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Cardiff's "nasty" Labour party risks incurring wrath of Wales Audit Office, warn Lib Dems

December 8, 2014 9:26 AM
Originally published by Jenny Willott MP

JW&EP

Infighting within Cardiff's ruling Labour group shows key lessons from a damning Wales Audit Office report have not been heeded.

That is the warning from the city's Lib Dems after November's Council meeting sparked an outbreak of open hostility between Labour backbenchers and the Council's Labour leader, Cllr Phil Bale.

Bale was criticised by Labour colleague Cllr Russell Goodway for failing to offer leadership in relation to local government reform. "We've got a case to sell," Goodway challenged Bale, during exchanges on the Williams Report. "When are you going to start to sell it?'

Later in the same meeting, Cllr Ralph Cook, Labour councillor for Trowbridge, tried to have the administration's Local Transport Plan sent back to the drawing board, saying it contained "serious shortcomings" and suffered from "a complete lack of vision".

Cllr Cook was subsequently upbraided by Labour whip, Iona Gordon, over a matter of party discipline, as simmering tensions within the group boiled over. In response, Cllr Cook demanded the resignation of five Labour cabinet members and party officers, before reportedly comparing splits in the city's Labour group with the killing fields of Cambodia.

"In all my years," said Cllr Judith Woodman, leader of Cardiff's Lib Dems, "I have never know a group in such disarray.

"They hate each other. At November's meeting, there were groups of Labour councillors gathered in corners arguing and plotting among themselves.

"Phil Bale, who's clearly out of his depth, is holding on for dear life.

"As for Ralph Cook, it's inexcusable if reports of his reference to Cambodia's 'killing fields' are true. For a man suspended by the Ombudsman in the past for making inappropriate Nazi jibes, you'd think he'd have learnt his lesson."

Labour's civil war comes barely three months after the Wales Audit Office said fragmented leadership was threatening the Council's ability to address its weak performance in a number of key areas.

These findings were in stark contrast to their assessment in 2011, when they praised the then Lib Dem administration for 'clear and firm leadership and sound governance.'

"I can't imagine what the tax-paying public thinks of such pathetic behaviour," said Jenny Willott, Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central.

"Politicians of all parties need to focus their energy on completing the task of cleaning up the catastrophic financial mess left by the last Labour government.

"You can't focus on the job if you're spending all your time hatching plots or fighting off challenges.

"The Wales Audit Office must take a dim view of this, bearing in mind the clear warning they gave the city's leadership."

This latest stage in Labour's internal strife follows two leadership challenges and a number of resignations by Labour councillors since they took over running the city in 2012. The latest resignation came when Cllr Siobhan Corria stepped down in August, blaming the "culture, attitude and sexism" within the Cardiff Labour group.

"Some within the Labour group tried to dismiss Cllr Corria's criticism," said Cllr Woodman. "The events of the past week show she was spot on.

"Then there's the ongoing suspension of Cllr Keith Jones, who's been cast into the Labour wilderness despite being cleared of code of conduct breaches.

"They used to call the Tories the 'nasty party'.

"Cardiff Labour have now taken on that mantle."