Seven in the running to succeed Geoff Harper as Fenland District Council leader
SEVEN councillors may battle it out to succeed Geoff Harper as the �15,000 a year Leader of Fenland District Council following his decision to quit in the light of the email gate scandal. It is set to be a bruising contest for cont
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
SEVEN councillors may battle it out to succeed Geoff Harper as the �15,000 a year Leader of Fenland District Council following his decision to quit in the light of the email gate scandal.
It is set to be a bruising contest for control and councillors were warned this week by MP Malcolm Moss that unless harmony is restored, and quickly, the party could be facing electoral suicide.
"There are now 39 Conservative Councillors on Fenland but they would do well to contemplate why they are where they are!" said the MP for NE Cambs in a letter to the Editor of the Cambs Times.
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"Are they so deluded as to believe they would have been elected as 'Independents'? "Of course not; they are councillors because they are on the Conservative ticket.
"I have lived through enough upheavals in the Parliamentary Party to know that divided parties are ultimately rejected by the electorate.
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"Loyalty is the key; to the group and to each other and the hard-earned gains of the last 25 years will not be yielded up lightly."
Cllr Harper's resignation takes effect from December 31 and a meeting of the Conservative group follows a week later to elect a new leader.
Favourite to succeed is Councillor Alan Melton, portfolio holder for finance, and until the email gate scandal broke a friend of Cllr Harper's for more than 20 years.
However their friendship has been tested by this newspaper's exclusive revelation that Cllr Harper went with his deputy leader, Fred Yeulett, to chief executive Tim Pilsbury to complain about the contents of a 'strictly private and confidential' email that had been circulated by Cllr Melton.
Tory councillors, instead of criticising Cllr Melton for the robust nature of his comments on the need for a new leisure centre in Chatteris, turned on the leadership for leaking confidential correspondence.
At last week's Tory group meeting more than 30 councillors supported the no confidence vote against Cllr Yeulett: some of those are now preparing a complaint to the standards committee accusing Cllr Yeulett, Cllr Harper and Councillor Steve Garrett, the leisure portfolio holder, of breaching the councillors' code of conduct by disclosing confidential information to Mr Pilsbury.
Last week's group meeting was the most acrimonious for years, with many councillors, including Carol Cox of Wisbech, Florrie Newell of Chatteris, and Pam Potts of Whittlesey, all critical of the leak.
March mayor Councillor John West was even more outspoken, telling Cllr Harper after the meeting: "I'm glad you've gone. You acted like a coward".
Cllr Yeulett told me as he left Fenland Hall: "I stick to my principles".
If Cllr Melton does decide to stand, and wins, it will a significant political coup, given the fact he surrendered the leadership to his then deputy, Cllr Harper, five years ago following his own brush with the Standards Board of England.