surprising of all was the way his own side put the boot in! Tony Mannion, aka ‘the Sitwell Polecat’, clearly displeased at the negative publicity this issue has generated, perhaps unwisely, failed to engage brain before opening mouth!
The one thing about this sorry turn of events that must not be forgotten in all this, is the Tories total incompetence to manage and control their own members. Had he not spontaneously resigned, He would have been their candidate, no replacement had been selected to replace him!
Where does this leave Wales Ward? The Tories have selected a new candidate, Gill Shaw, Chairman of Wales Parish Council and is pledged to better attendance than Gavin Sharp.
Dominic Beck, the Labour Candidate now just 19 years old, is surely going to be significant liability on the doorstep. Dominic claims to be a full time student and a full time employee simultaneously. It is difficult to see how Dominic could find the time between his studies and work to serve as a councillor. The issue of his youthfulness and distinct lack of experience will not go away! The Labour party are clearly taking the mickey out of the Wales Ward voters, but I am sure they have figured that one out for themselves.
This sorry tale of incompetence and inaction by the Rotherham Tory Group is only to be expected when you take a quick look at their membership on Rotherham MBC. They don’t look to me like they will be an effective opposition any time soon. Their age profile, not helped by the defection of Darren Hughes to Labour assisted by intolerance inside the local Tory party, makes this a major priority. The public relations performance of Rotherham Tory Group needs radical improvement, a piece of free advice – keep Tony Mannion away from anyone with a note book!