The Conservative chairman elect of Horsham District Council said today that the defection of their deputy leader to UKIP echoed the rift which had developed between the party’s national leadership and the grass roots.
Philip Circus, who is currently vice chairman of the council and set to become chairman in May spoke in praise of Roger Arthur who announced this week that he has resigned from the Tory group to join UKIP. He will remain as a councillor.
He said Mr Arthur would be a “great loss” and the Tory cabinet would be “much poorer” without him.
Mr Circus told the County Times: “I was sorry to hear Roger’s decision to leave the Conservative Party and join UKIP but in doing so he echoes the rift which has developed between the party leadership and the grass roots.
“He has been a loyal fellow ward councillor and he is a great loss to the Conservative Party and to the Cabinet which will be much the poorer for his decision.
“He was always asking himself the fundamental question ‘What would the people who elected me as their Conservative councillor expect me to do’?
“And this gave Roger a sense of drive and purpose which enabled him to discharge with distinction the difficult and demanding portfolio of Efficiency and Resources.”
Mr Circus is a staunch defender of a free press and free speech. He wrote powerfully about the subject opposing the Government’s plans to regulate the printed media in last week’s County Times.
He has also been a vocal critic of the direction the Conservative Party has been moving under David Cameron.
Writing in a personal capacity in the County Times following theEastleigh by-election where UKIP pushed the Tories into third place, Mr Circus said: “By-elections are often ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. But Eastleigh is different. It confirms what Conservative activists already knew - that there is a massive disconnection between the leadership of the party and its grass roots. In nearly 40 years of involvement with the Conservative Party I have never known such a widespread and deep feeling of alienation.
“Supporters have swallowed hard as so called ‘international aid’ was ring fenced, even though we know that there has been scandalous misuse of aid on an industrial scale. They have endured the nonsense of despoiling parts of our countryside with wind farms. We had the replacement of experienced Police Authorities with often lightweight Police Commissioners unsupported by any real democratic mandate. We still have a higher top rate of tax than existed for most of the last Labour government, even though lower taxes stimulate economic growth.
The supposed masterstroke on Europe which the Prime Minister declared would ‘kick UKIP into touch’ has done nothing of the kind and a cynical public has concluded that in fact the issue has been kicked into the long grass.
“And as for us as councillors it has become all too obvious in recent weeks that the top down approach to housing numbers will remain, but because of the so called ‘localism agenda’ we will get the blame for housing numbers we don’t want, but which we have to plan for to satisfy government inspectors.
“Then came gay marriage. Not in the manifesto, it has proved the last straw for many who rightly concluded that irrespective of its merits, it was an unnecessarily divisive issue at a difficult time for the party and the country. Allegedly a free vote, some members were bullied into voting for gay marriage on the basis that they would have no future in government if they didn’t. And who contrived to have the vote just as many Conservative membership renewal forms were landing on the doorstep?
“At root, the problem is that the party needs to be led by people with a powerful sense of mission, rather than a powerful sense of entitlement. And we need leaders who believe in Conservative values and principles. For it is the modernisers, with their determination to appear to be anything but Conservative, who have helped bring us to our current parlous state. It is time for traditional Conservatives to re-claim the leadership and direction of the party. The modernisers have listened too much to the liberal, metropolitan chattering classes, unaware that they are thoroughly unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.
“Finally, one the most disturbing features of the Eastleigh by-election was that the local party organisation has virtually ceased to exist. Fifteen hundred members from twenty years ago has now been reduced to barely one hundred. And without a strong membership and local party organisation, the chances of winning target marginals will be virtually impossible.
“So, Mr Cameron, if you want to win in 2015 start re-connecting with the grass roots. And what’s more, you will find they are much more in touch with what the country is thinking and feeling than the many young, inexperienced and unrepresentative special advisers who surround Ministers, most of whom have had little experience of life and no experience of any job outside of the hothouse world of politics.”