EXCLUSIVE: Tory plot to oust Melton as leader hatched by colleague who fears Tories may lose seats over pay and display
TORIES on Fenland District Council were in uproar today after a bid to oust Alan Melton as leader became public.
A vote of no confidence in Cllr Melton’s leadership has been hatched by March councillor John Clark following yesterday’s Cabinet decision which could pave the way for pay and display in Fenland car parks.
Cllr Clark has emailed the entire Conservative group on Fenland Council calling for Cllr Melton to go and for the pay and display policy to be revoked immediately.
“It is my view we have to sacrifice Alan Melton (who may well lose his seat in the next election) and distance ourselves from his ambition to introduce pay parking,” says Cllr Clark.
“I would therefore ask for your support either by email or telephone in a vote of no confidence in our leader so we can demonstrate that we do not agree with his decision on pay parking and reject it to give ourselves a fighting chance at the next election.”
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However my understanding is that Cllr Melton’s retain the support of nearly all of the Conservative group and will insist the policy has been openly and freely discussed by members.
He refused to comment on the coup attempt but his colleagues tell me they detect the influence of a small group of councillors still loyal to former leader Geoff Harper. Councillors point out that it is no coincidence Cllr Clark would have liked to be leader but failed to attract enough support to be considered as a serious contender. He has also spoken very little in council meetings and is unlikely to succeed in his bid to remove Cllr Melton.
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Cllr Clark said: “Alan Melton has never made a secret that he supports pay parking but there could not have been a worse time to introduce it than eight months before an election. This is na�ve and political suicide.”
The district and county councillor claimed Cabinet had not been fully briefed on the implications of bringing in civil parking enforcement and claimed Fenland was under “no pressure” from Shire Hall to join the scheme.
“We were promised by our new leader that he would be transparent and keep us fully informed and involved with his decisions and to date this has been anything but that,” said Cllr Clark.
Newmarket introduced pay parking just before their election and “sitting councillors lost their seats and control of the council and make no mistake this is what we face” said Cllr Clark.
“As a membership we are between a rock and a hard place. I can’t speak for other members but with the Conservative spending review and other cuts we are not going to be popular and this will be the last nail in the coffin. I am fearful of losing my seat and the Conservative control of the council.”
Cllr Clark has some support from Councillor Martin Curtis who said he was disgusted that Whittlesey was added to the CPE list as an afterthought because it inevitably means parking charges. I have always said I would never, ever support general parking charges in Whittlesey as a matter of conscience and I maintain that stance.
“Can someone please show me where we have a serious enforcement issue in Whittlesey?”
Councillors attending today’s coffee morning in aid of Macmillan Cancer at Fenland Hall were alarmed by the implications for the Tory group following the email.
Councillors I spoke to pointed out the policy decision had been ratified both by group, by Cabinet and the council and were surprised Cllr Clark had not been following the discussions.
However Cllr Bernard Keane, asked if he supported pay and display parking, said: “Yes and no” but declined to elaborate.
Some councillors are furious, too, that Cllr Melton is being singled out for a vote of no confidence.
“This was a Cabinet decision, approved by Cabinet and therefore it is not Alan Melton acting on his own,” one councillor told me.
One Cabinet member, Councillor Kit Owen, is reported to have told Cllr Clark that implementation of the scheme is at least two years away.
“In the current economic climate we have to do what is right and not what is expedient to keep a council seat,” says Cllr Owen.