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Leadership vote called into question by Maidstone councillor's shock resignation

Annabelle Blackmore, the new leader of the Conservative group on Maidstone council is facing her first crisis.

Just days before the crucial meeting at which members will vote to chose the new leader of the borough council, one of her key councillors has resigned.

Cllr Richard Lusty has represented Staplehurst for 16 years and has played a key role on the council under successive leaders, including the demanding post of chairman of the planning committee.

Council leader Annabelle Blackmore
Council leader Annabelle Blackmore

But Cllr Blackmore felt unable to offer him any position in her new administration - if she is lucky enough to form one.

Cllr Lusty said: “I’m used to playing an active part on the council, and sadly Cllr Blackmore didn’t have a job for me.

”I decided if wasn’t going to be able to contribute, I should resign.”

He said: “It’s vital as a councillor that you can work well with your leader.

“I was very sad when Chris (Garland) resigned as leader, though I understand he is a young man and had to put his career first. I also worked extremely well with (the previous leader) Eric (Hotson) in the past, but if you can’t have 100% trust and faith in your leader, you should resign.”

Cllr Lusty: no faith
Cllr Lusty: no faith

Cllr Lusty admitted he had toyed with the idea of crossing the floor to the opposition benches, but said there were several reasons why he had not done so.

He said: “For one thing my father was a Conservative councillor in Banstead in Surrey in his day, and he would turn in his grave if I did that.

“Secondly, I was elected as a Conservative and it wouldn’t be right on the electors if I switched.”

Cllr Lusty, 71, said he was resigned to taking no further part in political life.

He said: “I leave with no hard feelings.

“One thing I shall miss is contact with my residents. I have held a weekly surgery in the village all the years I have been a councillor and I calculate I’ve helped more than a 1,000 people in that time.

“I shall miss that personal contact.”

Cllr Lusty’s resignation throws the whole question of who will form the next administration into doubt.

The Tories are still the largest party on the council, but they will need the support of three Independents, Labour or UKIP councillors to rule the roost over the second largest group, the Lib Dems.

Maidstone town hall
Maidstone town hall

The outcome might even depend on who is sick or on holiday when the vote takes place tomorrow (Saturday).

A by-election will now be held to fill Cllr Lusty’s Staplehurst seat.

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