A new Thanet council leader has been elected by councillors – meaning the end of the country’s only UKIP-led authority.
District councillors attended the vote despite icy roads and disruptions to public transport but there was a noticeable lack of UKIP Party councillors in the chamber with only Cllr Hunter Stummer-Schmertzing evident on the Cabinet bench. Former leader Chris Wells, who resigned last month, did not attend.
There was also a packed public bench with attendees including South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay.
Conservative Bob Bayford was voted in to the top spot at the emergency meeting tonight (March 1). He announced Cllr Jason Savage as his deputy.
Cllr Bayford and Labour’s Karen Constantine were the only two nominations for the leadership.
There was some dispute over the lack of opportunity for the nominated councillors to speak when the issue went straight to the vote.
The vote means Thanet is once again a Conservative council, albeit a minority administration.
Leader Cllr Bayford said: “We have got 14 months (until the 2019 district elections) and a significant minority. There are going to be difficult challenges but I think we are up to it.”
Mr Mackinlay said: “We have now got to work together to get things right. I wish Bob every success and we can really show the island we can have a better place. I think we can say the UKIP brand is pretty much at its end.”
He added that the Local Plan would be a priority and there would now be council backing for aviation-only use at the Manston airport site.
The Conservatives last had full control of Thanet council after district elections in 2007. In 2011 local elections failed to return a majority party. Conservatives clung on to control until December of that year when a party defection allowed Labour to take control, again as a minority leadership, until UKIP swept to power in 2015.
Since 2011 there have been three periods of no overall control. UKIP had the majority in 2015 but lost it the same year. It regained that majority in 2016 but lost it again last year after defections and resignations.
The election follows the resignation of former leader Chris Wells after a UKIP Party split prompted by January’s vote on the Thanet Draft Local Plan.
The sticking point of the plan was the proposal to remove the aviation-only designation for the Manston airport site and instead earmark it for 2,500 homes.
An “11th hour” amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation for Manston airport pending the resolution of the DCO process was not enough to get the plan voted through to publication stage.
Twelve ‘rebel’ UKIP councillors aligned with the Tories to vote down the plan.
The 12 – led by Cllr Stuart Piper – then quit Thanet’s UKIP group to serve as UKIP Independents and last week ditched the UKIP tag altogether .
The 12, plus Independent councillors Suzanne Brimm and Alan Howes, formed the Thanet Independent Councillors group.
The alliance put ‘official UKIP’ as the third largest party on Thanet council with 13 members, behind TIC with 14 members and Conservatives with 21 councillors. Labour has 6 members and there are two other Independents.
UKIP – A path from victory to implosion
The resignation signalled the beginning of the end of the country’s first UKIP council, elected in a landslide victory in 2015.
The party won 33 of the 56 seats. But the group has since suffered defections and resignations.
In 2015 Beverley Martin, Ash Ashbee and now-disgraced former councillors Konnor Collins and Helen Smith, who were later arrested on theft charges, set up the Democratic Independent Group in protest at a lack of action on Manston airport. They were then joined by Cllr Jeff Elenor, who later resigned his seat because he moved out of the area.
Cllr Martin later returned to the UKIP fold. Cllr Ashbee joined the Conservatives. Cllr Emma Dawson crossed to the Conservatives in 2015 and Cllr Peter Evans followed in 2017.
UKIP regained the majority when the party took back the Northwood seats in a by-election following the resignation of Mr Collins and Ms Smith in 2016.
The Party then lost its majority again last July when Cllr Beverly Martin defected, this time to the Tories. Its sway was further reduced when the Margate by-election in August returned Labour’s Ian Venables to the seat.
That same month Birchington ward councillors Suzanne Brimm and Alan Howes announced they were quitting the party to serve as Independents.
Last month the Thanet Independent UKIP Group was formed by the 12 UKIP members who voted down the Local Plan.
The group became Thanet Independent Councillors, ditching the UKIP label altogether, last week. There are now just 13 UKIP councillors at TDC