Upheaval At Cambs County Council

debate07:41 Tuesday 21st May 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: A crunch meeting is being held at Shire Hall in Cambridge today to decide who if anyone will be the big cheese, the big honcho, the head man, the head woman at Cambridgeshire County Council, although there are not too many women councillors it has to be said. Since the local elections at the start of the month, no party has had a majority of seats, so will the Tory group decide to run the Council as a minority, or will the Council be run by a series of all-party committees? .. Antony Carpen is a Cambridgeshire based political commentator .. Were you surprised Antony when Nick Clarke lost his seat and the Council went into no overall control? Were you surprised in Cambridgeshire?
ANTONY CARPEN: Absolutely. And on my blog I actually stated I didn’t foresee Nick Clarke losing his seat, and I didn’t foresee the Conservatives losing control of the entire Council. So yes, both of those were a surprise.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s left the Council in a bit of a position really. There was talk of a rainbow coalition running things. Now it looks like they’re going to put pressure on to change the system of running things, and in return let the minority Tories control things. Is that the way you read it?
ANTONY CARPEN: Difficult to say. It’s one of the reasons why I’m going to go along to the Council meeting today, just to see what’s going on.
PAUL STAINTON: But LibDems and Labour really want to get rid of the Cabinet system, don’t they?
ANTONY CARPEN: Well certainly that’s what they’ve said, and given the balance of power that we now have in the Council, the old strong Leader model that Nick Clarke ran is not fit for purpose, because the Conservatives no longer have the majority. The key thing to watch for over the next few months obviously is UKIP, the UKIP twelve councillors that we now have.
PAUL STAINTON: The UKIP Twelve, is that what we’re calling them?
ANTONY CARPEN: Well we can call them what you like.
PAUL STAINTON: They’re the wildcard here though aren’t they, because nobody wants to work with them really, do they?
ANTONY CARPEN: Some of the people on my Twitter feed, I tweet as Puffles2010, Puffles the Dragon Fairy, were saying they found .. asked quizzically why people in the Fenland area voted for a party sceptical about climate change. But that aside, the key thing to watch for is how quickly the UKIP group coalesced. Because unlike LibDems and Labour, many of them are relatively new to local government, and may not even know each other. We saw the newspaper reports about how one of the councillors didn’t do any canvassing or campaigning, and then found himself surprisingly elected.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s an interesting mix as well, isn’t it? The Tories have got 32.
PAUL STAINTON: LibDems 14, UKIP 12, we’ve got Labour with 7 and the Independents with 4.. So it’s an incredibly disparate mix of people, isn’t it?
ANTONY CARPEN: It is. And the best analysis that I’ve seen on this is by another local blogger called Phil Rodgers. .. He’s put a number of very interesting blog posts on, not just how this election turned out, but also what it could mean for 2014, for the local council elections next year, and possibly the General Election in 2015.
PAUL STAINTON: What does it say?
ANTONY CARPEN: One of the trends that he questions is the likelihood of Labour retaking the Cambridge seat at the General Election.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s interesting, isn’t it? What are the pros and cons here? If we do get rid of the Cabinet system today, and it does become a council run by committee, what are the pros and cons?
ANTONY CARPEN: One of the reasons for having the Cabinet system .. I’ve just been doing a little bit of research on this .. is that with that system you can just go straight to the Leader, strong Leader model. In principle you can get things done far more quickly. But the question then is what if the decisions taken by that Leader aren’t particularly popular. With the committee system you’re much more likely to .. there’s a greater emphasis on building consensus before proceeding, and I think this is just as it was with the Coalition back in 2010.
PAUL STAINTON: It could take longer to get things done though basically.
ANTONY CARPEN: Well, not necessarily. We had this same issue when I used to work in the Civil Service, when the Coalition came in. The Civil Service thought it was going to be a lot harder to work with Coalition Ministers than it actually turned out.
PAUL STAINTON: Interesting.
ANTONY CARPEN: And I think (UNCLEAR) some surprises.
PAUL STAINTON: Who’s going to be Leader, in a couple of words?
ANTONY CARPEN: Curtis I think.
PAUL STAINTON: Martin Curtis from Whittlesea.