Tory Councillors arrive for what will be their most important meeting in years

By John Elworthy SOME laughed, some joked, some smiled, some tried to hide from the cameras, and just a few decided this was not the evening to be polite to the waiting press. This was the scene a few minutes ago at Fenland Hall in County Road, March, a

By John Elworthy

SOME laughed, some joked, some smiled, some tried to hide from the cameras, and just a few decided this was not the evening to be polite to the waiting press.

This was the scene a few minutes ago at Fenland Hall in County Road, March, as Tory councillors began arriving, for what will be their most important meeting in years.

The task itself appeared simple enough - to elect a new leader for the district council. But the voting tonight is set against a background of acrimony and dissention rarely seen in local politics.


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There are six candidates vying to become the next leader, and for a modest salary at that, of just �15,000 a year.

But it is the job that many want, and others hoping to influence the result will be looking to be rewarded, or not, for their support, with a cabinet position.

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One of the leading contenders for the post, Councillor Alan Melton of Chatteris, was among the very first to arrive along with Councillor Kit Owen.

It is not known if the former leader, Councillor Geoffrey Harper, is at the meeting, and he could be one of a handful of councillors who are using a proxy vote to make their choice known.

The meeting is expected to last for up to two hours, but it will begin on a solemn note as councillors pay tribute to Councillor Ray German of Chatteris, whose death was announced shortly before Christmas.

It is estimated that no more than two thirds of the Tory group on the council are present at the meeting, and one of their early tasks will be to determine the voting methods to be used.

They may decide to opt for a simple first past the post system, or they may go through a series of votes, eliminating the candidate who has polled the least votes on each round.

Whichever method is chosen, the new leader is expected to be announced around about 8.30pm, and one of his first tasks will be to convince his Tory colleagues that unity is the best policy, if their party is to present a robust challenge in the forth-coming General Election.

One of the curious side issues hanging over tonight's meeting is whether the Liberal Democrats, who have curiously yet to announce their parliamentary candidate, will be looking to see whether Fenland may again be a winnable seat and whether or not they are considering parachuting in a high-profile candidate to fight Steve Barclay at the General Election.

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