Conservative county council leader on opposition ‘pact’

The leader of the Conservatives on Cambridgeshire County Council has claimed other groups “got into bed with the opposition” in an electoral “pact” he believes was partly to blame for his party’s losses. 

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 12:25 pm
Cllr Steve Count.

Neither the Liberal Democrats or Labour would comment on the claim that there was an electoral pact not to field candidates in certain seats when approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. 

The Conservatives lost their outright majority on the council in the May 6 elections, taking the council back into no overall control after four years of Conservative control. 

The Conservatives dropped from 36 seats won in 2017 to 28, the Lib Dems increased from 15 to 20, and Labour from seven to nine, with four independents, up from three in 2017. 

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The council is run on a committee rather than cabinet system, but there are key roles up for grabs, including the leader of the council, key committee positions, and representation on outside bodies with key decision-making powers of their own. 

In a blog post on Wednesday (May 12), Conservative Steve Count said he has reached out to the other groups “to suggest we try and work together under a shared system,” but added “I have met with no real engagement and a clear indication that the opposition feel that Labour, Liberal Democrats and the independents form a ruling group”. 

Cllr Count said he is offering “collaboration rather than confrontation”, but also questioned how voters for other parties will respond to any agreement between the other groups.

Cllr Count noted that Labour did not stand candidates in six marginal seats, and alleged it was a result of a decision made before the election, adding “this political manoeuvre” was replicated by the Lib Dems not fielding candidates where the four independents were successful. 

“As we prepare for opposition, I wonder if the public will be happy with their choices,” he said. “Cambridge city voters, who having been convinced by Labour or Liberal Democrats that theirs is the superior party, only to find out that their elected councillors have already got into bed with the opposition, before the election campaign started. Independent councillors in St Neots and Huntingdon, who told the public, we think independently and cannot be told what to do. Whereas it looks as if they pre-arranged to sell their votes to the Liberal Democrats. Will the electorate believe they are truly  independent when it appears the stark truth is a political pre-arranged pact?”

Cllr Count said he and his group are “deeply upset” that the council will return to no overall control, said they need to listen to the message sent by voters. 

He said: “Although there are a myriad of reasons, some of which I as the current Leader must carry personally on my shoulders, the fact is the electorate did not return the Conservatives with enough seats to form an administration.

“However, the electorate did still indicate that their faith in the Conservatives as a single group far outweighed that of any other”.

Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Elisa Meschini, said: “I have no comment on what Steve Count has said, and we in the Labour group are continuing to talk cross-party to reach an agreement and we are focused just on that for the next few days”. 

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Lucy Nethsingha, declined to comment.

The leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Tom Sanderson, could not be reached for comment prior to publication.