Aide Memoire to the Political re-alignments in EDDC in 2019 and 2020

Owl has received a number of requests from those newly interested in EDDC politics and from those watching from further afield to add more explanation of the political re-alignments in EDDC over the past year.  A Correspondent has gone to a great deal of trouble to summarise this and so Owl is posting it with a few clarifications.

Owl thanks the Correspondent for doing all the hard work and prompting this post.

From a correspondent

I have only recently started to take a closer interest in politics (local and national) so have been struggling to understand the intricate Gavotte that seems to have been conducted within the virtual EDDC council chamber. I have trawled back through previous reports in order to try to understand. Can you confirm that the account below is broadly correct please? [See Owl comments and additions in square brackets] I would have liked to include the date on which Cllr Ingham ‘resigned’ from the Conservative party but have been unable to track it down. [Not known to Owl]

02/05/2019 Local elections resulted in East Devon District Council apparently slipping out of the control of the Conservatives. Prior to this election, the Conservatives had a majority of 9 seats but this poll left them with only 19 against 20 seats for Independents, 11 for East Devon Alliance, 8 for Liberal Democrats and 2 for the Green party. The Conservatives had been in control of EDDC since it was created in April 1974. Cllr Ingham (who had previously resigned from the Conservative Party and was elected as an Independent) took control of the council by forming a partnership/coalition with the Conservative councillors. Independent councillors were appointed to the cabinet along with Conservatives. [No Conservatives were appointed to the cabinet as such, though one, Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of EDDC, resigned from the Conservatives on 17 April 2019,  to become Independent just two weeks before the election. Conservative Cllr Stuart Hughes was elected Council Chairman and Conservatives filled many of the key Chairs and roles in influential committees and as representatives to outside bodies, forums etc. For example: as Cllr. Mike Howe as Chair of the Development Management Committee ; and Cllr Philip Skinner had a key role in strategic planning and represented EDDC on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. And, for reasons explained below, Chair of the Scrutiny Committee  was also held by the Conservatives – Owl]

[In September 2019 Paul Millar resigned from the cabinet and Ben Ingham’s Group followed by Joe Whibley in January 2020. This left the Independent Group with 18 seats, one fewer than their Conservative partners.  – Owl]

[In March 2020 Members of the Green, Independent East Devon Alliance and Liberal Democrat parties and an Independent combined to form a new group with the title the Democratic Alliance numbering 23. Ironically up until this point the Conservatives had been considered the official opposition and therefore held the important chairmanship of the scrutiny committee. Now the Democratic Alliance  became the Opposition – Owl]

06/04/2020 Letter from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to local authorities explained that The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 removed the requirement for the annual meeting this year.

Week commencing 11/05/2020, 8 members of the Independent Group resigned from the group. One joined the Democratic Alliance (made up of East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and, after this move, three Independents) and seven joined [they created – Owl] the Independent Progressive Group. The two groups (Democratic Alliance and Independent Progressive Group) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together. Given that they had 31 out of a total of 60 EDDC councillors, they held a majority.

13/05/2020 EDDC Annual Meeting scheduled for this date was cancelled

18/05/ 2020 Cllr Ingham allegedly informed the Returning Officer that all cabinet members had resigned. This followed a sequence of events which began, according to Cllr Geoff Jung (Independent) who was a member of the cabinet, with Cllr Ingham saying he ‘would approach the Conservatives to invite them to nominate 3 candidates to be on the ruling “Cabinet” of 10 councillors’. As a result Cllr Jung resigned from Cllr Ingham’s Independent Group but remained as a cabinet member. The resignation was reported in the press. The following day, according to Cllr Jung, he discovered from a press release that he had resigned from the cabinet. He reported that he had been told by the Returning Officer ‘that Cllr Ingham terminated my position and that of 2 other Councillors (which is his gift) and then resigned himself along with the remaining Cabinet [en] block’.

28/05/2020 A council meeting (online) at 5pm voted to hold an EGM at 6pm on 8 June ‘to elect the positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Council’. At 5.30pm an extraordinary full Council meeting was held online to elect a new leader. It was closed down by YouTube before the vote was completed allegedly after Cllr Tom Wright (Conservative) was heard swearing because, as he said in his subsequent apology ‘I was expressing my personal disappointment as the result was unfolding’.

29/05/2020 At a reconvened meeting Paul Arnott, leader of the independent East Devon Alliance was elected as council leader by 32 votes to 20 with 8 abstentions over Andrew Moulding (Conservative). Cllr Arnott appointed his cabinet. Arnott leads a coalition (The Democratic Alliance group which is made up of councillors from the Independent East Devon Alliance, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Green Party and some independents [in partnership with the Progressive Independents – Owl]).

01/06/2020 Cllr Stuart Hughes (Conservative) resigned as EDDC Chairman. [But he is still shown as Chairman of the Council on the  attendance details for the June 8 extraordinary meeting to vote for a new Chairman on EDDC website – Owl]

[04/06/2020 Cllr Ben Ingham is now shown as a Conservative – Owl]

This is the current status of political groupings in council of 60 members:

Democratic Alliance +  31 [including the 7 Independent Progressives]

Conservatives                20

The Independents           5    [Remaining members of Ben Ingham’s original group]

Cranbrook Voice             3

Independent                    1