Well, Epsom and Ewell actually. Channel 4’s Best-Place-To-Live-In-The-UK in 2004 (or was it 2005?) but relegated to 4th place more recently.
It is a unique form of government we have in this borough: controlled by Residents’ Association councillors for more than 70 years which are a group of so-called independent councillors mostly registered as Residents Associations of Epsom & Ewell. We call them the Residents’ Party. There are 23 RA, 10 Lib Dem, 4 Tory and 1 Labour. The Lib Dems are strong in the Epsom area and the RA in Ewell. The Conservatives – undoubtedly our long-term threat – have 1 Epsom-based councillor, one RA defector from Ewell and two others representing a Ewell ward. The 1 Labour councillor took a seat from us in a by-election – she was a previous Mayor and well known – but the by-election being held the day after David Cameron’s son passed away didn’t help us either.
Until 1999, the Conservatives did not stand in local elections here, (something about an unwritten agreement with the RA that they would leave the borough in their capable hands), but since one Chris Grayling’s arrival as our MP and the ever-growing unpopularity of Labour, they are gaining strength and field candidates at every opportunity. Mostly, they are chipping away at the RA majority, but they are extremely aggressive and underhand at both election time and in the council chamber. We are under no illusions they aim for worldwide domination.
A flavour of what we are dealing with here might best be illustrated by the following. Residents’ Party non-councillor officials had become used to holding meetings at the Town Hall, free of charge. The whole system was reviewed and they now have to pay. However, a Motion to council brought by the Tories demanded they were charged for meeting room hire on a retrospective basis for as far back as records sensibly go (it’s more than a year with the sum of money involved around £3,000). The decision on the Motion was brought to the Strategy & Resources Committee where Residents’ Party councillors, with their majority representation, decided to support the recommendation which was that they should not be charged. All other branches of political parties would have had to pay for meeting room hire. It’s clearly abuse of Town Hall facilities, with the final decision on retrospective charging being made by those who have a personal and prejudicial interest in the outcome. Residents’ Party councillors did concede that it might be a good idea that a body other than themselves was consulted but ultimately a full council meeting (with all the opposition members voting against) agreed not to pursue the matter.
The Residents’ Party is a unique animal. At least with recognised political parties, there’s a level playing field to start with.
Cllr Julie Morris is Epsom & Ewell Borough Councillor for College Ward
and Liberal Democrat Council Group Leaderepsom-ewell-libdems.org.uk