New Babergh split as Tories leave to join independent group

Babergh council leader John Ward. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Babergh council leader John Ward. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Just weeks after peace appeared to have broken out within the ruling Conservative group at Babergh council, a new split has opened up.

Two senior councillors – Alan Ferguson and Simon Barrett – have joined the Independent Conservative group, doubling its size.

Mr Ferguson had been expected to take a cabinet seat at the authority after John Ward became leader at the beginning of January – he had been one of the most vocal opponents of merger with Mid Suffolk Council and had voted against former leader Jennie Jenkins prompting her resignation.

Mr Barrett is a former deputy leader of the council who was suspended from the Tory group last year after allegedly “leaking” details of confidential advice from the council’s chief executive during a meeting of the authority.

Mr Ferguson said he had hoped to join Mr Ward’s cabinet, but felt an agreement he had tried to make was not being honoured making it impossible for him to stay in the group.

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He said: “I shall still be voting on Conservative principles and still be a member of the South Suffolk Conservative Association. It only means I shall not be a member of the Conservative Group on Babergh council.”

Party rules say that anyone who leaves a party group on a local authority can remain a member of their local association – however if they stand against an official Conservative candidate in an election they would cease to be a party member.

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That means the four “Independent Conservatives” can remain party members until the next election in May 2019 – but if they stand as independents against a new Conservative candidate they would lose their membership.

Mr Ward said he was confident there would be no further defections from his group.

He said: “We are still the largest group on Babergh by a long way and I am reasonably confident that there will be no one else leaving the group in the near future.

“We are developing a programme to go ahead with in the future and I am sure we will have a united group to push that through.”

The next Babergh local elections will be held in 15 months’ time – and will be fought on new boundaries with fewer seats than at present.

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