HUNTINGDONSHIRE Tories are due to have their own private poll tonight (Tuesday) to decide who will be the district council’s first £18,000-a-year executive leader from May.

The current leader, Councillor Ian Bates, has decided to step down in six weeks’ time.

In his place, the controlling Conservatives’ are tonight faced with two competing ‘dream-tickets’ for leader and deputy leader for the next four years.

Whoever is elected leader of the Conservative group will become HDC leader at the council’s annual meeting in May.

The party’s remaining 37 district councillors (out of a total membership of 52) have to choose between two St Ives members for the leadership – Councillors Jason Ablewhite and Doug Dew – with, respectively, Councillors Nick Guyatt and Ken Churchill as deputy leader.

While neither candidate for the leadership has previously stood for the office, both deputies have stood unsuccessfully against Cllr Bates.

Councillor Guyatt was one of the three contenders when Derek Holley stood down in December 2006, and Councillor Churchill challenged Cllr Bates as sitting leader two years later. For his trouble – he came pretty close to unseating the leader – he was given a cabinet post without portfolio, with a brief to reform democratic structures. He now looks after economic development.

Cllr Churchill had been expected to throw his hat into the leadership ring again, but he may have been deterred by recent injuries to his wife from seeking the front seat now.

Cllr Guyatt, a retired City figure, held the strategic planning brief on HDC until he left the district to accompany his wife to a new job in Luxembourg. Her ill-health forced their return to the UK.

He was re-elected to HDC last year, following her untimely death in 2009.

In the meantime, the strategic planning portfolio passed to Cllr Dew, who will be disputing the leadership with his friend and former St Ives Town Council colleague, Cllr Ablewhite.

The absence of the name of Jonathan Gray from the leadership contest indicates that he has put his ambition to become an MP on hold for the time being.

Had he stood, the extremely able young member for Kimbolton would probably have attracted significant support to have cruised to the leadership – something that would have done his Parliamentary ambitions no harm at all.

But for someone with a wife and young family, swapping the salary of a City insurance underwriter for the allowances of a district council leader, in straitened economic circumstances, evidently did not appear to be an irresistible prospect.

Meanwhile, at Shire Hall, Huntingdonshire councillor Mac McGuire is expected to be a contender for the leadership of Cambridgeshire County Council, whose leader Jill Tuck last month announced her decision to stand down in May.

Cllr McGuire, who is also a member of HDC and who lives in Wyton, is currently Cllr Tuck’s deputy.

He is expected to be in a three-cornered contest with Cllr Martin Curtis, who represents Whittlesey North, and Cllr Nick Clarke, from Fulbourn.

The result of the Huntingdonshire Conservative Group’s leadership election will be posted on The Hunts Post’s website, www.huntspost24.co.uk, tomorrow (Wednesday).