Last year’s Mayor of Tunbridge Wells has described the treatment of his successor at the hands of her own party as ‘shameful’.
Cllr Soyke was banned from standing as a Tory candidate at next year’s local elections, despite being the incumbent representative of Speldhurst and Bidborough. The decision was taken by a committee of five Conservative Association members, as reported in the Times last week.
The Mayor admitted to being ‘puzzled’ by the outcome of the selection vote, as no reasons have been given for the decision and no appeals are allowed.
The decision has infuriated many of her Conservative colleagues on the council, who have called for an ‘extraordinary group meeting’ on Friday [September 15] to look into the issue.
However, constant changes to the local party rules have cast doubt over whether the decision can be reversed.
One councillor, who we agreed not to name, said he did not think his group of Conservatives at the council had a veto over the local Association’s selection process.
He added: “The selection process has been tinkered with over the years, you used to be able to appeal but now you cannot.
“Normally the selection process is meant to ensure you are adhering to Conservative principles and not bringing the party into disrepute.
“I don’t know what the group can do, if anything, but I suspect there will be some repercussions of some kind.”
The deselection of Cllr Soyke has also left the council with a legal headache, as her term as a councillor will now be terminated before her term as Mayor expires.
“Disrespectful and underhand”
In a sign of the cross-party respect afforded to the current Mayor, even her political opponents have cried foul.
Her predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Cllr David Neve, said: “What a body blow. Considering her attendance record of 100 per cent, and the work Cllr Soyke has put into both council and parish council, it makes you think the Tories must have found someone who can get more than 24 hours in a day to replace her. Shameful way to treat the first citizen of the borough.”
Martin Betts, Labour’s Local Campaign Co-ordinator, urged Cllr Sokye to challenge the Association over her ‘shabby’ treatment,
He said: “The surprise deselection of Cllr Julia Soyke illustrates the truth of Churchill’s observation that the enemy is not the opposition but those on the benches behind you.
“That Cllr Soyke is the Mayor and is well respected across the council chamber makes her treatment by fellow Conservatives look disrespectful and underhand. Anyone who loses their job in paid work would be expected to be told the reason for their dismissal and an appeal process would be available.
“She should fight her shabby treatment and, if necessary, stand as an Independent.”
However, Cllr Soyke, who said she is ‘mulling over’ her next move, has not been deterred from business as usual, and attended the unveiling of a new sculpture and water feature at Knights Wood on Friday [September 8].
Councils, groups, comities, and associations explained
Association: Conservative Party members living within the borough are likely to be part of the Tunbridge Wells Association. Anyone not affiliated with another party can sign up for a small regular fee. Members often help the party campaign during election times, and in return get voting rights over who will represent them at elections.
Selection Committee: This panel of five individuals is part of the association and are appointed by the membership. Its role is to vet those wanting to stand at local elections in the borough and drawing up a shortlist of potential candidates, who the members then vote on later in the process.
Conservative Group: Conservative councillors form their own group to discuss party issues and strategy. Meetings are held in private and are supposed to be a forum where internal disputes are resolved. Conservative councillors will also be members of the association.
The Council: The Conservatives are by far the largest party on the Borough Council. Actions undertaken by ‘The Council’ are often the result of Conservative policy but not all the time. Not all members of the council are Conservatives, with other parties also represented.