Ministers' attacks could hit Tory re-election campaign - senior councillors

5:00pm Wednesday 23rd January 2013

By Mark Tallentire

SENIOR Tories have demanded the Government stop attacking local councils – warning David Cameron if the criticism continues, it could hit the party’s re-election campaign.

Thirty-one leading Conservative councillors, including at least two from this region, have signed a private letter urging the Prime Minister to stop “patronising language” being used to attack those who “work extraordinary long hours for our communities”.

The leaked four-page letter says: “It is important that you understand how disappointed and even angry local activists are and how many might not be there when we need them as electoral foot soldiers.”

North Yorkshire County Council leader John Weighell and Richard Bell, Tory group leader at Labour-run Durham County Council, denied the letter represented a threat to withdraw support.

But Councillor Weighell said top Tory councillors were “concerned about the bad publicity coming to councils from some ministers” and Coun Bell said there was “a lot of concern” about how local government was being treated.

Senior ministers including Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Conservative chairman Grant Shapps have consistently made outspoken attacks on town hall spending.

In their letter, the councillors say they are concerned over some government policy affecting local government, its accompanying rhetoric and the effect on “our people”.

They slam “ill-informed and anecdote-based general criticism and sometimes highly inaccurate personal attacks” and say they are worried about any weakening between the “parliamentary leadership and the party’s active local members”.

Coun Bell said: “I’ve been supportive of efforts by the (Durham) county council and Anec (Association of North East Councils) to bring to the Government’s attention the particularly high level of cuts that have been coming through to the North-East and Durham. I make no secret of that or apology for that.

“Local government has been getting a tough deal from the Government and local government in the North-East has been getting a very tough deal. I see it as my role to advocate the needs of the people of County Durham to central Government.”

He added: “We are supportive of the Government and will be working hard come the next General Election to secure a Conservative government.

“That doesn’t mean we’re prepared to sit back and take everything without comment or reply, particularly if it’s an unfair criticism or policy.”

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