The Conservatives have kept control of Lewes District Council’s cabinet after Liberal Democrats abstained from electing a co-operative alliance leader.
In its first meeting since the local elections earlier this month, Lewes District Council met on Monday (May 20) to elect a new council leader responsible for appointing a cabinet team.
Before the meeting, Green Party group leader Cllr Zoe Nicholson had called on other opposition parties to form a co-operative alliance and back her leadership bid, in an effort to block the Conservatives – the largest single political group on the council.
While Cllr Nicholson’s plan was backed by the Labour and Independent groups, Liberal Democrats abstained from voting, leading to the election of Conservative Isabelle Linington as council leader.
Addressing councillors after her election, Cllr Linington said: “Thank you to everyone for electing me as leader. It is a big responsibility, I will take it very seriously.
“I want to work with all the political parties and groups on the council. It doesn’t matter to me where a good idea comes from. If it is a good idea we will support it, i’m a pretty straightforward person in that way.
“I can assure you all the decisions I and the cabinet will make, will be in the best interests of all our residents.
“I hope all councillors will work with me to enable us to all to provide best services, best environment and best future development we possibly can.”
She replaces fellow Tory Andy Smith, who led the authority before the election but failed to retain his East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs seat.
While good news for the Conservatives, Cllr Linington’s election has been met less favourably among opposition groups.
In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Nicholson criticised the Liberal Democrats from abstaining on the vote.
She said: “The Liberal Democrats actively obstructed the proposed move to put people, planet and place ahead of party politics. This leaves the Conservative administration still leading the council, even though they have no overall majority”.
“Within minutes of the vote, the Lib Dems took to social media, trying to portray this as a crude self-serving power grab on the part of the Greens. It was anything but.
“Over two weeks of cross-party talks, we met every one of the Liberal Democrat group’s requests: for equality in decision making, for the chance to implement their manifesto, and those of the Labour and Independent groups.
“We agreed to them taking over the leadership of the Council in a year. Every one of their ideas and needs we built into the agreement.
“Greens put people first and party second. The Lib Dems had a chance to do the same, and they turned it down flat.”
Speaking to the LDRS, Cllr Nicholson added that she ‘had not given up’ and hopes to continue work on forming a co-operative alliance.
Labour group leader Chris Collier also expressed disappointment with the result of the vote.
He said: “We’re hugely disappointed with the outcome tonight.
“All the opposition groups have been working really hard to come to an agreement. However even in the absence of a final agreement between all parties we needed to be in unity this evening.
“With the numbers split the way they are, any abstention was always going to enable Conservative leadership.”
The Liberal Democrats, however, painted the vote quite differently, saying their abstention was down to Greens ‘rushing into half-baked plans’.
Group leader Cllr James MacCleary said: “We opened the door to the Greens as widely as we could but I’m afraid they don’t seem ready to negotiate sensibly at the moment.
“I reiterate that we remain open to finding ways to create a progressive alliance to run the council and hope very much the Greens will engage positively with that.
“Liberal Democrats have extensive experience of collaborative working and also of running local authorities – indeed we were running Lewes District Council as recently as 2011.
“We know that any successful administration needs detailed agreements on issues and policies, and agreed terms of working.
“The Greens were not interested in settling any of that before making a bid for power. We are not interested in entering into an alliance that just collapses after a few weeks because we did not take the time to put in place the foundations.”
Signs of cross-party opposition emerged later in the meeting, however, with Greens and Liberal Democrats supporting each others’ candidate for a series of council appointments to outside bodies.
Many of the roles had been contested by both parties but (after a 20 minute adjournment for some last minute horse-trading) many of these candidates were withdrawn to offer a single opposition candidate.
In appointing her cabinet, Cllr Linington named Joe Miller, the newly-elected councillor for Peacehaven West, as her deputy leader and cabinet member for regeneration and growth.
Jim Lord (Seaford North) was appointed cabinet member for strategic development, Phil Davis (Peacehaven North) as member for finance and corporate, while Liz Boorman (Seaford West) was appointed member for communities and partners.
Meanwhile Ron Maskell (East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs) was named as cabinet member for housing and Tom Jones (Ditchling and Westmeston) was appointed cabinet member for planning.
Cllr Linington retains her role as cabinet member for environment.