A Surbiton councillor has criticised a ‘lack of core liberal values’ as she announces her resignation from the Liberal Democrat group.
Sharron Sumner, who represents the Alexandra ward, covering parts of the Berrylands and Tolworth, said she is leaving the group with a ‘heavy heart’, but feels strongly she ‘needs to have a free voice for Alexandra residents’.
Following her resignation from the Liberal Democrat group, Councillor Sumner intends to remain on the council and will represent her constituents as an independent Liberal Democrat.
I sat down with Councillor Sumner, who explains her reasons for taking this decision today.
Questioning the Liberal Democrat leadership at the Guildhall, she criticised the manifesto for a ‘lack of imagination’, adding “there were no real different pledges in the Liberal Democrat manifesto compared to the Tories. In my view it was a particularly weak manifesto, it lacked imagination, it lacked core Liberal Democrat values.”
Expressing dissatisfaction in regard to openness within the Liberal Democrats at Guildhall, Councillor Sumner revealed a ‘top-down’ approach within the group. She said “I had to fight really hard, prior to the short campaign, to actually allow the candidates who were not existing councillors to even see the manifesto. Originally, the leadership team weren’t going to let candidates who were not existing councillors have an input or even see it.
“I had to go up against the leadership stating that those candidates who could soon be councillors had to have the opportunity to look at it, and either ratify it or make suggestions – that was a real battle prior to the election.”
Another Liberal Democrat member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also described a ‘top-down’ culture within the group.
Councillor Sumner questions this approach, praising a raft of newly elected Liberal Democrat councillors including her ward colleague, Sam Foulder-Hughes, and Norbiton Councillor, Olly Wehring. She added “We’re very lucky in the Liberal Democrats to have such a breath of new experience within the group, and just point to people like my ward colleague Sam Foulder-Hughes, he’s young, dynamic, got some really good ideas, and it’d be great if they were given more opportunity to take leadership on some things. Olly Wehring has worked so hard on leading with the new school in Norbiton, it’d be great if they had more of a free reign on local issues. A lot of these new talented people aren’t being given the opportunity at the moment to really push themselves and make the difference that they wanted to make by being a councillor.”
Councillor Sumner has a passion for issues such as air quality, saying she was “really disappointed that my requests to the leadership to have some really substantive policies added to the manifesto were largely ignored. I urged the leadership to add issues like differential parking charges, where the most polluting vehicles pay slightly more for their parking, and no idling zones outside schools. Both policies have had a positive effect in other areas of London – token policies, such as planting 2000 trees, which whilst may add to the visual appeal of the borough, do little to tackle air pollution.”
On local issues, such as the Tolworth Area Plan, and 20mph on residential roads in Surbiton, Councillor Sumner is “pleased to have a free voice” to represent Alexandra residents.
Speaking on the Tolworth Area Plan, Councillor Sumner said: “I genuinely feel we should have a resident-led consultation on how the area can delivery the homes that are needed, whilst creating a sustainable community. The evidence I’ve seen so far is a ‘business as usual’ attitude, continuing the plans started under the Tory administration, and I’d like to see much more community engagement on this scheme as it greatly affects how our ward will develop in the future, and so far my calls have been largely ignored.”
On 20mph zones in Surbiton, which has gained popular support in two consultations previously, Councillor Sumner said she was “disappointed” that the Liberal Democrats wanted a third consultation. “I feel 20mph is an issue of such importance to air quality, and the safety of children and vulnerable residents. Major cities like Edinburgh have just rolled out a 20 MPH scheme across the city – I don’t know why we are dragging our heels on it, I’m very upset by this. I feel we should be rolling this out sooner rather than waiting at least a year before it’s looked at, and then 18 months before it can be brought in.”
Concluding our interview, Councillor Sumner wants to reassure Alexandra residents that she will continue to represent them on local issues, sitting as an Independent Liberal Democrat. She said “ Residents can contact me via e-mail, telephone, through my new website, and I want to reassure Alexandra residents that I am there to help them and do whatever I can to make their lives in Kingston as easy and comfortable and possible. If they have any kind of problem, I am more than happy to talk to them and help.”
The Liberal Democrat group at the Guildhall have, this afternoon, been contacted for comment.