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Senior Tories rally to defence of Leicestershire County Council leader David Parsons

June 21, 2012 10:28 AM
In Leicester Mercury
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Senior Tories rallied round embattled county council leader David Parsons yesterday amid continuing calls for him to resign.

However, three Conservative councillors yesterday revealed unease in party ranks over his continuing leadership, with one saying there was "a sense of despair" over the situation.

Liberal Democrat group deputy leader Dr Sarah Hill hit out at the Tories for not insisting he stand down.

She said: "I don't believe he will quit, despite the overwhelming findings against him.

"Only his party can get rid of him, but they are loyal to him, for some reason. It seems to me they are burying their heads in the sand and assuming this will go away. It won't."

Coun Parsons was strongly censured on Tuesday for breaching the councillors' code of conduct over his travel expenses.

He offered an "unreserved apology" after Martin Caple, chairman of the county council's standards committee, said Coun Parsons had disregarded four key principles of public life - honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership.

Some party colleagues have backed their leader, saying he simply made a mistake.

Councillor David Jennings, chairman of County Hall's Tory group, said: "Personally, David Parsons has my full support. He has done tremendous work for Leicestershire. He is an excellent leader."

However, some senior party figures told the Mercury they were unhappy.

One Tory councillor said: "There is a sense of despair among many of us who feel that anybody else other than Parsons would have stepped aside over this.

"I do not think the group will have the courage to remove him, though."

Another Tory councillor said a change of leader was needed before county council elections in May next year.

He said: "The question of his leadership will have to be tackled. We can't treat it as a minor party difficulty and brush it aside."

A third Tory said they thought Coun Parsons remaining as leader "doesn't look good to members of the public" but said: "There has never been a strong appetite to get rid of him and I don't think that will change."

The Mercury asked other senior Tories for their views.

Deputy council leader Nick Rushton said: "I still support him.

"They were serious issues but he has made a very heartfelt and sincere apology.

"He has been censured, told to issue an apology and do training in standards. Those are humiliating things.

"Either we accept his apology or we sack him, but that is a matter for the group."

Tory cabinet member Richard Blunt said: "We should accept his apology, let him make amends and re-earn the respect of the people of Leicestershire.

"I have been surprised by how many people appear to have been disloyal to him. I believe there is plotting going on and people positioning themselves to become leader."

Bradgate division Tory councillor David Snartt said: "The group has supported David right up to the standards hearing, but now we should all read the independent investigator's report and it would be wise for us to look at this again. Some serious issues have been raised."

Tory MP for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen said: "He may have made a mistake, but he is a very capable leader. In Westminster his council is very highly regarded for the way it is run and I don't know many effective organisations without effective leaders."

Charnwood Tory MP Stephen Dorrell said: "He has been an effective and successful leader, but he has been guilty of regrettable errors in judgement."

Conservative Headquarters in London said the standards committee's findings would be looked at but ultimately left in the hands of the local party.

Coun Parsons appeared before the council's standards committee on Tuesday to face allegations he held on to money paid to him for trips to Europe, which he should have promptly paid back to the authority.

At one point he had more than £5,400 sitting in his bank account which should already have been paid to the council. Coun Parsons settled the amount after a whistle-blower's letters raised the issue and an investigation was launched.

The standards committee concluded Coun Parsons had breached the councillors' code of conduct five times by holding on to the cash.

Coun Parsons was not available for comment yesterday.

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It is difficult for a politician dogged by questions over how they have handled their expenses to maintain the trust of residents and lead a local authority.

"Ultimately, the voters of Leicestershire will pass final judgment on Coun Parsons but it's not surprising to me that he is facing calls to resign."

The county council Tory group will discuss the standards committee's findings at a party meeting on July 3.

Today the Mercury launches an online poll so you can have your say on whether Coun Parsons should stand down.

Editor's note

The online poll can be found about half way down the page in the middle column here.