The overriding impression Owl got during last night’s “extraordinary” debates was the indignation shown by Conservative Councillors that they could lose power; that anyone else could possibly run EDDC.
Take Conservative Cllr. Stuart Hughes, Chairman, and his rambling introduction.
He said that initially he had agreed that there would be a full council meeting on June 18 to deal with the matters that would have been discussed at the annual meeting and that it would be up to the members of the council as to if they wished to hold a meeting to hold the meeting for the chairmanship and the leadership of the council.
This is being economical with the truth. He did not say or explain why he had cancelled the Annual meeting in the first place, although this became very clear during the debate.
What it boils down to is that Conservatives have a deep tribal sense of entitlement. For example:
Cllr Dean Barrow spoke against the need for the EGM to be held, saying that the pandemic had a significant impact on the council and that an experienced chairman to lead is needed, while Cllr Moulding added: “Residents would expect the council to be focusing on the response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Cllr Alan Dent added: “It is vital that we have stable leadership and in Cllr Hughes we have someone with the experience and the link with County Hall. To replace him would jeopardise the recovery process and demean the work he has done. To change in the middle of the crisis could be a monumental mistake. This is not the time to hold an EGM.”
Cllr. Moulding said the public does not expect change. One Cllr. (Owl thinks it was also Moulding) said that having a meeting would deny Cllr Hughes his “second year as Chairman”. This was corrected by Vice Chairman Val Ranger who pointed out that constitutionally the posts of Chairman and Vice Chairman are voted annually (at the cancelled Annual meeting – Owl)
This was not the time to change, they argued, even though they had lost their majority in last year’s elections and now the coalition they had supported had also lost its majority.
Listening to him, and the proposers of Cllr Andrew Moulding for the post of Leader, one would be forgiven for thinking they had been in power this past year, rather than the junior partner of a losing coalition.
From their point of view, no one else could be trusted to run things during the epidemic. Owl would retort that in this regard Conservatives are no more experienced than anyone else. Owl has posted a number or articles critical of EDDC’s slowness to act.
On managing things, Conservatives have form and the voters have rejected it.
The argument for change is quite simple – it’s all about democracy. Ben Ingham’s coalition with the Conservatives had lost their majority.
The Council comfortably voted to have a meeting to select a new Chairman as Owl has reported.
Now to the even more extraordinary meeting to elect a new leader.
Two candidates were proposed:
Cllr Paul Arnott, nominated by Cllr Eillen Wragg and seconded by Cllr Paul Hayward.
Cllr Moulding, proposed by Cllr Tom Wright, seconded Cllr Helen Parr.
(Yes the same Helen Parr Owl featured the other day as the councillor who morphed from “Independent” to “Build, build, build” Conservative).
With 57 of the 60 cast, Cllr Arnott had received 31 votes, with 18 for Cllr Moulding and eight abstentions. Three councillors had yet to vote when the stream crashed.
The disgraceful swearing which appears to have caused youtube to pull the plug included Cllr. Tom Wright, one time Chief Superintendent,. (Owl has had a number of confirmatory reports of this – his voice is quite distinctive). The proposer of the losing candidate, Cllr Moulding.
As one correspondent put it: “When you think the Tories have taken us to a new low…. they manage to dig even deeper…”
The conclusion Owl draws is that the Tories are in denial. How can anyone take their power away!.
The other arresting development was when Cllr Ben Ingham came out of the closet and voted for Cllr Moulding to replace him as Leader. How can an “Independent” vote for a Conservative Leader?
Not surprising to find a number of his “Independent” group not voting the same way as him (the cause of the swearing).
Explanatory footnote added 29 May
Owl has been asked to clarify who is who in this political saga which is obviously creating interest beyond East Devon. Very briefly, since its creation the East Devon District Council has been in the hands of the Conservative party. At last year’s council election the conservatives lost their majority. The remaining councillors were split between two Independent groups: the East Devon Alliance, led by Paul Arnott and the Independent Group led by Ben Ingham; and the Libdems and Green parties. Ben Ingham had been the official leader of the opposition prior to the election. After a frantic weekend of negotiation, Ben Ingham declared that he had formed a coalition with his group of Independents and the Conservatives rather than with either the Lidems or East Devon Alliance. The clear message from the electorate was that they wanted change but many thought that this coalition simply brought more of the same. Over the past year a number of the original Ben Ingham Independent group have defected resulting in him losing his majority followed just recently by his resignation. A new coalition then formed between the remainder of Councillors and this coalition, having a narrow majority, has now taken control.
All the councillors named above are Conservatives apart from Paul Arnott and Ben Ingham who’s roles are explained above, the Vice Chairman Val Ranger who is East Devon Alliance and Paul Arnott’s proposed and seconder who were Libdem and East Devon Alliance respectively.
I’m not familiar with who’s who in this farce. Can you edit this story please and add information about each of the people named e.g. Cllr Ingham (was Conservative, now independent), Cllr X (Independent)?
What isn’t clear in this article is why Ben Ingham wouldn’t form a coalition with the East Devon Alliance – or perhaps why the EDA wouldn’t form a coalition with Ben Ingham.
Ben Ingham was originally a Conservative councillor. I am unsure why he became an Independent, however even then he retained a close relationship with the Conservatives. Two council elections ago, Ben approached the EDA with a proposition to join forces for a push to win seats in the election, and the EDA agreed, allowing Ben to become its Chairman. The campaign was a partial success and EDA won several seats, but not enough to be a majority in the council. Eventually, it became clear to Ben that he wouldn’t achieve his long held ambition to become Council Leader with EDA, and he became unwilling to listen to the views of other EDA Councillors and clear that his views were somewhat divergent from those of other EDA Councillors and members. (next sentence edited: allegations unconfirmed).
In the most recent elections, he took what he had learned from the EDA experience and formed his own competing Independent group to campaign for councillors, and both EDA and his group were successful in gaining seats, leaving the Conservatives in a majority for the first time in over a century. It was clear that the electorate had had enough of Conservative policies and childish antics and wanted a more mature administration.
It would have been quite possible for the EDA and non-EDA councillors to form a coalition to oust the Conservatives entirely from power. Because of the distrust, EDA would most likely not have been willing to be part of a coalition with Ben Ingham as Leader but entirely willing to support another non-EDA Independent Councillor that they felt they could trust. Unfortunately, Ben was completely unwilling to work with EDA, presumably because he desperately wanted to be Leader, and decided instead that he would form a coalition with everyone else including the Conservatives in order to achieve this ambition, despite his campaign promises to oust the Tories.
Of course, such a situation was already uncomfortable for many Independent councillors who agreed to join his cabinet, and it was inevitable that over time some of them would become disillusioned with Ben and he would lose their support. And indeed, that is what has appeared to have happened.
So, best of luck to Paul Arnott and all the other excellent truly independent councillors who work so hard and so altruistically to do what is genuinely best for East Devon.
There has never been a coalition between the Independent Group and the Conservative party. There has been talks with all the different parties, the first approach having been with the EDA straight after the 2019 election.
Hmm … sounds like Peter Faithful is in denial…
Peter, coalition is a general term for a temporary arrangement between political parties to achieve sufficient support to pursue their aims and, therefore, entirely appropriate in this case. It has no special meaning. After last May’s council elections The Conservatives lost their overall majority and Ben Ingham’s Independent Group, of which you are a member, became the largest grouping but without the numbers to form a majority. Ben Ingham, therefore, had to seek a coalition, alliance, partnership or whatever to form an administration. As you point out he talked with other groups including, Owl understands, the East Devon Alliance, another grouping of independent councillors. For reasons, which are only now becoming clear, Ben chose to work with the Tories. Geoff Jung, in his recent statement posted on the Watch, points out that as Ben’s support began to evaporate he was thinking of appointing three Tories to his cabinet, a red line for Geoff. Owl was not at all surprised when Ben Ingham voted for Conservative Cllr Moulding to replace him. Owl can appreciate that that leaves you and the remaining members of the “Independent Group” in a strange position.