And in the blue corner... top Tories in public row

The Labour Party may be tearing itself apart nationally, and UKIP might be at each other's throats, but in Peterborough the biggest split appears to be coming from two of the city's heavyweight Conservatives.

Monday, 17th October 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 6:57 pm
Shailesh Vara, Peter Hiller, John Peach, Wayne Fitzgerald, David Cameron, Stewart Jackson, John Holdich

In the blue corner is Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, and in the, erm, other blue corner is Peterborough City Council leader Councillor John Holdich.

The two take a different approach to political life - the former is more vociferous - and they also represent different constituencies, with Cllr Holdich a member of the North West Cambridgeshire Conservatives.

After the breakdown in relationship between Mr Jackson and the former council leader Cllr Marco Cereste, it many hoped Cllr Holdich’s elevation to the top job in May 2015 would signal an end to the internal warfare.

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Mr Jackson said at the time he wanted to “reset the relationship” with the council.

But the council’s insistence that the city’s rising homeless population is the fault of Government reforms has ended the détente, with Cllr Holdich telling Mr Jackson that his Government should “accept some responsibility” and Mr Jackson referring to Cllr Holdich as a “useless leader.”

The Peterborough Telegraph has spoken to leading Conservatives for their views on the recent disagreements, beginning with Cllr Holdich.

Cllr Holdich said: “Sometimes it’s best to ignore him but we need to work together.

“He tends to fire off the hip and I would like him to be a bit more statesmanlike.

“He needs to think more before he opens his mouth.

“My relationship has been pretty good with him. From time to time we’ve had a little bit of a fallout but had a drink together the next week. If we want to fall out it should be between us and in private.”

Cllr Cereste, a North West Cambridgeshire Conservative and now a backbencher, said: “It’s a real shame a Conservative MP spends as much time as that criticising a Conservative councillor rather than working together to resolve any issues.

“I feel sorry for John and I think Stewart is wrong to behave like that. He had a go at me constantly for five to six years when I was leader.

“Blue on blue is bad news and should not be allowed.”

The council’s cabinet has 11 members. Two represent wards in the Peterborough Constituency, deputy council leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald and Cllr Sam Smith.

Peterborough Conservative Cllr John Peach, godfather to Mr Jackson’s daughter and council leader until 2009, said: “Probably there’s a little bit too much domination from one side and that does create a little bit of tension.

“The other side wonders ‘why are they doing this? Why are all the traveller sites in one part of Peterborough? When Stewart gets annoyed I can probably understand why.

“It might be the powers that be feel there are not the councillors this side of the river to take on those roles.”

Mr Jackson said he works effectively with the council to lobby the Government, but “too often we get from the city council poor political leadership and complacent overpaid officers lacking any proper coherent vision for the city’s future.

“If I had a fiver for every time Cllr Holdich promised education would improve I’d be a very wealthy man – it just never happens – and there’s always a plethora of excuses rather than a proper action plan. For all that, dialogue with John Holdich continues. He does at least listen and engage, unlike his arrogant and unlamented predecessor.”

Mr Jackson added: “The clique that run the administration is too focussed on North West Cambridgeshire rather than my own constituency. This has always given rise to a certain level of tension as you can imagine.”

In response, Cllr Holdich said: “I expect more from the city’s MP than these un-statesman like public comments which bring the city into disrepute.

“The cabinet is picked for its ability and their time to do the job.”