BBC: Accused Weymouth councillor joins Lib Dem ‘coalition’

by Stephen Tall on March 2, 2014

A pretty unbelievable story from Dorset, as reported by the BBC:

A new coalition has been formed by Liberal Democrat councillors to include a member suspended from the party while he faces child sex charges. Weymouth and Portland councillor Ryan Hope was forced to stand down from the party last month after the intervention of its leader Nick Clegg.

The local party set up the Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Allies to protect Mr Hope’s place on council committees. Mr Hope, who is due to stand trial in April, denies all the charges. Under council rules, seats on committees are allocated proportionally between political groups, based on the number of councillors in each group. No party has overall control at the borough.

Councillor Ian Roebuck, who leads the Lib Dem group, said: “Ryan cannot currently use the Liberal Democrat name and sits as an independent on the borough council. He retains the total support and confidence of his Liberal Democrat colleagues, and we have unanimously agreed to constitute ourselves into a Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Allies which we have all, collectively and individually, invited Ryan to join, and he has accepted.”

While I can understand the personal loyalties here, it’s a bad decision. Ryan Hope faces serious criminal charges. Like anyone else he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. But while the legal process is ongoing it’s right – for him and for the party – that his membership is suspended. For a council group to re-constitute itself to accommodate his continuing committee positions simply won’t be understood by the public.

Here’s what the national party has said about the matter:

“The party acted quickly to suspend Councillor Ryan Hope when we became aware of the extremely serious charges against him. “The party has been made aware of the decision by the council group in Weymouth. The regional party is now establishing the facts and will consider appropriate action.”

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.