Just how united are Suffolk’s Tories at the county council?
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
The resignation of Dr Alan Murray from Suffolk County Council hardly ranks alongside the departure of Iain Duncan Smith in the list of political earthquakes, but it does help to once again destabilise the Tory administration at Endeavour House.
And it is quite clear that all is not sweetness and light among the county council’s Conservatives.
There are those within the administration who insist that the group is more united now than it has been for years, especially when they’re talking on the record.
I’m sorry, but that is absolute rubbish. And many councillors know that. I had one cabinet member telling me recently “it is not a happy ship” when discussing the mood in the group.
Dr Murray has remained silent about the reasons behind his departure, and his timing does look well-managed to cause the least disruption to the group.
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There are no more full meetings of the county council until the annual meeting at the end of May, by which time his successor will have been elected.
And his Bixley seat is one of the safest in the county for the Tories (and the only one they hold in Ipswich).
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But Dr Murray has had spats with his group leadership before – he threatened to resign from the cabinet 18 months ago over an argument about conflicting roles.
And some of his colleagues have told me he was frustrated by the party political machinery he found at the county.
But issues within the Tory group run deeper. Experienced councillors are facing battles to be reselected for next year’s county council elections – at least one former cabinet member has been dropped by his local association.
Others are becoming increasingly worried about talking about issues at the council – I’ve heard of councillors being hauled up before the leadership to explain why they’ve sent me an internal email when I’ve never seen this email!
Paranoia seems to be stalking the corridors of Endeavour House.
One last point. At last week’s full county council meeting the administration won the debate on the fire service cuts by a single vote. But what would have happened had they lost?
The soundings I was getting were that the constitution says the decision would still have to be taken by the cabinet which is made up of exclusively Conservative councillors.
And the hints I was getting suggested that the cabinet would go ahead with whatever they wanted to do – they would not feel morally obliged to follow the wish of the full council.
Which all seems to call into question the value of full meetings of the county council. They seem to be nothing more than the Endeavour House debating society.
It seems to me that the real power at the county is in private meetings which elect group leaders and decide policy with little external scrutiny.