I received disturbing news this evening. Despite his apparent statement that he had left the Conservative Group, Ted Watt-Ruffell remains a Conservative Councillor on Thanet District Council. Since Ted Watt-Ruffell's conviction for animal cruelty following his guilty plea, the Conservative Group have acted in a bizarre fashion. Instead of a clear written statement there has apparently been a series of telephone calls by Simon Moores. It is unclear why he is making telephone calls rather than issuing a clear written statement.
The Conservative Group Leader should issue a statement something along the lines of
"There is no place for breaking the law in the Conservative Party and we are appalled that a poor defenceless animal has been allowed to suffer. Cllr. Ted Watt-Ruffell has been immediately expelled from Thanet Conservative Group.
A member of Thanet Conservative Group will be issuing a Standards complaint against Ted Watt-Ruffell if he remains a councillor. I have asked for this statement to be published as widely as possible."
A clear simple message. Instead unclear phrases like stand aside are used. In order to resign from a political group or the Council, a councillor has to write to Thanet District Council's Chief Executive. So the various statements reportedly made by Ted Watt-Ruffell have no effect, and I am reliably informed that no official communication has been received to remove Ted from the Conservative Group. Now you could say this is a procedural oversight. Except exactly the same problem arose only a few months ago when Conservative councillor Stephen Broadhurst's resignation was delayed due to the failure to communicate it properly. Stephen Broadhurst was Ted Watt-Ruffell's fellow ward councillor, and remains his employer and friend. So Ted would be well aware of how to resign, or rather how to not resign and continue receiving allowances. I wrote then on 5th September...
"Why do the Conservative Group on Thanet Council not take disciplinary action against Cllr. Broadhurst and suspend/expel him? Why do they tolerate this situation? Are there any circumstances in which they will take disciplinary action against one of their own?"
The same could be said again today.
Thanet Conservative Group should have taken action, but have chosen not to do so. Now why would this be? Well could it be that Ted is intending to remain a councillor, and the Conservative Group want to continue to work closely with him? If Ted resigns he will become an Independent, but I would be surprised if the current Independent councillors would want him as part of their group. Perhaps he should sit as an Independent Conservative, although I think he should resign as a councillor following his guilty plea and conviction.
As Thanet Conservatives buck national trends by losing by-elections and now possibly losing a councillor, majorities on committees become tighter. In particular the Margate Charter Trustees has become finely balanced with 8 Labour, 9 Conservative, 2 Independent councillors and Ted. The poorly run Margate Charter Trustees website run by Margate Conservatives continues to list Stephen Broadhurst as a councillor, months after his eventual resignation.
Independent Leader Cllr. Dean McCastree has tended to vote with the Conservatives. The other Independent Cllr. Tom King has not always voted with the Conservatives. This potentially brings a vote for the Mayor of Margate in 2009/10 in the next few months to almost deadlock. Potentially 9 people supporting a Labour nominee, 10 supporting a Conservative nominee with Ted as Mayor maker with the casting vote.
I understand local Conservatives are petrified at the prospect of a by-election in Dane Valley ward following their humiliation at the December 2009 by-election by Labour's Sandra Hart. Some of them are keen to keep Ted Watt-Ruffell as a councillor and to avoid a by-election.
So what could explain why Thanet Conservatives have gone easy towards Ted Watt-Ruffell and have kept him as a member of their group? The only explanation that fits for me is as follows. It requires a powerful individual with considerable influence who wishes to be Mayor of Margate in 2010/11. This could be their final year as a councillor prior to elections in 2011. Only one individual fits this scenario, Conservative Group Leader Sandy Ezekiel. He was particularly close to Ted, making him his Chief Whip and securing for him not just one additional allowance but as Bertie Biggles demonstrates two, when many other Conservative councillors received none. This is I note just a theory.
Cllr. Ezekiel is not just Conservative leader, he is Thanet District Council Leader. At a time when politics has a very poor reputation, he should not hesitate or bottle this decision. He should unequivocally publicly condemn Ted Watt-Ruffell's conduct as found by the courts. That would be real leadership. I think he should stop hiding, and express the views of the people of Thanet and remove Ted Watt-Ruffell from the Conservative Group. The longer this goes on, the more dubious it looks.
Margate Conservatives should be clear they are not seeking to rely on Ted Watt-Ruffell's support to ensure they select a Mayor of Margate.
UPDATE 17.02.2010 I am pleased to advise that a proper written resignation has now been submitted by Cllr. Ted Watt-Ruffell and has been recieved.
Thanet District Council Conservative Group continue to refuse to comment on this matter.