Conservatives in Kirklees accused of 'peddling nonsense and half-truths' in 'knowingly misleading' election leaflet

Conservatives in Kirklees have been accused of “peddling nonsense and half-truths” in an election newsletter that claims opposition groups backed the local Labour administration’s recent council tax hike.

An election leaflet put out by Conservatives in Kirklees, which has been described as “a gross and deliberate misrepresentation of the facts”.

Greens, Lib Dems and Independents have all taken issue with the latest edition of In Touch, a Conservative Party publication, that says they supported a 4.99% increase.

It has been variously described as “knowingly misleading”, “cynical” and “a gross and deliberate misrepresentation of the facts”.

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A senior Liberal Democrat said: “Distribution of this leaflet needs to cease immediately. It is a very serious matter to mislead the public in this way.”

Labour members on Kirklees Council voted in February to increase council tax by the maximum possible to invest £115m in adult social care across the borough.

There was sniping and back-biting throughout the meeting, which lasted almost six hours,

The vote for Labour’s budget was carried by 35 votes to 32. Three independent councillors, all ex-Labour, sided with their former party to secure it.

Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens, the Holme Valley Independents and Councillor Aleks Lukic from the Dewsbury Borough Independents all voted against.

The In Touch leaflet declares: “At the budget debate, a Lib Dem councillor didn’t vote, meaning Labour’s tax hike was passed by just one vote. The Holme Valley Independents and Greens also supported a 4.99% increase.”

That was rejected by Lib Dem group leader Councillor John Lawson, who said his members voted against both the Labour and Conservative budget proposals.

He said: “What the Conservatives need to be honest about is the Tory stealth tax that is adding 3% to council tax bills this year.

“Of the council tax bill for a band D property, £214 is entirely due to this Tory stealth tax.”

He added: “The vote on the Labour budget proposal was won by Labour 35 – 32.

“One of our members had technical issues in the virtual meeting, which is a common event in these days of virtual meetings. That did not affect the outcome of the vote and the Conservatives know it.

“It was impossible to defeat the proposal as the ex-Labour members voted for it.

“The irony is not lost on me that here we have the Conservative group moaning about a budget vote and getting the numbers wrong.

“It is worrying that these leaflets are seen by candidates, agents and campaign managers before they go to print yet this was still approved.

“I do hope the Trumpism extolled in a Conservative Party newsletter last December hasn’t found favour here. I’d expect better than that.

“Distribution of this leaflet needs to cease immediately. It is a very serious matter to mislead the public in this way.”

Councillor Charles Greaves, leader of the three-member Holme Valley Independents, said: “We absolutely do not support a 4.99% increase in council tax. Our objective remains to cut rates and we shall continue to fight for this.”

He said letters asking the government to confirm it would honour a promise to inject additional money into adult social care had gone unanswered.

Coun Greaves said without that assurance his group was unable to propose a cut in council tax, instead recognising that ratepayers would be “unfairly hit by yet another massive increase”.

He added: “I have received ‘phone calls from residents demanding to know if it is true that we voted for the Labour budget – and I have told them that it is not.

“This Conservative tactic of misleading statements and half-truths constantly undermines our calls for all councillors to work together, to put residents first, and to end destructive party games.

“The Conservatives really should focus on what they have done rather than peddling nonsense and half-truths. If they have anything to be proud of perhaps they should print that instead.”

But Colne Valley Conservatives stuck to their guns.

The prospective Conservative candidate for Holme Valley North, Tony McGrath, said: “It is factually correct that the Holme Valley Independents proposed their budget amendment, which included a 4.99% council tax increase.

“They then voted for that amendment. In other words, they supported a 4.99% increase.”

Leader of the Green group on Kirklees Council, Councillor Andrew Cooper, said the Conservatives’ claim was “knowingly misleading”.

He added: “Their own Government sets the amount by which council tax can be raised, so if the Conservative government wanted it could simply reduce the cap.

“The Kirklees Conservative group’s budget amendment was simply not workable.

“They give the impression of fiscal prudence when the reality is far from it. The Greens didn’t think much of Labour’s budget and didn’t vote for it. We also didn’t vote for the Conservatives’ cynical misleading budget either.”