Statement by councillors Helen Smith, Konnor Collins, Beverly Martin and Ash Ashbee
Helen Smith & her partner Konnor Collins
“Over the last few weeks we, as UKIP members of Thanet council, have become increasingly alarmed at what we see as the dictatorial and often unpredictable behaviour of the current Thanet council leadership. In particular some of us have struggled against what we feel is considerable resistance to appraise ourselves of the true situation regarding UKIP’s key election pledge , the compulsory purchase of Manston Airport,and the state of the relationship with TDC’s potential indemnity partner, RiverOak.
Councillor Helen Smith felt that her position as a Cabinet member had already become untenable by the time Councillor Wells ejected her from his cabinet. Even as a cabinet member, with responsibility for corporate governance, risk and public relations, she feels that she has been repeatedly undermined, ignored, blocked and kept in the dark.
Helen says that amongst other things there was no central file for the Manston project, and when a dossier did finally appear, key documents were not produced. She says her requests for meetings were dismissed, and despite repeatedly asking for a copy of the draft indemnity agreement, it was never produced. Helen believes the cursory briefing the cabinet was eventually given was inaccurate in a number of respects. Given the nature of Helen’s portfolio, she feels this is alarming.
Recent events take place against what some Ukip members describe as a backdrop of increasing fear and suspicion within the local party. Members say they have been told in effect to shut up and behave. In fact many are beginning to wonder what on earth has happened to democracy and free speech within Thanet UKIP in the last few months. Nigel Farage famously stood up in the EU Parliament and asked Mr. Junker “Who the hell are you?” Nigel has always led by example and has never shrunk from asking difficult questions and speaking truth to power. What has happened to that spirit here in Thanet?
Where is the party and the principles in which we and so many others put their faith? Has asking a few awkward questions now become some sort of ‘thought crime’ and a sackable offence?
On the day of the count, just after we were elected, Nigel Farage was heard to say “the people have spoken, they have given you your voice – USE IT!”
What happened? How can we have gone in three months from high spirits, high principles and high hopes, to a situation in which a straightforward cross party Ramsgate Town council meeting, organised expressly for the purpose of gathering information only, should have become so contentious and ridden with anxiety that elected UKIP members described feeling intimidated in an apparent attempt to undermine the meeting.
Those courageous enough to attend were left in little doubt that RiverOak, potentially a major inward investor, and currently the only feasible partner in delivering our key election pledge on Manston, has been treated quite appallingly.
Unless we, as a party, can ‘walk our talk’ and genuinely stand by our commitment to democracy, transparency and free speech, we fear UKIP’s days as a political force are numbered . How could it be otherwise? The stakes are high and lip service is simply not good enough. The people who elected us will quickly see through such a charade, and rightly so. Of course it does not have to be like that, and despite our concerns, we remain optimistic that things could be turned around very quickly if the willingness and openness are there. We still believe profoundly in the principles and values we were elected to uphold, but know that we cannot expect the people to trust us if we cannot trust ourselves and each other.
It must be obvious by now that we have lost faith in the current leadership. For all we know Councillor Wells may have the best of intentions, but we sincerely believe that the current high-handed leadership style and apparent unwillingness to delegate has become a serious liability, not just for the party , but for the future well-being of Thanet as a whole. We take no pleasure in reaching such a conclusion, but feel we cannot simply sit back and watch one individual’s idiosyncrasies ride roughshod over the hopes and dreams of the majority. We felt the time had come to use the voices we have been given and the power with which we were entrusted, to take a leaf out of Nigel’s book, stand up and say, in effect “Enough is enough. Councillor Wells – what on earth are you doing? “. For daring to do just that, respectfully and privately, one of us was unceremoniously sacked form her cabinet position. The four of us were spoken to in a way which we perceived to be extremely intimidating. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable, in fact we would argue that our assertions that we can stand up against domineering behaviour on the international stage will ring very hollow if we cannot face it down in our own backyard. How can this be happening in a party which, we still hope and believe, stands above all for liberty, personal integrity, and opposition to political tyranny of any persuasion.
To be absolutely clear, we are not attacking or deserting UKIP, far from it. We are merely standing our ground against the entrenched methodology of “the old guard” in the way we believe the people of Thanet would expect us to. We hope that colleagues of all parties or none will feel able to stand up alongside us , and with the help of the TDC employees and officers , move Thanet forward towards the brighter and more democratic future we all want to see.
The alternative, a return to “business as usual”, the destruction of the place we love, and the ultimate triumph of the property speculators is surely unthinkable.”