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Babergh Tories form new coalition to keep district council majority

Babergh District Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (2227823)
Babergh District Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (2227823)

The Babergh Conservatives have formed a new coalition to retain a slender majority on the district council - a situation which the opposition has called “a disaster and a shambles”.

Leader John Ward announced at the annual council meeting on Tuesday that the Tories had joined up with the newly-formed Babergh Unionists Group in order to maintain a majority administration, after internal movements threatened to leave the council with no overall control.

The Unionists Group was formed by former Tory councillors Peter Burgoyne, who had been council chairman for the past two years, and Sue Burgoyne. They recently left the Babergh Conservatives, meaning the group was briefly one seat short of a majority.

Cllr Ward said the couple had declined to renew their party membership for personal reasons, but both of them remained loyal to the Conservative principles and vision for the district, enabling the coalition to be formed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Barry Gaspar was elected to succeed Mr Burgoyne as council chairman.

Mr Ward also confirmed there would be no impact on the cabinet as a result of the coalition, and the numerical representation for each of the parties on council committees would remain the same.

But opposition councillors claim the situation has shown the Conservatives to be in disarray, and they believe this will be reflected in the results of next year’s local elections.

The Tories received a majority of 31 out of 43 seats from the 2015 elections, but this has now been eroded to 21, plus two Unionists, after several resignations in recent months.

After formally announcing the coalition, Cllr Ward said: “I would also like to say that the opposition parties are appreciative that I have kept to my promise to be more inclusive when elected leader by appointing an independent to the cabinet and giving the chairmanship of the overview and scrutiny committee to another independent.

“These are members who are ideally qualified for the roles I have given them and their appointments will greatly benefit the administration of the district.”

However, critics argue the drop in Tory representation on Babergh District Council demonstrated clear issues with the party and its leadership.

Labour councillor Luke Cresswell, pictured, who won a previously Conservative-held seat at the Sudbury South by-election last year, said: “Tory councillors have spent the last three years squabbling with each other and have become completely ineffective.

“There’s been no leadership, no vision and now little chance of winning a majority in next year’s local elections.

“To go from having a huge majority to none at all requires inordinate levels of incompetence from the leadership and exposes serious problems within the local Conservative party.

“Rather than focusing on delivering for Babergh residents, they preferred the self-indulgence of kicking several shades of blue out of each other.”

Independent councillor John Nunn, who represents Long Melford, told the Free Press that many of the constituents he met now viewed Babergh District Council with contempt, as a result of these internal problems.

“The situation has become embarrassing for all members,” he said.

“When I visit parish meetings, Babergh has become the focus of ridicule.

“I hope the voting public will remember this fiasco by the ruling Tory party when next year’s district elections come around, and vote Independent.”

Fellow Long Melford independent councillor Richard Kemp added: “I helped form Babergh as a member in 1974.

“I cannot believe how, after those proud 41 years of Babergh serving the public, the last three years have lapsed into a form of disaster and shambles.”