The two frontrunners to become Swale’s new council leader believe a rainbow coalition is the best way forward for the borough.
With 47 seats up for grabs during last Thursday’s election, the results produced another hung council with no majority being formed.
Labour won the most seats with 15, and quickly elected Tim Gibson as the new leader of the Sittingbourne and Sheppey group, with Sheerness councillor Angela Harrison becoming his deputy.
The Conservatives meanwhile ended the day with 12 seats, with the Swale Independents a close third with 11.
The Liberal Democrats and Green Party also took hold of five and three seats respectively.
However, any suggestion of Labour and the Swale Independents forming a joint-coalition has been dismissed by both leaders.
Current council and Alliance leader Mike Baldock says he instead hopes “a wide coalition” of parties will lead Swale again.
Meanwhile Cllr Gibson, who is also a leading contender to take over the position as council head, echoed Cllr Baldock’s words.
The Roman ward representative said: “Of course Roger (Truelove) has stood down as Labour’s Swale leader after some exemplary service, and over the past few days members voted unanimously for me to replace him.
“Being as immersed in the community as I am, I feel like I can unite the other parties and will do my best to have those sort of discussions when the coalition is formed later this month.
“I have also been voted as deputy mayor for Swale, but will of course probably have to relinquish that position should I become leader, as becoming leader of the council is a position I would probably prefer.
“So if that were to happen, my aim is to have talks with all the parties as I hope many can be involved because this serves the community better.
“Some thought the rainbow coalition wouldn’t work four years ago, but I believe it has binded us together as a council.”
In 2019 most of the district’s parties united to prevent the Conservatives from being in power – a choice Cllr Baldock hopes happens again on May 17.
The Swale Independents’ Alliance chief added: “I’m not sure yet how things are going to turn out, as there are benefits to both myself and Tim being council leader, so of course we will have more discussions before whoever is chosen.
“Swale needs to ensure it has all its issues focused on, and that’s why there will be more talks than usual.
“As we are also a committee and not a cabinet system, it’s likely we will remain as a ‘rainbow’ coalition and not become a majority with just Labour and Swale Independents, even though the two parties could do so.
“We will know more about the Greens and Liberal Democrats’ position next week, so there’s certainly a lot to juggle and no requirement for me to continue being leader.
“But I have never seen the role of it as more important than any other role now that we have our new system with more balanced committees.
“The most important thing is that we have a committee system which is good and capable, with the potential for new people to learn the ropes.
“We have a lot of new councillors following the election on Friday, and so it will be important during the next four years to have people who can win arguments, get things done and have a general understanding – which is key when a number of parties are involved.
“What has happened over the last four years has worked well because each meeting has been discussed on an issue-by-issue basis.
“So I would like a wide coalition if possible again and that’s what I’ll be suggesting, and hopefully we can do another four years of great work for Swale.”
The Sittingbourne and Sheppey Conservatives also moved quickly in choosing a new leader following the surprise defeat of former boss Alan Horton on Friday.
Mr Horton lost his seat in the Hartlip, Newington and Upchurch ward after coming third to Swale Independents pair Chris and Richard Palmer.
Teynham and Lynsted representative Lloyd Bowen will now lead the group following a meeting at their AGM last night (Tuesday), with The Meads councillor James Hunt appointed as his deputy.
Mr Bowen insists the Tory group will support policies they agree with in a bid to avoid partisanship and represent Swale residents more effectively.
He explained: “Despite not winning or gaining a majority, I believe we have a good foundation to help Swale.
“As the new leader, I want to ensure the council works effectively as a whole with agreements and policies, and not oppose issues that would prevent residents from being represented well.
“We are still going to be constructively critical and raise concerns when needed as we need to be both a good opposition and administration.
“Ultimately, time will tell how well things are going to work over the next four years, but more voices should continue to be heard.”
When asked why Cllr Hunt was chosen to be his deputy, Cllr Bowen added: “James has good experience and is a forward-thinking person, and I know that together we are both approachable.
“So whilst we know that we are no longer in the majority, a lot of people still voted for the Conservatives, and that is something which cannot be ignored.
“I am not aware personally of what discussions are happening between other party leaders, so all I can do is focus on delivering in the best way I can for people.”