Cross-party alliance takes control of Lewes District Council from Tories

Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and independents mark their co-operative alliance taking control of Lewes District Council
Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and independents mark their co-operative alliance taking control of Lewes District Council

A cross-party alliance has taken control of Lewes District Council after voting out its Conservative-led cabinet.

At a full council meeting on Monday (July 15), Green Party, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent councillors made good on a promise to vote out Tory council leader Isabelle Linington and elect a new co-operative alliance leader in her place.

New deputy leader James MacCleary (Lib Dem) and leader Zoe Nicholson (Green) at Lewes District Council

New deputy leader James MacCleary (Lib Dem) and leader Zoe Nicholson (Green) at Lewes District Council

Green Party councillor Zoe Nicholson, as leader of the alliance’s largest group, was chosen as the new council leader, while Liberal Democrat group leader James MacCleary was appointed as her deputy.

Speaking in the council chamber after the vote, Cllr Nicholson said: “I would like to thank my fellow councillors and all the residents who have given their support for this co-operative alliance.

“Lewes District Council will be joining the ever-growing number of councils across the country which are pioneering a new way of doing business on behalf of local people.

“We are not alone in this endeavour.”

New Lewes District Council cabinet

New Lewes District Council cabinet

The vote follows on from an unsuccessful attempt to form an alliance earlier this year, which came to nothing when Liberal Democrat councillors abstained from voting at a full council meeting on May 20.

At the time Liberal Democrats said they had abstained from supporting an alliance as the group wanted to “take the time to put in place the foundations.”

But, in a statement released after this week’s meeting, Cllr MacCleary said his group is now confident of the terms of the alliance.

He said: “It’s taken some hard work to get to this point, and we were determined to build this alliance on firm foundations.

“No party was returned with an overall majority on the council in May so building an alliance with a clear majority of seats was crucial to ensure stability for residents and our hardworking council staff.

“We have a lot of work to do and this alliance represents a chance to create opportunity and release the potential of our communities.”

Unsurprisingly however, the outgoing council leader is less optimistic, branding the arrangement as ‘‘doomed to fail’ in a caustic statement released after the meeting.

In the statement, Cllr Linington also singled out Cllr MacCleary for particular criticism, saying her group had offered cabinet roles to the Liberal Democrat group but been turned down.

She said:  “The outcome this evening leaves the council facing a period of great uncertainty.

“Soon after our election success I reached out to the Liberal Democrats and offered their leader seats on my cabinet.

“My predecessor, Andy Smith, worked very closely and productively with the former leader of the Lib Dems, Sarah Osborne.

“Both shared a view that delivering good public services is more important than political argument, a position I wholeheartedly supported.

“Instead of maintaining this arrangement, Cllr James MacCleary has put control of the council into the hands of people who are fundamentally opposed to each other on so many key issues.

“I take no pleasure at all in saying that this alliance is doomed to fail and will jeopardise so much of the progress that has been made in the district over recent years.

“This concern is shared across political groups, including councillors who were pressured into voting for it this evening. 

“Cllr MacCleary has ignored the advice of his party and my offer for us to work together. He, and he alone, will have to take responsibility for the chaos that will inevitably follow.”
In addition to the council leader, the Green Party has three further cabinet posts, with Emily O’Brien to be cabinet member for planning, Johnny Denis as cabinet member for communities and customers and Matthew Bird as cabinet member of sustainability. Cllr Nicholson will also hold the finance portfolio.

Three cabinet roles will go to the Liberal Democrats, with Cllr MacCleary serving as cabinet member for regeneration and prosperity as well as deputy leader.

He is joined by two other Liberal Democrats: Julie Carr, who is to be cabinet member for waste and recycling; and Will Meyer who will be cabinet member for housing.

Two other cabinet posts will go to the independent group’s Ruth O’Keeffe (who is to serve as cabinet member for partners and enterprise) and Labour councillor Chris Collier (who is to be cabinet member for performance and people).

In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Collier said: “Forming the co-operative alliance was just the first step in building a more collaborative, forward thinking administration.

“We’ve worked hard to put in place a solid platform for the next four years. From here, it’s about delivering on our manifesto commitments as a shared vision across all our communities.”

In the same statement, Cllr O’Keeffe said: “In our discussions as a co-operative alliance we find that we agree on a lot concerning what matters to local people.

“We have already found that we will be able to put the interests of local people first and manage to work out positive solutions if there are things that not everyone in the group can agree on.”

Following publication, Cllr Linington’s comments have met with criticism from Simon Burall, convenor of the Lewes Liberal Democrats. 

Mr Burall said: “Tory claims that Cllr James MacCleary has ignored the advice of his party in forming the alliance are as bizarre as they are untrue.

“The Liberal Democrats are fully behind the formation of the alliance. The executive of the Lewes Liberal Democrats, of which James is a member, have discussed the issue a number of times, and at length.

“In addition, I have spent time with all the parties in the alliance helping to put in place the foundations for a sustainable cross-party administration.”