Some people say that elections don’t change anything. Well, this last local election for West Suffolk Council has changed everything and it might not be for the better.
To remind everyone here are the results of the election:
|Description||Number of councillors|
|Communist Party of Great Britain||0|
|The Conservative and Unionist Party||26|
|The Green Party||1|
|West Suffolk Independents||9|
The results show that whilst the Conservatives are the single largest party we don’t have the 33 votes required to form a majority administration. But neither do Labour or the newly formed group from the Independents combined with West Suffolk Independents. It gets complicated. Labour have already brought the Green and Lib Dem into their group.
So the balance is Conservatives 26, Labour + Green + Lib Dem 19, combined Independents 19
Add to the mix, the previous Leader of the Conservatives, who was also the Leader of the Council stepped down as Leader. On Wednesday, the Conservatives had its group AGM and I became the Leader of the group. A real honour and a real challenge. Our group has been the ruling group for 20 years or more (if you include St Edmundsbury Council which merged with Forest Heath Council 4 years ago). We have much to understand.
For the last couple of weeks I have been working hard to play our part in putting together an administration that can work for the people we represent. The options appear to be:
Option1 The Conservatives put up a Leader (me) and the Independents abstain from voting, on this one issue only, so the conservative vote 26 beats the Labour + Green + Lib Dem vote 19. That is the only vote we would need for the Independents to abstain on for 4 years. The Conservatives can form an administration to get the work done and can negotiate with the Independents on a full range of matters. This has the beauty of preserving the Independence members independence, they don’t have to prop up a Conservative administration and the council will be well run with experienced politicians. The Independents will be able to have a large influence on council policy.
Option 2 The Independents join the Labour group. In this case Labour 17 + 1 Green + 1 Lib Dem = 19 plus Independents 19 beat the Conservatives 26. The down side to this arrangement is that the Independents will no longer be independent but will have to vote with Labour. To get past the magic number of 33 at least 14 Independents will need to vote with Labour on every single vote for 4 years. This is a big ask.
I hope this is clear – it feels very complicated.
I understand the excitement that must be flowing through the Labour and Independent groups right now. They potentially could be running the council. I hope they have thought through what that means. It is much more than a few council meetings. The Leadership is a full time position. Besides normal council business they will need to engage with Government, the Local Government Association, the District Council network, the Local Enterprise Partnership, other council leaders, business leaders, social community groups, charities and so it goes on. This all takes huge amount of time.
I worry that if the Leadership is not strong and focused the void will be filled by officers of the council and whilst they are very competent they will not be able to drive our local priorities in the same way politicians can.
Having led Cambridgeshire County Council, in the past, I feel I am ready, willing and able to rise to this challenge. We will know more at the Council AGM next week.
Wish me luck