Lib Dems fight back after Tory attacks

The leader of a council facing one of the toughest fights in the country to retain power announced yesterday that “the gloves are now off” following days of negative campaigning by the opposition.

The leader of a council facing one of the toughest fights in the country to retain power announced yesterday that “the gloves are now off” following days of negative campaigning by the opposition.

Vivienne Clifford-Jackson, leader of the ruling Liberal Democrat group on South Norfolk Council, attacked her Tory rivals for “abusing honesty” and being “underhand”.

She said the Liberal Democrats, who have been in power in south Norfolk since 1995 but face a battle to win next month's election in the face of an increasingly vibrant opposition, were proud of their transparent record.

But John Fuller, leader of the Conservatives, last night hit back, saying Ms Clifford-Jackson was “wingeing” and his party also had no problems with being open.

The Liberal Democrat's claims came in an extraordinary press release following weeks in which the Tories have attacked their rivals for failing to keep officials on South Norfolk Council in check.

That culminated in an EDP report published on Monday in which Mr Fuller claimed the Lib Dems had approved changes to redundancy payments that could see individual officers pocket as much as £150,000 should they be asked to leave.

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Fed up with days of negative headlines, Ms Clifford-Jackson said: “Enough is enough. We have maintained a dignified and factual response to the Conservative opposition in the election campaign so far, unfortunately that is not being respected.

“We will now take every opportunity to tell the people of south Norfolk what misinformation is being put out by the Conservatives. We are proud of our record as an open and transparent council but unfortunately this honesty is being abused.”

She said that the redundancy policy had been approved by two cross-party committees and that the Tories were now using a scrutiny committee that was supposed to be above party politics to score points during an election campaign.

“How is democratic local government to survive in this climate?” she said. “I don't believe the people of south Norfolk like this behaviour and they are telling us so. By all means criticise and attack us, but on real issues and difference of policy. Not by biting the hand that feeds you.”

Mr Fuller said: “It seems odd that Ms Clifford-Jackson is now whingeing to the press about the Conservatives' lack of openness. All our election materials are freely available on our comprehensive website.

“We've even produced a campaign video on the popular site Youtube. By contrast, the Lib Dems' website makes no mention of the local elections at all.

“The Conservatives take their responsibility to scrutinise the council seriously. It's why we've called for a fresh look at an overly generous severance scheme for senior officials that could cost local tax payers £400,000.

“That's the sort of thing that electors look to councillors to perform, not to complain when things don't go their way.”

The scrutiny committee will meet to discuss the redundancy pay scheme today. Over the coming weeks south Norfolk will become an increasingly high profile election ground, with both Sir Menzies Campbell and David Cameron rumoured to be planning visits.