Home   Maidstone   News   Article

Allegations of a ‘stitch-up’ at Maidstone council as Conservatives and Independents vote together on committee chairs

Allegations of a “stitch-up” having been flying around a council chamber after two parties were accused of acting in cahoots to exclude other groups from top committee posts.

The Conservatives remain the largest group on Maidstone council following the local elections at the start of May with 25 of the 55 seats – while, the Lib Dems have 12, Labour have six, and the Green and Independent Alliance group have six.

One of the 10 committee meetings held in the Town Hall last night
One of the 10 committee meetings held in the Town Hall last night

This leaves six further Independents who have largely supported the Tories previously.

Last Tuesday (May 23), a series of 10 committee meetings were held, with the sole business being to appoint the chairman and vice chairman for each.

Under the terms of the council’s constitution, the chairmanship of the overview and scrutiny committee had to be offered to a nominee from the largest party outside the administration – that is the Lib Dems – and Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) was duly appointed chairman.

But all the other nine chairmanships and 10 vice chairman positions went to either Conservative or Independent councillors, after the two groups voted together, defeating any alternative nominations.

Afterwards, Lib Dem leader Cllr Clive English said: “At the elections, the public voted to remove the Conservative’s majority. Consequently the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Independent Alliance suggested that the committee chairs be shared on a proportionate basis among all the parties, including the Conservatives.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Clive English labelled the appointments ‘undemocratic’
Lib Dem leader Cllr Clive English labelled the appointments ‘undemocratic’

“This was rejected and the Independents voted with the Conservatives to freeze out everyone else.”

“This has led to a situation where one single Independent councillor (Cllr Munford) is vice chairman of three committees, so keen were these two groups to monopolise the roles for themselves.

“This is profoundly unhealthy for democracy and unwise in principle and practice to try to run a hung council as if it were one with a majority administration voted in by the public, and to exclude a wide range of other viewpoints.”

He was supported by Cllr Maureen Cleator, leader of the Labour Group, who felt thepositions should have been allocated on a cross-group basis which would have been “fair, democratic, and reflected how the residents had voted”.

“What occurred was bad for democracy,” she said. “Those who voted for candidates who stood on the ‘Independent Group’ ticket must be left wondering exactly how independent the person they voted for really is?

Labour leader Cllr Maureen Cleator
Labour leader Cllr Maureen Cleator

Cllr Stuart Jeffery, leader of the Green Independent Alliance, said: “Tuesday saw a new Conservative and Independent alliance, with the Independent Group and the Conservatives stitching up all the committee chairs in a predefined deal.

“I spoke to Cllr Munford (the Independent Group leader) after the election to seek his views on a council with no overall control.

“He was clear that his group were independent and that he would not support a coalition without all parties being involved. His position clearly lasted just a few days, if at all.

“Not only do the Independent Group sit with the Conservatives now, they vote with them too.”

Cllr Jeffery added: “The three Independents who are in alliance with the Green group had all been publicly endorsed by me on their election literature and had stated their principles clearly.

“Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams and Vanessa Jones are quite free to do as they please politically, there is no whip, no expectations and no requirements, just a broad acceptance that we hold similar principles.”

Cllr Stuart Jeffery, leader of the Green Independent Alliance, called it a ‘stitch up’
Cllr Stuart Jeffery, leader of the Green Independent Alliance, called it a ‘stitch up’

The independents who voted with the Conservatives were Cllrs Steve Munford, Martin Cox, Denise Joy and Fay Gooch. Cllr Susan Grigg was absent from the meetings, and Cllr Gordon Newton, as Mayor, had no involvement.

Afterwards Cllr Munford, who picked up three appointments himself, said: “There can never be any kind of alliance between any political group and the Independent group or we would not be Independent.

“Relating to this week’s meeting, we were asked as a group to support the opposition in removing the Conservative group’s chairs and vice chairs from committees and installing opposition members in their places.

“We considered this, but instead voted to leave these appointments very much as they were last year.”

Cllr Munford said: “Independent councillors will always vote on what they believe to be the best for Maidstone’s residents, regardless of whom they are voting with or against.”

Council leader David Burton
Council leader David Burton

“Tuesday’s meeting however demonstrated that even on reduced numbers, Independent group councillors will have the casting vote on many important issues as we go forward this year.

“These votes will always be non-political, but driven by what is the best for Maidstone.”

Cllr David Burton, leader of the Conservative group and council leader, said: “I make no apology for the Conservatives being the largest group on the council.

“There is no deal with the Independents. This time they supported us, another day they may not.”

However, Cllr Burton said it had become apparent that there was a slight problem with the wording of the recently revised council constitution, in that it required the vice chairmen of the policy advisory committees to be other than from the party in administration.

“That meant that we the Conservatives had to go for the chairmanship of those committees, because we wouldn’t have been able to be the vice chairs,” he added. “The wording may need revision in future.”

Cllr Burton said opposition parties had the opportiunity to challenge for the leadership but chose not to.

He stressed that his ambition was for collegiate working with all groups and he hopes “all parties can make a valuable input”.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More