Sutton Council’s Liberal Democrats are proving themselves to be most illiberal and not very democratic, after they managed to kick a councillor, Nick Mattey, out of their party for daring to try to represent the interests of residents in his ward and their simple desire to be able to breathe clean air.
Mattey is a councillor for Beddington North, where Sutton are allowing Viridor to build an industrial-scale waste incinerator.
Planning permission for the incinerator was granted by Sutton soon after Viridor’s charity arm had made grants of nearly £1.5 million to “good causes” in the constituencies of three south-west London LibDem MPs: St Vince Cable, “Sir” Ed Davey and the party’s only London MP still in office, Carshalton and Wallington’s Tom Brake.
Sutton, together with Croydon and two other boroughs, are part of the South London Waste Partnership which decided to award a £1 billion, 25-year contract to Viridor to burn domestic rubbish at Beddington under circumstances which failed to meet usual standards of governance in public office, and were also highlighted by Mattey.
Mattey was hauled up before the beak at the National Liberal Club last week and called to account for his opposition to the incinerator, and for being the whistle-blower who exposed Viridor’s generous “gifts”. Mattey was accused of “conduct which has brought or is likely to bring the party into disrepute”.
Mattey was suspended from the party’s group whip on the LibDem-controlled Sutton Council last year. He has been conducting his work since as an independent councillor. Last week’s hearing was to rule on his membership of the party.
The LibDem disciplinary panel decided that because the council had determined to build the incinerator before Mattey was elected as a councillor, neither he, nor residents in his ward, had any right to an opinion.
“Following your election you became increasingly outspoken in your attempt to overturn this decision including allegations of impropriety and corruption,” the LibDem ruling against Mattey stated. “The group worked hard to accommodate your deeply held views on incineration but unfortunately these overrode your wider responsibility to the group and the party leading to your suspension.”
So that’s clear then: LibDem councillors are responsible to their group and party before the electorate.
The Liberal Democrats disciplinary hearing did lean towards farce. Or resemble a kangaroo court. “The panel kept their identities secret,” Mattey told Inside Croydon. “We had to ask for special dispensation to find them. It did have elements of the Spanish inquisition, without the pointed hats.”
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