By Jamie O’Dell
As debates over the Conservative government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and related government contracts rages on nationally, tensions in the ongoing local election campaigns have similarly increased over the weekend. This comes after Stroud Constituency Labour Party (CLP) submitted a formal complaint regarding claims made on Stroud Conservative Party election materials.
This is related to diesel service vehicles temporarily leased by Stroud District Council (SDC), which Stroud Conservatives incorrectly claim have been bought by the council as they try to discredit the Labour-led coalition’s record on climate action ahead of the local elections on May 6th.
In his pre-election interview with Amplify Stroud, the Conservatives group leader on Stroud District Council, Councillor Stephen Davies repeated this claim of the council buying 16 diesel vehicles. However, when asked for evidence to support this after the interview, Davies stated in an email that “I accept these may have been leased but I am not sure that leased vehicles are less polluting than purchased ones.”
A report prepared for SDC’s Housing Committee outlining the rational for obtaining these vehicles on a three year lease to replace the ageing Community Services Fleet can be found here. In the report, which considers multiple alternatives including electric and hybrid vehicles, the council officer responsible clearly states that ‘The traditional diesel option is still the only real option for vans which are to be used daily for the time being’, due to issues with the availability of vans, range, charging availability, and charging time.
In a statement, Stroud CLP said that:
“The lie first appeared on a leaflet distributed throughout the district. It reappeared on a letter from an individual candidate and was repeated by the Conservative Group leader during an interview for a podcast.”
The mistruth claims that the “Rainbow Coalition [the Labour, Green, and Liberal Democrat alliance of councillors who run Stroud District Council] declared a climate emergency and then bought 16 diesel cars instead of electric.”
The truth is the council bought no diesel vehicles. It bought ten electric and hybrid vehicles for neighbourhood wardens. The Conservative Group leader was on the committee that voted for this.
The council also leased – on a temporary basis – electric, hybrid and diesel vehicles for the housing department, “to ensure economy of use, accessibility of fuel, and power required for getting around the district.” The Conservatives refused to join the working group that made that decision.
Why is this important? The Conservatives are accusing the district council of hypocrisy over its response to the climate emergency. This is not a matter of misleading the public by reading statistics a certain way; it is a downright lie.”
When asked on Monday (the 26th) for comment regarding the complaint, Cllr Davies stated that “The vehicles may be leased which is standard procurement practice and I have asked in Full Council on Thursday whether this is for a fixed term i.e. 3 or 5 years, which would be similar to the time most organisations would run any purchased vehicle. If this is the case then clearly the claim that these can be replaced when alternative vehicles are available does not apply. Obviously leased or purchased, they emit the same amount of Carbon which is the key point.”
However, when the campaign material distributed by the Conservatives locally is simply stating that the Labour run SDC ‘Declared a climate emergency and then bought 16 diesel vans instead of electric’, there is little detracting from the fact that this is not true.
In general it is not unreasonable to note that there can be little difference between purchasing and leasing in practice, however, in this specific case, as evidenced by the reasoning outlined by the council officer’s report, this was a provisional decision due to there being no practical alternative, thus rendering the use of this for political campaigning by the Conservatives to be highly deceitful.
Additionally, the fact that Cllr Davies has accepted they have not been purchased and is still in the process of understanding how long they have been leased for, demonstrated that he knows this claim is not true.
This comes as the Conservatives locally position themselves as a climate conscious party, centring the bulk of their campaign upon critiquing existing SDC policies. Something other parties, such as the Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato during her own pre-election interview with Amplify Stroud, have criticized this as ‘getting on the bandwagon late and trying to pick holes in other people’.
To put this into a national perspective, there are two key aspects underpinning the Conservative governments continued inaction on the climate emergency, despite ever-increasing carbon reduction targets.
The first aspect is the lack of an adequate road map for meeting the government’s climate targets during the past 11 years and into today, the gap between rhetoric and reality clearly being demonstrated when the impact of existing policies are calculated.
Secondly, and even more damningly, is the government routinely introducing anti-climate policies, under the rationale of economic growth. Examples of this include a continued freeze to fuel duty, cutting air passenger duty to encourage domestic flights, and scrapping the Green Homes Grant with no replacement. Additionally, there is the chronic underfunding of local authorities’ local transport budgets, with even the newly announced National Bus Strategy’s £3 billion budget paling in comparison to the government’s ongoing £27 billion road building project, as well as providing new oil exploration licences in the North Sea.
Needless to say, all of these are slightly more harmful than a local council leasing diesel service vehicles and the people of Stroud would be better served by political campaigning that offered plans and hope, rather than wilful manipulations designed to mislead and belittle, posted through their door.
People’s trust in their elected representatives is a critical issue, and therefore it is vital that we recognise, understand, and condemn when deceit is being deployed for political gain. This is as true on a local level as it is on a national level.