The Backburner: Electoral Churning

It’s fair to say that nationally the Liberal Democrats have not been the most popular party since going into coalition with the Conservatives in May 2010.

But their good local records has given them a strong grounding that political opponents have continually found hard to break down, both in local and by-elections.

But their current hold in Kingston, since winning the then-new Kingston and Surbiton parliamentary constituency in 1997, cemented when gaining overall council control from 2002, is under increasing threat with the party’s credibility being thrown into fresh doubt.

The main cause of doubt stems from the recent conviction of former Liberal Democrat and Kingston council leader Derek Osbourne, who was recently jailed for two years at Southwark Crown Court after admitting to possessing and making more than 5,000 indecent images and movies of children.

Judge Alastair McCreath quite rightly described the images as “stomach turning”.

It is a negative sign on our judicial system that Osbourne only got a punishment of 2years, which many would regard as being soft. Not only was the crime despicable, it is important to remember it was committed while he was in a position of trust as a councillor.

Prosecutor Peter Zinner said: “He would have been responsible for the welfare of thousands of children. Committing these abhorrent offences in contradiction to his position of trust and responsibility.”

I think the Judiciary missed a beat in this case, by handing a harsher sentence to Osbourne, they would have sent a message across society that such actions are not to be tolerated.

Instead in just over a years’ time, thanks to the likelihood of early parole, we will see Osbourne back on our streets, brushing past kids the same age as those he downloaded disturbing and indecent photographs and videos of.

Many agreed with the length of Osbourne’s sentence, as his life is no doubt left in complete ruins. But would it be better to give a longer sentence of hard community labour than spending a year or so being kept at Her Majesty’s pleasure? Osbourne should give something back to a society he has taken so much from.

It’s bizarre that local Lib Dems have been able to win the local by-elections, going against the electoral grain as their popularity continues on a downward slide. They have gone from verging on breaking the old red and blue domination in 2010 to being less popular than UKIP. With the local eletions on the horizon, this scandal couldnt have come at a worse time for the party.

Both recent Kingston council by-elections have seen surprising Lib Dem holds. Given that government parties usually get knocked for six at by-elections, retaining your seat is no easy feat. In the September 2011 Surbiton Hill by-election, John Ayles won with a portion of the vote only 2 per cent less than the party scored in 2010.

The July 2012 Grove by-election highlighted the Lib Dems electoral issues, as they hung on, bundling over the line with 23 more votes than the Conservatives. Despite their share of the vote being down 14 per cent. Figures near identical to those at the Eastleigh by-election earlier this year.

New Kingston council leader Liz Green has repeatedly said both the council and the party have now ‘moved on’. Ignoring the increasing calls for an independent inquiry into Osbourne’s 10 year reign as head of the council, led by Kingston Conservative leader Howard Jones. In an open letter to Liz Green, Jones said: “We cannot move forward without first drawing a line on the past.”

If the Lib Dem’s in Kingston want to remain in office after the May 2014 local elections then the time to act is now.

Photo courtesy of Rex Features

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