The East Devon District Council Battleground

In 2011 the Tory councillors numbered 43.

In 2015 this had fallen to 36.

In 2019 it had fallen further to 19. 

Throughout the LibDems have numbered between 6 to 10, though four former EDA councillors have now joined the party.

This is the background to the 2023 election.

The Tories lost control of East Devon District Council (EDDC) in May 2019. Previously they had enjoyed a majority of 36 councillors in a council comprising 59 members (now increased to 60). After the 2019 election their number was reduced to 19, not a majority but until 2020, the largest grouping in the council and therefore still wielding significant power.  

In 2015 the Tory majority had already been eroded from 43 largely as a result of the election success of a dedicated group of independents styling themselves the East Devon Alliance (EDA). The EDA emerged in 2013 from the widespread protests at the arrogant way the long standing Tory regime in EDDC were driving through a build, build, build agenda, with a disregard for accountability and scrutiny and  their lack of respect in listening to members of the public. 

Its purpose was to provide genuine Independents with a mutual support umbrella to seek election.

Under electoral law it was obliged to register as a political party in 2015 when it won 10 of the 59 seats and became a significant opposition political grouping.

For the first year after the 2019 election Cllr. Ben Ingham ran a supposedly “Independent” council following the same policies as the previous Tory administration, with prominent Tories in key positions and with tacit Tory support. This was despite two thirds of the council being non-Tories of various shades. EDA councillors were excluded from his administration. Not surprisingly this administration fell apart as genuine independent councillors rebelled.

In March 2020, councillors from the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, and one Independent, formed a group called the Democratic Alliance. Comprising 24 councillors, they then became the largest group in the council.

In May 2020, eight councillors left the ruling Independent Group. One joined the East Devon Alliance, and seven formed their own group called the Independent Progressive Group. This new group formed a coalition partnership with the Democratic Alliance, and this coalition was able to form a new, stable, majority administration with 31/60 seats.

Cllr Ben Ingham rejoined the Conservative Party and is now their Deputy Leader.

Throughout the LibDem have numbered between 6 to 10. Four former EDA councillors have joined them seeing this the best way to ensure the “Democratic Alliance” continues, others will continue as EDA candidates.

Effectively we have in East Devon an almost proportional representation situation with those who are prepared to work together doing so, and those who put politics first (Tories and pseudo-Independent Tories) refusing to do what is best for the district. 

This “Democratic Alliance” has only been in power for three years, much of it constrained by the pandemic and grappling with the legacy problems inherited from the Tories eg membership of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan and general lack of investment. Owl judges it to have been a success but this is only the beginning, there is much more to be done.

Although Independent candidates may again take a large share of the seats, acting independently will give them little more than the power of veto. To gain power and be able to do things, as can be seen above, it is necessary to form formal coalitions and alliances.

Even if they lose more ground, the Tories could still be the largest formal grouping and attempt to form an administration.

PS Nine current Tory councillors are standing down and not seeking re-election; only one LibDem is standing down.