EXCLUSIVE: UKIP leader believes he now has the support to remove Conservatives from control of Cambridgeshire County Council
- Credit: Archant
SENIOR officials at Cambridgeshire County Council have been alerted to an audacious bid to oust the Conservatives from control of Cambridgeshire County Council and replace the Cabinet system with a series of all party committees.
County councillor Peter Reeve, leader of the 12 strong UKIP group, has held talks with Lib Dems, Labour and Independents to secure enough votes to defeat the Conservatives at the council’s annual meeting on May 21.
“You mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Cambridgeshire has a billion pound budget and that people’s lives and livelihoods will be affected by what happens,” he said. “But by taking the party political element out of it, which is effectively what I am doing, allows the building of a more democratic system.”
The council is technically hung with Tories having 32 seats, Lib Dems 14, Labour 7 and Independents 4 meaning if all opposition councillors voted with UKIP a defeat is possible.
On Friday Whittlesey councillor Martin Curtis was elected leader of the Conservative group and hopes to become council leader at the annual meeting but Cllr Reeve is emphatic that “the council leader won’t necessarily come from the Conservative group.”
He will be telling Cllr Curtis of his intentions and crucial talks with leaders of all the political groupings on the council will continue in the days ahead.
“I am naturally very cautious and we want the annual council to be organised, thought through properly and the transition to committee structure properly executed,” he said.
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He said Tory leadership contender Councillor Mac McGuire – who lost out to Cllr Curtis- had made a fatal error in laughing at UKIP when it first proposed abolishing Cabinet and bringing back committees.
“Mac said that technically numbers were tight and it probably won’t happen,” said Cllr Reeve. “Well I can tell you that when people laugh at UKIP we tend to try even harder to go and get it done. The Prime Minister has made that mistake. So did Mac McGuire.”
Cllr Reeve said that during the weekend he had taken a call from Cllr Curtis about the forthcoming annual meeting.
“Martin called with his usual complete arrogance,” said Cllr Reeve. “The penny has not dropped. He is so out of touch. He told me that of course he was going to run the council as a minority administration.
“I simply said it didn’t have to be that way.”
Cllr Reeve said Mark Lloyd, the council’s chief executive, had advised opposition councillors on the implications of a vote later this month to abolish Cabinet but Cllr Reeve said he felt it made sense to prepare for it properly and introduce the committee structure in a year’s time.
But he also warned that a one year Cabinet would not be Tory controlled since “our plans are to build a structural Cabinet.
“That means we will invite the Conservatives to have more seats than others but there will Labour, UKIP, Lib Dem and Independent Cabinet members too”.
He said two motions would come before the council on May 21 “one fixed and one flexible and what we are trying to make sure is that once agreed the Conservatives cannot undo it.
He said it was vital the Conservatives were not allowed to retain control of Cabinet for the next year even if a committee system was agreed.
“We want to use this year to build structures which mean not allowing the Conservatives control and the possibility of messing up terribly,” he said. “Assuming we get the votes and no one gets cold feet my suggestion has been to ask the Tories to come into the Cabinet for the coming year but to be represented proportionately.”
He claimed many Tories, privately, supported his proposals but were held back from publicly stating that because of the patronage system which the Cabinet system currently wields.
“Much as they tell us in the car park of their support what binds them together more than principle and policy is patronage,” he said. “Once that crumbles and if we can break that on May 21 it will be amazing to watch and the Conservatives might well implode upon themselves.
“It is time for all councillors to remind themselves that it is a privilege and not a job and whilst you may ask if are we up for a scrap I would say not really but on other hand the Tories cannot intimidate us since we are only here for the good of the community
“If the committee system comes in it will change the way things work in that you will take egos out of it and there will be no room for big party politics. It will make it much more objective and back bench drive.
“What I find surprising is that the Tories automatically assume everyone is thinking like them- we’re not. Neither are we looking for jobs or privileges.”