Ousted council leader still has home town support
11:54am Wednesday 17th October 2012 in News
Ousted council leader Alec Robertson still has support in his home of Helston after being removed from his position at Cornwall Council in a vote of no confidence.
Amid claims of backstabbing and much heated debate, the Conservative member for the Helston North electoral division was ousted from the leadership by secret ballot, with 63 votes in favour of his departure and 49 against at an extraordinary meeting of Cornwall Council.
In Helston, however, former colleagues of Mr Robertson have rallied behind the spurned leader.
Mary Godber, secretary of the Godolphin Club where Mr Robertson was manager for 18 months before being voted onto the council, said: “On a personal note I’m very sorry to hear the news and wish him the best. Alec was an excellent manager and a very popular person, and I’m sure he is the kind of person that whatever he does he does well.”
She added that he put his “heart and soul” into his work at the club and she was sure he felt strongly about his decision and actions as council leader.
“He lives by what he believes,” she said.
Helston’s mayor Jonathan Radford-Gaby said while it would not be appropriate to comment on matters at county level he wished Mr Robertson well.
He said: “What’s happened at County Hall is an internal process at Cornwall Council. It would be inappropriate for me as mayor of Helston to comment directly on what has happened.
“What I would say is that Councillor Robertson remains divisional member for Helston north and has proved himself a committed and diligent councillor, and I wish him well for the future."
During two hours of high tension yesterday (Tuesday), which saw the council’s webcast of proceedings trending on Twitter in the UK at one stage, Liberal Democrat councillor Bob Egerton, openness and transparency champion at New County Hall, proposed Mr Robertson's removal.
It followed the now former leader’s decision to forge ahead with the part-privatisation of key council services against the wishes of the majority of council members.
Last week, Mr Robertson changed his position and said he would abide by the wishes of the full council, but only after a vote on privatisation to be held on October 23 – a full seven days after the vote on his future.
Called to discuss Mr Robertson's future, Mr Egerton said: “What he seems to be saying is that having led us up the hill and shown us what he considers to be the Promised Land, if we don't like the look of it he will now lead us back down again.
“I feel that if we want to be led back down the hill, then we should be led by somebody who believes that that's the right thing to do – not somebody who has just changed his mind at the last moment.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, councillor Jeremy Rowe, accused the Conservative and Independent coalition that make up the current cabinet of a “total disregard for democracy.”
He described the no confidence vote as being about “the future direction of Cornwall,” adding:
“It's about cabinet members who send out bullying e-mails to other members. It's about the culture of cronyism in this council. It's about the bunker mentality.
“It's about their [the cabinet's] obsession with grand schemes and big projects when they are a council that can't even collect people's bins.”
Cabinet member and independent councillor Mark Kaczmarek responded to these remarks by calling Mr Rowe a “backstabber,” as he had previously offered the leader his support.
Council chairman Pat Harvey took exception to this outburst however and ordered Mr Kaczmarek to stop and sit down, calling for an adjournment and security guards to get involved when he refused to do so.
Mr Kaczmarek later apologised to Mr Rowe, but the dramatic interlude served as a reminder of how high emotions were running over the issue.
There was much debate over whether a vote of no confidence in the leader was tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.
All the cabinet members, led by Independent Roseland councillor Julian German, stood in defence of Mr Robertson – as did Cornwall councillor for Penryn, Mary May.
She pleaded for council members to give Mr Robertson a chance, adding: “Let's go forward for the next six months as a united council - not one that are getting out their daggers to do the ultimate.
“When you are a leader, or the Pope, or Jesus Christ, or Mary May you get things wrong.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Riches had the last word in the discussion by comparing Mr Robertson to the famously badly advised tenth century King of England Ethelred the Unready, as opposed to the “Alfred the Great” character his supporters made him out to be.
He said: “If you are looking for progress to be made in the county of Cornwall then I would say don't stick with Ethelred the Unready. Go for, or at least try to go for, a real Alfred the Great.”
Councillor Jim Currie was later voted in as new leader, after standing against Councillor Neil Burden, with a majority of just three votes. The vote was 49 to 46, with five abstentions. Councillors Julian German, Graeme Hicks, Chris Ridgers and Steve Double promptly resigned from the cabinet.