Conservative Rob Blackman was this week elected as the new Leader of Lewes District Council on a day of drama and controversy.
He won by a single vote at the full meeting of the council on Wednesday.
Cllr Blackman succeeds fellow Conservative Cllr James Page – who voted for the Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Cllr Sarah Osborne.
The balance was tipped by UKIP’s Cllr Phil Howson who backed Cllr Blackman to secure him 20 votes ahead of Cllr Osborne’s 19.
There were two abstentions – Cllr Donna Edmunds (UKIP) and Cllr Ruth O’Keeffe (Independent).
If there had been a tie, council Chairman Cllr Michael Chartier (Lib Dem) would have had the casting vote.
In an emotional resignation speech, Cllr Page announced he was stepping down as Leader and said he was supporting Cllr Osborne.
“She is an outstanding local politician and has the qualities to take the council to the next level,” he said.
He called on all parties to work collaboratively and for the benefit of the whole district.
Cllr Page said the people deserved better from their local politicians and called on them to put aside petty political differences and focus on putting people first.
He said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as Leader of Lewes District Council, but now is the right time for me to move on so I can concentrate on interests outside of politics.
“I’ve always said I wanted to do things differently and I believe I have done exactly that and while this may have caused some frustration from even within my own group, I have always held the firm view that we must always put the interests of the residents first.
“This is the principle reason why I have voted for Cllr Osborne. If I wanted to play party politics I would have nominated someone in my own party, but I couldn’t in all good conscience see how that would benefit the community.”
The Liberal Democrats issued a statement after the meeting and vowed to “keep fighting to make Lewes District a better place to live following the decision of the Conservatives and one of the UKIP councillors to vote for a new Conservative Leader on the council”.
The party said Cllr Rob Blackman, who only last week was sacked from his cabinet position, was only voted in as Leader with the support of fewer than half the councillors and wasn’t even able to count on the support of outgoing Leader and fellow Conservative James Page who instead gave his support to Sarah Osborne.
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Osborne said: “I am extremely disappointed that the Conservatives today felt unable to follow the example of their former leader James Page in voting for the person who they felt would be the best for the district rather than the person they were told they should vote for.
“But of course there is a fresh set of local elections coming up just next year. The Liberal Democrat opposition on the council will now focus on using these to campaign for our positive ideas. We will work hard with MP Norman Baker as part of the local Lib Dem team to gain more seats next year so we can get more done for local people.”
Cllr Blackman (Seaford East) paid tribute to the man he succeeded, Cllr Page.
“We may have had our disagreements from time to time, but the atmosphere was always dynamic and vibrant,” said Cllr Blackman.