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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Bill, the unlikely council kingmaker

Principled:  Hayton councillor Bill Graham believes in the community doing plenty for itself, but also fears that voters are fed up with politicians not taking any notice of them and that is why support has been rising  for the BNP LOUISE PORTER

By Julian Whittle

Political editor

RETIRED electrician Bill Graham is an unlikely council kingmaker.

But election results have left the Hayton councillor, Carlisle City Council’s only Independent, in a powerful position.

The council meets on Monday to elect a new mayor and to decide if Labour or the Conservatives should run the authority for the next year.

The arithmetic is such that Mr Graham’s vote could be decisive.

He said: “When it comes to electing the mayor, I vote for the candidate with the longest service, irrespective of what people think.

“I voted for [Labour’s] Mary Styth last year, instead of [Liberal Democrat] Peter Farmer, who was elected, because I thought she deserved it.

“And if I vote for one party’s candidate for mayor, I vote for the same party for leader.”

If Mr Graham sticks to that principle, he will vote for Mrs Styth for mayor again rather than Conservative Liz Mallinson.

Mrs Styth has served on the council for 16 years, compared with Mrs Mallinson’s 12 years.

The choice of mayor is more critical than ever this year as political power is so finely balanced. In the event of a tie on any vote for the rest of the year, the mayor will exercise a casting vote.

Following the elections in May, Labour is the largest party with 25 councillors. There are 19 Conservatives, seven Liberal Democrats, plus Mr Graham.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are likely to vote together and push through Mrs Mallinson, but if one is missing through illness, or if one disgruntled Liberal Democrat abstains, Mrs Styth would become mayor.

She would then use her casting vote to elect Labour’s Michael Boaden as council leader in place of Conservative Mike Mitchelson and so end eight years of Tory control.

Whatever Mr Graham decides on Monday, he is likely to incur the wrath of at least one of the other parties.

But he’s used to that.

When first elected in 1995, he was shunned by both main parties because he joined forces with the Liberal Democrat group, which then had only four members, so they had enough councillors to qualify for a researcher.

He said: “As a result I was sent to Coventry by Labour and Conservatives.

“There was only one councillor who spoke to me and that was [Labour’s] Colin Glover.

“I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Mr Graham, 66, values his position as an Independent.

In the past he has voted to elect Labour mayors including Craig Johnston and Heather Bradley, Conservatives John Collier, Ray Knapton and Sandra Fisher, and Liberal Democrat Ralph Aldersey.

He said: “I’m properly placed to judge quite independently the matters before the council.

“Accordingly, I can vote as my conscience dictates without party political influence.

“When you’re in a group you have advice and support but you have to go along with what they say.”

Mr Graham still lives in Little Corby, the village where he was born, with his wife Joan. They have three grown-up children.

His career with crane-maker Cowans Sheldon saw him travel the world and serve as a shop steward with the AEEU union, now Amicus.

He has been on Hayton Parish Council for 30 years and his philosophy as a city councillor is very much community based.

He said: “What I’m trying to do is pull people together.

“Council tax is going up all the time.

“Some people can’t afford these increases but they’re so proud they still pay it and don’t claim benefits.

“We have to do more for ourselves as a community and not expect the council to do everything for us.”

He sets an example, tending flower beds in the village and co-ordinating other volunteers who pick up litter, cut grass and paint road signs.

He has little time for party politics but is disturbed by the rise of the British National Party in Carlisle which fielded six candidates on May 3.

Mr Graham believes voters are turning to the far-right group as a protest because they feel let down by more established politicians.

He said: “They are fed up with politicians not taking any notice, locally or in government.”

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