Published: 09:31, 11 October 2019
| Updated: 11:18, 11 October 2019
A beleaguered council leader and his Conservative administration have been ousted after suffering a shock defeat in a vote of no confidence.
Thanet District Council leader Robert Bayford (Con) has been forced out following a dramatic and extraordinary meeting at Margate's council offices last night.
Cheers sounded as the Labour group, headed by Cllr Rick Everitt, was voted into office by opposition parties despite only holding 20 seats out of the district council's 56.
After the meeting, Cllr Everitt denied the Tory ousting was a co-ordinated "coup" between themselves and the Thanet Independents, who had put forward the motion of no confidence last week.
He said: "We did not instigate this and are not in collusion with the Thanet Independents...there was not plot we were a part of."
Questions over Cllr Bayford's competence came to a head just four months after it was revealed that the council-owned Ramsgate Port had recorded losses of £2.5m this year, 34 per cent worse than the port's performance two years ago.
Controversy has also surrounded the sale of one of Thanet District Council's largest assest disposals, Margate's Dreamland and opposition parties accused the council of failing to deal with social issues, including homelessness and clearing litter.
Thanet Independents leader, Rev. Stuart Piper told the Local Democracy Reporting service: "This was an occasion where the captain should have gone first and he would have saved the ship, but he didn't."
But the outgoing council leader described Cllr Piper's actions as a "disgrace" and accused the Thanet Independent councillor of launching a "personal attack" on him.
He said: "I think criticisms of this council comes from a narrow strata in Thanet, a strata that is led by someone who puts up some of the vilest things I have ever seen appearing on Facebook."
He added: "I believe Cllr Piper's actions are extraordinarily personal and aimed solely at me for reasons I'm not quite sure."
After being voted out as leader, Cllr Bayford added: "I fear for the ongoing stability of this council."
Cllr Rebecca Wing (Green) compared the feud between the two leaders as comparable to a fight between two "sumo wrestlers".
One Conservative councillor was met with a chorus of boos from the public gallery after defending the council leader and said: "Who has the quality and knowledge, background and high level of experience in this room that Cllr Bayford does."
Criticisms of the council leader and the Conservative Party came to a head in an explosive final hour of a three-hour long extraordinary council meeting.
Thanet Independents' original motion, submitted last week, was solely to hold a no-confidence vote in the council leader, although Cllr Bayford would have reserved the constitutional right to stay on.
However, an alteration was made to the motion during last night's public meeting (Oct 10) which meant Cllr Bayford would be forced to resign as leader if the vote was carried.
Conservative members were visibly shocked by the change and Cllr Ash Ashbee (Con), deputy leader of the party, also warned: "Be careful what you wish for."
"I wish Cllr Everitt good luck because he is going to need it..." Cllr Bob Bayford
But, opposition party members accused the council of negligence by leaving the streets "filthy" and failing to help rough sleepers or improve the state of buildings.
Cllr Karen Constantine (Lab), who was applauded by members of the public, said: "I think Labour can manage the council services better and point out why we are in the mess we are in...we will put the residents first and the workers of this council first."
But, Cllr Lesley Game (Con) accused Thanet Independents of "falling in love with Labour" and described Cllr Piper's actions as "shameful".
Cllr David Stevens (Con) said he was "worried" there was danger of a"yo-yo system" between the Tories and Labour and was anxious over how this would impact Thanet residents.
One of Labour's cabinet members, Cllr Steve Albon, said: "I don't want to be frivolous, but if we're given a gift horse we aren't going to look it in the mouth."
Following the emotionally-charged debate, a vote was held and Cllr Bayford was found to have lost the confidence of his colleagues.
But, in another extraordinary move, Conservative members then attempted to put forward the party's deputy leader, Cllr Ashbee, to succeed Cllr Bayford but she declined the offer.
Instead, Cllr Everitt was selected as the new council leader after receiving the support of 29 elected members, including Labour, the Greens and Thanet Independents.
He said: "It will have to be a very collaborative council and hope we can work with other parties in the chamber because we are going to need to if we want to stay in control."
A total of 22 Conservative members voted against it.
Cllr Bob Bayford, who had a majority of 25 seats, said he feared for the "ongoing stability" of the local authority, adding: "I wish Cllr Everitt good luck because he is going to need it."