Night of the long knives - well nearly - as Fenland Tories claim third cabinet scalp in a matter of weeks

Cllr Mike Cornwell who has not been selected to stand again for March North at Fenland Council

Cllr Mike Cornwell who has not been selected to stand again for March North at Fenland Council - Credit: Archant

A ruthless purge by party activists has claimed another significant scalp at Fenland Hall with the de-selection of the third cabinet member in a matter of weeks.

Last night the ruling executive of the NE Cambs Conservative Association refused an appeal by Councillor Will Sutton against his de-selection and during a lively meeting at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel ditched party whip and cabinet member Mike Cornwell.

Both join Michelle Tanfield among the trio of cabinet members without a seat for the 2019 elections to Fenland District Council.

A fourth cabinet member, Simon King, was recently re-instated by the Conservative group but remains outside of cabinet pending a conduct committee hearing over claims he submitted false expenses claims.

A fifth senior Conservative, planning committee chairman Alex Miscandlon, is also expected to face difficulties when he goes for selection later this month.

In the midst of the turmoil the Tory controlled council is also looking for a new leader following the resignation last month of Councillor John Clark.

Party activists looking for a change in direction at Fenland Hall are uniting around leadership candidate Chris Boden in a bid to see off a challenge from cabinet member and finance portfolio holder Chris Seaton.

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Both councillors will set out their vision for Fenland at a special group meeting next Thursday with all 34 councillors being lobbied for their support.

Most expect it to be a close run thing with the cabinet all likely to support Cllr Seaton whilst a swathe of councillors frustrated by what they believe is the current inertia within the council rallying behind Cllr Boden.

Cllr Clark, who has been selected to stand again as a Conservative candidate, will also be backing Cllr Seaton.

In his resignation speech Cllr Clark was especially critical of the association’s decision to select former district councillor Phil Webb as one of the two candidates to replace councillors Sutton and Tanfield.

“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.”

He said: “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.”

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