Tories warned ‘we have a version of Momentum’ in Fenland following de-selection of four Conservative councillors

PUBLISHED: 20:02 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 20:02 15 March 2018

The Whittlesey Festival 2014. Cllr Martin Curtis getting wet from the sponges. Picture: Steve Williams.

The Whittlesey Festival 2014. Cllr Martin Curtis getting wet from the sponges. Picture: Steve Williams.

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The North East Cambridgeshire Conservative Association is split over a rule change that has allowed party activists to de-select four district councillors – three of them cabinet members.

Cllr Dee Laws. Stonald.(Con) Cllr Dee Laws. Stonald.(Con)

The matter will come to a head next Thursday at the association’s annual meeting when a bid will be made to get Conservative Central Office in London to review and amend the rules.

One leading Conservative has advised Councillor Kay Mayor, the association chairman, that when the idea was first mooted he had warned the process was flawed and could lead to a Militant Tendency within the party.

“Well it’s happened, but instead of Militant we have a version of Momentum,” he said.

Behind the scenes, and over many months, a group of activists that have included councillors such as Jan French, Steve Tierney and Sam Hoy have been beavering away making use of the new rules as candidates for the 2019 district elections are sought.

Delamore. Fenland Horticultural Academy. Cllr Alan Melton. Delamore. Fenland Horticultural Academy. Cllr Alan Melton.

The rules state that the association’s 28 individual wards within NE Cambs need 15 members in each to ensure they can pick their own candidates.

However only four wards have memberships in excess of 15 and, under the rules, selection reverts back to the association executive. It is here where party activists have secured the majority and can effectively use block voting to put candidates in – or to remove them.

The ploy worked successfully in Elm and Christchurch where sitting councillors and cabinet members Will Sutton and Michelle Tanfield were shown the door.

And it worked in March where Mike Cornwell was ousted – and in Whittlesey where planning committee chairman Alex Miscandlon was also voted out.

Steve Tierney will put his loo initiative to the town council. Steve Tierney will put his loo initiative to the town council.

But the association now finds itself facing a backlash after, for instance, voters in Christchurch and Elm will be invited to vote for a Tory candidate, Phil Webb, a former Conservative councillor turned UKIP turned Independent who recently moved from Elm to Whittlesey.

Councillor John Clark, who quit as FDC leader in January, cited Mr Webb’s selection in his resignation email.

“Phil Webb used to be a Conservative but left to stand as an independent and then went on to stand as a UKIP member,” he said. “He also made unhelpful remarks about the Conservatives in public.”

“Cllr Clark added: “He will be representing Christchurch and Elm but he will be living in Whittlesey some 20 miles away whereas Will has been a well respected councillor in Christchurch for 16 years and lives in the ward.”

“Whatever your views about Will and Michelle they surely cannot display anywhere near the disloyalty of Phil Webb. This situation would never have happened under the Conservative Association that I joined some 12 years ago.”

There is anger, too, among Whittlesey councillors such as Dee Laws to the selection of former county council leader and former Fenland planning committee Martin Curtis to replace Cllr Miscandlon.

Whittlesey Tories failed to back Mr Curtis but with insufficient members present to stay within the rules, the selection went to the executive where, as explained above, the new wave of ‘militants’ were able to confirm his adoption as candidate in preference to Cllr Miscandlon. The vote was 23 votes to 14.

Cllr Laws will be asking the annual meeting to press for a rule change to drop the requirement for 15 members at a local meeting to five. It will face a tough passage.

The selection of candidates has taken on a new twist when the candidate picked alongside Mr Curtis suddenly dropped out after claiming he didn’t want to work with him. There will now be a fresh selection.

The row over the selection of Mr Curtis could bring ‘supermarketgate’ back into play by Alan Melton, council leader at the time of competing bids by Sainsbury and Tesco to build a supermarket in the town.

Mr Melton these days doesn’t mince his words about how he feels about Mr Curtis, who he sacked as vice chairman of the planning committee six years ago.

“His verbosity has been on the verge of paranoia,” he told me. “No one with an ounce of sense can say that loyalty and supportive are two virtues that apply to Martin.”

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