Neither side happy at close leadership election result

County council leader Mark Bee and his deputy Lisa Chambers at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

County council leader Mark Bee and his deputy Lisa Chambers at Endeavour House in Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

The close result in last week’s county council leadership battle has left both sides licking their wounds and trying to work out where it leaves the authority.

But at least leader Mark Bee is reasonably confident he will not face another leadership contest before the 2017 council elections – Colin Noble has pledged he will not stand again before then, and there are no other obvious serious challengers.

The result was very tight. All 39 Conservative county councillors were at the meeting and Mr Bee won by 21 votes to 18 – a margin of three.

His team had been expecting a much wider margin of victory – they were hoping for a double-figure majority – and the closeness of the result has prompted a flurry of talks among councillors.

So why was it so close? Why did so many Conservative councillors want to see a change at the top of their group?

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I’ve spoken to several who voted against Mr Bee, and they’re all united on one point – it was not an east/west split. The vote was more political and personal.

What was significant was that both sides believed they had been promised votes that did not materialise – there is nothing as potentially duplicitous as a politician with the opportunity to vote in a secret ballot!

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Mr Bee’s supporters told me the day before the election that if all their promised votes came through he would have a very healthy majority.

They were aware that some of their colleagues could have been misleading them, but didn’t believe there were enough “wobbly” votes to make the election very close.

How wrong they were.

Colin Noble’s team, too, was confident it was almost there when the election meeting started.

One of his supporters told me he knew they were close to victory and that there were still a number of “undecideds” as the meeting started.

Mr Noble’s team were disappointed when two councillors they had been hoping would support them eventually made statements backing Mr Bee.

Which all, of course, begs the question. Just how easy will it be to overcome the level of irritation that was exposed by the election?

Of course being a secret ballot no one can know exactly how people voted. A “Bee loyalist” who actually turned around and voted for Colin Noble could quite easily claim to be a member of the victorious side. No one could prove they weren’t.

As they gather on the benches of the council meeting Conservatives will be looking at the person sitting next to themselves and wondering if they really did vote the way they said they had.

Eventually this will all be water under the bridge. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t brought up again next time there’s a leadership election.

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