Blue Power or the fizzling out of the Tory Coup? 29 March, 2011Posted by Jeremy Rowe in News.
Tags: Conservatives, Cornwall Council, Independents, Openness and Transparency
There have been dark mutterings at County Hall recently. The Members’ Room has been awash with Tory talk of dissatisfaction with the Council’s Conservative-led Cabinet, the perceived dominance of the Chief Executive and the performance of the Leader overall.
As an opposition councillor I have no influence over these matters and only a minimal wish to intrude into private grief. But – purely in the interests of openness and transparency, you understand – I feel it only fair to explain what’s been going on, at least as I understand it.
As the BBC’s Graham Smith has reported, a rump of Tory councillors (anywhere between 12 and 22 depending on who you gossip with) allegedly coalesced around Fiona Ferguson, backbench member for the Truro Trehaverne ward, with a view to delivering an ultimatum to the Leader about the gripes outlined above. Apparently they wanted two Tory Cabinet Members replaced and a distance placed between the Leader and the Chief Executive. A leadership challenge – that favourite Tory pastime – was threatened if their demands weren’t met.
Much was made among the Members’ Room gossips of the power they could wield behind closed doors if they chose to, but at County Hall today there were only subdued grumblings. Either the Leader went in all guns blazing and won over the doubters or (which is probably more likely) the conspirators suddenly realised that the Council’s constitution and the last government’s ‘Strong Leader Model’ mean there isn’t a great deal they can do if he digs his heels in.
So where does this leave them? Well, given that this was something of a hot topic for many members of staff at County Hall this morning, it’s unlikely to have strengthened a Cabinet which is starting to look as though it is fraying at the edges. What seems to have started as a serious threat now appears to have fizzled into a mere shot across the bows for the Leader and the Cabinet. Soothing noises may have been made to the ‘revolting’ Tory peasants but this doesn’t really look like it’s done either side any favours, with a weakened leadership and a rump of malcontent backbenchers eyeing each other suspiciously at every difficult juncture from here on.
And what must the Independents, the junior partners in the ruling coalition, make of all this? Did anyone ask them what they think? The administration only govern with the support of this group of councillors, a fact they should forget at their peril. It was noticeable at Full Council today that, after months of near total loyalty, Independent councillors are finally starting to speak out in public when they don’t agree with the direction the Cabinet is steering them in. If they withdraw their support all the Tory leadership challenges in the world will be almost totally irrelevant.