Tories throw ‘toys from the pram’ and storm out following lost vote 

Cllr Steve Count

Tory opposition leader Steve Count packs up as he prepares to head for the exit, abandoning a full meeting of the county council in July. It was being chaired by Cllr Derek Giles (second left) who has stepped down because of ill-health. - Credit: Archant

Toys came tumbling from the prams of Conservative county councillors as they stormed from a full council meeting in what appeared to be a well-orchestrated plan.  

Former council leader Steve Count, now heading up the minority Conservative opposition, led the charge.  

He was quickly followed by his colleagues as they vacated the leisure centre at Littleport where the meeting was being held.  

Minutes before the walk out, during a vote in which the Tories knew they would lose, fellow Conservative councillor Josh Schumann was seen shifting across to speak to Cllr Count.  

A short while later, when the motion was indeed lost, Cllr Count and his colleagues were out the door.  

The row was over a motion put to the council by Cllr Count in which he argued that decisions taken by the new joint administration at their first meeting in May, may have been unconstitutional.  

Cllr Josh Schumann

Cllr Josh Schumann gets up to have a quiet 'tactics talk' with council leader Steve Count. Moments later both had left the meeting, together with all Tory county councillors. - Credit: Archant

“At the meeting council agreed to make changes to the constitution under ‘matters of urgency’ constitutional process, as agreed through its chair,” said Cllr Count.  

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“Whilst the weight of evidence piles up across the board, demonstrating the chaotic way the council is being led, these two more significant issues require attention of full council now.” 

He explained the changes to the constitution were allowed by the chair Councillor Derek Giles, as matters of urgency.  

“Whilst this is the chair’s decision, the decision has to be in line with legislation and the council’s constitution,” he said. 

“If this decision failed a legal challenge, every subsequent committee decision would be open to serious challenge.  

“The question of whether it was legal or not has now led to the council seeking legal advice from two separate external sources.”  

Cllr Count felt that there was a lack of confidence in the confusion and in the absence of a more confident determination, the Tory group had a suggestion.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha

As a former MEP, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha has been at the heart of political skirmishes. But now, as leader of the county council., she's seen it on her own doorstep so to speak - Credit: Archant

He said that whilst not agreeing with many of the decisions made by the new administration, he wanted to help to “secure them, as they were made according to the rules of democracy.  

“We therefore ask that all decisions made that day and subsequently be ratified by full council today, rather than revisit each and every single decision”.  

Cllr Count said: “This will effectively reduce the threat of a possible legal challenge.” 

His proposal was to ratify all the decisions and all subsequent decisions made through the committee system, from that date till now.  

Cllr Count spoke of mixed messages coming from legal sources and the ratification process would eliminate any risk.  

With a budget of £750m a year he told councillors: “You want to be as safe as possible”. 

He described his motion as “a get out of jail free car”. 

But council leader Lucy Nethsingha was having none of it.  

She said that based on two sets of legal advice it was clear “that the decision in May is a valid decision which is supported. 

“There is no need for this decision to be looked at and no need for ratification.” 

Cllr Count said he had been denied access to some of the legal advice and it was not right the “scrutinising party” hadn’t seen all of it.  

Cllr Sam Hoy felt that by withholding the legal advice from all councillors “it smacks to me of trying to hide things”. 

Cllr Nethsingha said it was “not unusual” for not all legal advice to be widely shared to all councillors, quoting legal advice on the #farmgate report as an example. 

Cllr Count “on a point of order” asked for the debate to be adjourned and he promised a formal complaint would follow.  

However, the council voted against a motion for the debate to be adjourned, Cllr Count then withdrew his original motion and at that point led his colleagues from the hall.  

Towards the end of the meeting, he demanded precedence over other speakers as he rose to make a point of order. 

“I have the floor,” he said. “Please don’t interrupt me. It's up to the chair to address me as no one else stood up.” 

As Tory councillors left, one councillor clearly forgot his own microphone was still on as he uttered the words “good riddance” to the departing group.  

The meeting ended officially a few minutes later.