The outgoing Mayor of Peterborough sensationally quit politics last night, stunning councillors and costing the Conservatives their majority at the Town Hall.
David Sanders passed on his mayoral garments to Councillor John Fox yesterday evening (Monday, May 22) in the annual mayor-making ceremony before announcing he was done with politics after 20 years as a councillor and would be leaving the Conservative Party.
The revelation stunned onlookers, including council chief executive Gillian Beasley, who did not know what was coming, and will mean yet another election this year, with Eye, Thorney & Newborough needing a new representative.
The resignation also means the council is now under no overall control with the Conservatives holding 29 of the 58 filled seats with two by-elections to come, including one in East ward on June 8 following the death of Conservative Marcus Sims.
Mr Sanders received a standing ovation from the Council Chamber after announcing that the evening's meeting would be his last. He told members: "It's been an exceptional honour being mayor and very humbling to witness first-hand all the good work that goes on in Peterborough.
"Getting out and seeing people in the city has been very special. It's an experience and education I won't forget. However, it's now time for me to announce my retirement from politics."
Mr Sanders, the son of former council leader Neville, was praised by leaders of the political groups for his time as mayor, which automatically reaches an end after a year in the role.
The Mayor of Peterborough's main duties are to attend civic functions and chair full council meetings, while the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is a political role.
Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: "David has embraced all aspects of his role with vigour, commitment but above all, fun and laughter.
"In doing so, he has not only raised significant funds for his charities, but he has brought real joy to the many people he has met during his year."
Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: "I would like to thank Cllr Sanders for all of the effort he's put into being mayor. We've had a few differences of opinion - if you put our political views on a spectrum they would be poles apart.
"But he's really impressed with his work raising money for the mayor's charities, his mayoral duties, and his commitment as a ward councillor."
On the changing political picture inside the Town Hall, he added: "We have a situation where the Tories hold all cabinet positions and all committee chairmanships. Twenty-two of their 29 councillors are now receiving special responsibility payments on top of their basic councillor allowance. They are no longer the majority party so if they don't win the by-election being held on June 8, things are going to have to change on Peterborough City Council."
Other group leaders praised Cllr Sanders' "enthusiasm," "gusto," and "cheerfulness." His charities for the year were: The Salvation Army Good Neighbours Scheme, Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Royal Airforce Association.
Cllr Fox, the Werrington First group leader on the council, has been a serving councillor in Peterborough since 2002. A father of four daughters, he has sat on a number of working groups and scrutiny committees.
He is also Peterborough’s armed forces champion, having served as a radio operator in the Royal Navy for 11 years, joining the service at the age of 15. This was followed by a career in the police force, first serving as a uniformed officer with Cambridgeshire Constabulary for 23 years and then as a community police officer in Eye and Walton.
His last role before retirement in 2016 was coordinator of the Peterborough charity Shopmobility.
Cllr Fox said he wanted to do his bit for the Peterborough community alongside his wife and mayoress Cllr Judy Fox. He said: "We will try out best to do everything with a smile on our faces. Judy and I are looking forward to a fun, packed year.
Paying tribute to the new mayor, Cllr Peter Hiller said: "You have a hard act to follow, but if anyone can do our great city proud it's John Fox. John is respected by members here and the wider public."
Cllr Chris Ash, Liberal Party member for Dogsthorpe, was named deputy mayor and his friend Doreen Roberts will be deputy mayoress. The previous deputy mayor was Cllr Keith Sharp, another Dogsthorpe Liberal.
The Mayor's Chaplain will be The Reverend George Rogers, Vicar of St John's Church, Werrington.
During his year of office, Cllr Fox will raise money for Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust, Sea Cadets and Shopmobility.
The position of mayor is chosen on seniority, with the longest serving councillor who wants the role, and who has not already held it, installed.
Cllr Fox's first ceremonial task will be to open the Lido on Saturday.