East Sussex County Council's Conservatives lose majority as authority now in no overall control

East Sussex County Council has tipped into no overall control, following a pair of recent by-elections.
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On Thursday (August 3), residents of the council’s Eastbourne Meads division elected Liberal Democrat Brett Wright as their new councillor.

The by-election had been called following the death in June of Conservative councillor Barry Taylor, who had represented the division for 18 years.

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Another recent by-election, held on July 27, saw Green Party candidate Anne Cross elected as councillor for Heathfield and Mayfield.

County Hall in Lewes/East Sussex County Council offices (Justin Lycett/Sussex World)County Hall in Lewes/East Sussex County Council offices (Justin Lycett/Sussex World)
County Hall in Lewes/East Sussex County Council offices (Justin Lycett/Sussex World)

This election had been called following the death in April of Conservative member Rupert Simmons. He had represented the division for 22 years.

As a result of the by-elections, Conservatives now hold 25 out of 50 seats, remaining the council’s single largest political group but falling one seat short of an overall majority.

Meanwhile, the rest of the council is now made up of 12 Liberal Democrats, five Greens, five Labour councillors, two Independent Democrats and one Independent — meaning non-Conservatives collectively hold 25 seats.

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This new political balance is unlikely to result in Conservatives losing their leadership of the council, as even a five-way coalition of these opposition councillors would only be able to muster an equal number of seats.

However, it does mean that councillor absences could have a more significant impact on full council votes in coming two years (which is when the next round of local elections are due to take place).

It also increases the possibility of full council votes becoming tied in future meetings, meaning Conservatives may have to rely on the casting vote of council chairman Peter Pragnell if they seek to push through any contentious decisions.

The council elects its chairman annually, with Cllr Pragnell voted in by members in May. The council’s constitution is unclear on what would happen in the event of a tied vote for the election of a chairman.

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It is also understood that opposition councillors may be seeking a review of the council’s political balance on committees, in light of the by-election results. As committee seats are already allocated proportionately, this may only result in minor changes, however.