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Letter to Editor: Former deputy leader of Harlow Conservatives responds to resignation of council leader Andrew Johnson

Politics / Mon 4th Oct 2021 at 02:48pm

FORMER Deputy Leader of Harlow Conservatives & Vote Leave John Paul Goddard, responds to the resignation of Council Leader Andrew Johnson.

Mr Goddard said: “I was first elected to Harlow District Council in 2004 in a period of enormous turmoil for the Council and our town. WIthin hours of being elected all Councillors were delivered a letter informing us that the Council had been rated as ‘poor’, in the bottom 10% of local authorities in the country and was in real danger of councillors being ejected and a government inspector would come in, take control and make painful decisions – flogging the towns assets in order to balance the books as the Council was on the point of bankruptcy.

Given there was a Labour Government at the time I would be lying if I said there weren’t those within the Conservative Group that were happy for this to happen and that we might as a party find a political upside. Cllr Andrew Johnson was resolute in his determination that we had been elected to best serve our residents and no matter how painful, or the political cost, we needed to be part of the process in order to protect what we could.

Shortly afterwards I was elected by the Conservative Group to become Deputy Leader and help Andrew lead the Group and the Council through the recovery process. We took some very painful decisions, decisions that impacted the town and its residents, despite the fact we were the official opposition – we joined with the ruling coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats in redistributing council buildings, made efficiency savings and even joined the administration in a unity budget. This was politically unthinkable and took genuine courage. It was testament to the principled leadership of Andrew “forget the politics, lets’ do what’s right”.

The Conservative Group in Harlow has always been a bizarre mix of personalities and is virtually uncontrollable – the fact that Andrew has remained in place as Leader for nearly two and a half decades is testament to his empathy, leadership and ultimately his patience. No-one else could have managed and guided this group into administration not once but three times.

I know first hand how difficult the pandemic has been for Andrew and his family and the other pressures that have been placed upon them in the last few years. We have talked at length about these issues and I know he has wrestled with this decision more than any other and whilst today I am incredibly sad for Harlow, I am equally as pleased for the Johnson family.

The skill and art of leadership is to make it look easy. Many who look from afar have often remarked that Andrew was ‘very good on his feet’ spontaneously responding to points of debate or fast-moving situations, what they were probably unaware of was the meticulous preparation that he underwent to always be on top of the facts and on top of his brief. He had that rare ability that made it look easy but it never was – he sacrificed so much of his time in order to diligently and quietly do his job to the very best of his ability.

Many will know that Andrew recently had a kidney transplant – I suggested to him then that it might be the right time to take a back seat and rest for awhile. With good humour and candour he said defiantly that the time was approaching when that day would come but the town needed a Conservative Council and he was determined not to leave until he had brought the party back into political control. I was sceptical that would happen, but I shouldn’t have been. As usual Andrew’s well-placed relentless optimism, his determination & drive and his key political antennae meant he was right and I was wrong. Not for the first time nor the last I suspect.

No matter the tough choices we faced, the party infighting, the slatings we received in the press and the stress we both withstood during our leadership period, Andrew always made working alongside him enjoyable and rewarding. It was for this reason nearly a decade after leaving the council I returned for one last campaign as his Deputy Leader on the Vote Leave referendum. Although this again was hugely stressful at periods, I was delighted to see he hadn’t lost any of his leadership skills, his analytical eye for detail nor his sense of humour under fire. It was fitting we achieved such an incredible result for the town gaining nearly 70% of the vote. Many others in his position would have left the heavy lifting to others but that is simply not his leadership style – he fights for what he believes in and believes in what he fights for.

I want to place on record my thanks for everything Andrew has done for Harlow, the public will never know the battles he faced and won, always with one central tenet – does this help the people of Harlow? If it did he would take up the mantle with dexterity, skill and vigour.

It was a privilege to serve alongside him in positions of leadership but an even greater honour to call him my friend. He leaves unfillable shoes behind, the next leader should not try to emulate him as there is simply no-one that can.

The next leader needs to find their own way and their own style. I wish them all the luck in the world, they are going to need it.

As for others in leadership positions including Harlow’s MP, I hope they now seek to see that Andrew is properly recognised for his enormous contribution and commitment to the life of the town and all its communities. He will be missed but no-one deserves a rest more than him. I wish him luck in whatever he does next, I know from experience no matter what it is he will make a great success of it.

There is an old adage that all political careers end in failure, how very like him to buck that trend, after all these years, leaving in a manner of his own choosing, in his own time and for his own reasons may be his biggest triumph yet!

John Paul Goddard

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