Leader calls for entire council to resign

THE leader of Tendring District Council last night called for all 60 of its members to resign and go to the polls so voters could decide “once and for all” who they want to run local services.

Roddy Ashworth

THE leader of Tendring District Council last night called for all 60 of its members to resign and go to the polls so voters could decide “once and for all” who they want to run local services.

The shock challenge came after it emerged that opposition councillors were planning to try and overthrow the current ruling Conservative-led administration following the death of a cabinet member last month.

If successful, the coup would lever back into power the Tendring First-led coalition that was ousted by the Conservatives in May after the three-month suspension of one of its members.

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Yesterday council leader Neil Stock said the knife-edge 30-30 make-up of the council - in which every single decision depended on the chairman's casting vote - was leading to such turbulence in Tendring that the unprecedented call to “go to the district” was appropriate.

Before the death of Tory councillor Charlie Sambridge on July 23, the make-up of TDC had been finely balanced with 27 Conservatives and three Community Representatives versus 30 members of the so-called “Anyone But Conservative (ABC)” alliance of councillors, who had originally been elected as Tendring First, Labour, Lib Dem, and Independent members.

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However, Mr Stock's Tory group was able to seize control of the council in May following the suspension for three months of Tendring First councillor Peter Balbirnie for verbally abusing a council officer.

This gave them a temporary one-seat majority which they were able to exploit to elect a Tory chairman, thereby gaining the magic “casting vote” that would allow them to form an administration.

But following the death of Mr Sambridge the numbers have been reversed and it is now the ABC alliance who, until the by-election for Mr Sambridge's former seat is held, hold the temporary 30-29 advantage.

Yesterday it emerged that the ABC alliance has called for an Emergency General Meeting of the council before the crucial by-election, in order to use its majority to vote out the Conservative administration - including the chairman, vice chairman, leader and cabinet - and install its own members in their place.

This would mean that even if a Tory councillor was re-elected in Mr Sambridge's seat - which is widely expected - the ABC coalition would have won back the chairman's casting vote and would be able to remain in power.

Mr Stock told the EADT: “Thirty/thrity is no way to run a council. I would like all-out elections on TDC to sort this out, even if it meant we would have to have them again in 2011.

“I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but if nothing is resolved in terms of running this council it would be a good thing.

“I am quite happy to call on Tendring First and the other parties to do it. As far as I am aware the only way to do it would be for all 60 councillors to resign and cause by-elections in every seat.

“It would cost a few thousand, but all this to-ing and fro-ing is costing the taxpayer a lot of money - just for this issue alone the council has gone to external barristers to get advice.

“It's a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but at the moment it is proving very difficult to get anything in Tendring done.”

However, last night David Lines, the leader of Tendring First, dismissed the idea of an all-out election in the district.

“At the moment, nationally Mr Stock's party is riding a large anti-Government wave. Because of this he knows he would win, although it would have little to do with his merits or policies at a local level.

“Since the last election in 2007, we ran the council for two years and I think we did a pretty good job.

“If Mr Stock came to us and said we could perhaps put together a coalition administration until the 2011 elections, that is something I would give serious consideration to.

“But these elections are fixed-term, and those are the rules of the game. You can't rewrite them on the hoof just to suit the moment.”

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