Liberal Democrat LogoAt the Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 26 May, the three Liberal Democrats voted against Labour’s nomination for Mayor, Cllr Howard Burrell, and had their votes recorded in the minutes against. Speaking at the meeting, Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr. Robin Parker CC, explained that there were two basic reasons. He has issued the following statement to clarify the matter.

The first reason for voting against Labour’s choice for Mayor is that the Liberal Democrat group have concerns about whether or not Cllr Burrell is a suitable candidate to be the town’s mayor. Apart from his short length of service, he disrupted, in a very rude and embarrassing manner, our Chells Division Residents’ Meeting on 21.1.2013, trying to hi-jack the meeting and causing distress to some residents. In the process he called Cllr Robin Parker and SBC’s Chief Executive liars. Following this, Robin Parker and others complained against the conduct of Cllr Burrell and his was referred to the SBC Standards Committee, who took many months before they found against Cllr Burrell and in Robin Parker’s favour, and instructed him to apologise – which he did, and the apology was accepted by Robin.

However, days later, on 13.6.2014, Burrell withdrew the apology in the (then) Stevenage Advertiser and said of Robin Parker “I called him a liar because he was telling a fib.” He also made some factual errors over the incident.

It is this unsubstantiated (and never withdrawn) public allegation that Robin Parker is a “fibber” – a euphemism for liar – following his so-called ‘apology’, that is the main reason for the question marks over Burrell’s suitability to represent Stevenage as Mayor.

The second reason is that the Mayor should not be a party political appointment. The post should be offered to a long-serving member of any party who is able and willing to do the job. The Labour Council allows only Labour members to be considered. Furthermore, Labour reneged on a 2006 all party signed agreement at SBC that allowed other parties to be mayor. One Conservative was allowed to be mayor in 2007/2008, then in 2010 the Labour leader, Sharon Taylor, tore up the agreement with no discussion or explanation.

“I have been raising the fact that the town’s Mayor should not be a party political appointment since 1982” said Robin Parker “and will continue to do so at SBC AGMs, which is the only possible occasion on which it can be raised. Recently, 65% of Stevenage voters did not vote Labour, and yet Labour insist on a Labour only mayor each year. This is a matter of principle and not self-interest.”

Note that the evidence for ‘principle not self-interest’ is that Robin Parker has over 31 years’ service and is the longest serving councillor who has not been Mayor, but he declined to allow his name to go forward for Mayor during the short lived all party agreement. Note also that the new Deputy Mayor, who is expected to be Mayor in 2016/2017, was Mayor as recently as 2012/2013. This could indicate a shortage of Labour volunteers.

In that case, why could it not now have been offered to a Conservative or Liberal Democrat member?