Bitter fight looms over leadership of Lewes District Council

Rob Blackman
Rob Blackman

A power struggle has developed at Lewes District Council with a demand for newly-elected Conservative Leader Rob Blackman to be replaced.

Liberal Democrats have called for their leader Sarah Osborne to take his place and the resolution will be debated at an Extraordinary Meeting of the full council early next month.

Sarah Osbourne

Sarah Osbourne

It follows a change in the balance of the council with Seaford Town Councillor Sam Adeniji switching from Conservative to Independent.

It now means the Lib Dems hold 19 seats and the Conservatives 18. There are two Independents and two members of Ukip.

Cllr Osborne said: “It’s time for the Conservatives to stand down. They have lost their majority and seem unwilling to carry out the will of the full council, as expressed by the majority of councillors in a recorded vote.

“Since the election, four councillors have defected from the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are now the largest party on the council. We have a list of costed programmes including flooding, social housing, and reducing business rates to help our hard-pressed local businesses.

“Officers have already checked that these programmes can be carried out within the council’s budget. We will also be looking to see what green environmental work we can carry out, but we will have to look at the books before we can say what the district can afford.”

The previous Conservative leader, Cllr James Page, who has defected to the Lib Dems, said: “We clearly need to set to work on social housing that the council agreed to fund. Further delay is unacceptable. I defected because Liberal Democrats can provide better leadership and management of the council than the Conservatives as they understand that providing homes at the earliest opportunity is both socially and economically beneficial for all the residents of Lewes District.”

Cllr Blackman described the challenge to his leadership as “underhanded”. He said: “In 2011 the electorate voted for a Conservative district council administration.

“A few weeks ago, the Lib Dems tried – and failed – to overturn the wishes of the electorate by allying themselves with someone who was elected as a Conservative. And, of course, they lost.

“Now, a month later, they are challenging for the leadership and again trampling over the wishes of the electorate. They are, of course, doing this now because they want to exploit the fact that the council Chairman is a Lib Dem and that he would have a casting vote in the event of a tie.

“I just hope that the Chairman remembers that he is supposed to act in the best interests of the chamber and not in the interest of his party. He is an honourable man and I am sure that he will do the right thing, but I do hope that most councillors wake up to what is going on here and don’t put him into that position in the first place.”

Cllr Blackman continued: “What is particularly depressing is that the Lib Dems simply do not understand the damage that these challenges do to the organisation. The senior management team requires strategic direction from a political leader and all the time he or she is having to deal with these challenges, energy and direction of travel becomes a significant issue for the officers.

“The elections of 2015 are just around the corner and that is the time when we will all be judged. If the Lib Dems had any decency they would begin campaigning to prove to the 2015 electorate that they deserved to be in charge rather than attempting to steal the leadership in this underhanded way.”