What next for Rugby Borough Council? Political parties plot their next moves

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Rugby Borough Council remains under Conservative leadership – but for how much longer?

The Conservatives remain in charge with 17 seats, which is more than any other party but well short of the 22 required for a majority and the party’s lowest tally since 2000.

The rest are divided between Labour (15), who won three from the Tories in the local elections earlier this month, and the Liberal Democrats (10) and while the leaders of the two opposition parties stopped short of confirming a collaboration to change the guard, they both drove right up to the line after Thursday’s annual meeting for all councillors.

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The council’s report detailed that “appointments to committees will be made once members of the cabinet have been agreed for the municipal year” and the matter was not discussed during what is largely a ceremonial meeting, during which Councillor Simon Ward (Con, Wolston & the Lawfords) was installed as mayor.

The Conservatives remain in charge with 17 seats, which is more than any other party but well short of the 22 required for a majority and the party’s lowest tally since 2000.The Conservatives remain in charge with 17 seats, which is more than any other party but well short of the 22 required for a majority and the party’s lowest tally since 2000.
The Conservatives remain in charge with 17 seats, which is more than any other party but well short of the 22 required for a majority and the party’s lowest tally since 2000.

There was a nudge towards the frustration behind the scenes, though, when Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Jerry Roodhouse (Paddox) thanked councillors who had retired or lost their seats for their service.

“Public service is the starting point for most members,” he said.

“If you look around this chamber, the mayors, the aldermen, you go back in history, it is there, they all wanted to serve the people of Rugby regardless of any political tribalism that is about.

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“That is the main point, collectively we all really say the same things, we just come at it from a different point of view.

“If we look at the historical context, we need to take all of that on board more today than ever before because that is what the future is.

“Throwing hand grenades at each other is not very helpful. You can either stay in trenches or stop the war and actually look at what residents want.”

'They need to get their acts together'

Conservative leader Councillor Derek Poole (Wolston & the Lawfords) and his deputy Councillor Ian Picker (Hillmorton) declined to comment after the meeting, indicating they would have more to say after upcoming talks on the matter, but Cllr Roodhouse was frank to say the least.

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“One political group needs to be very clear what its position is,” he said.

“We have been talking to one group more than the other and you could hear from my speech in the chamber the angle I am coming from.

“We sit in the middle. You can have politics, go to war and throw stuff at each other but every councillor I have come across came into politics to do their best for their residents and the place they live in, so surely the best way is to try to work through things.

“We wanted a rainbow coalition (a cabinet that represented all three parties) but both sides emailed back to say they wouldn’t go down that road because they wouldn’t speak to each other.

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“For me, that is pathetic, old tribalism. It is not the way of a progressive council.

“I have already been told privately this morning that one party is going to play games – that’s helpful, isn’t it? We want to redo the town centre and we have people wanting to play games.

"My view is that at a local authority level, we need to be progressive but I have ordered my United Nations armband and uniform to sit in the middle.

“There are two tribal positions and in all seriousness, we need to be the bridge to support the council in delivering what the residents want – that is what I am passionate about.

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“I have told them both that I will pull it apart if they start tinkering with that. I am more passionate about it now because I can see the opportunities that are in front of this council to do some really great things. That could be spoiled by this party political tribalism.

“They need to get their acts together, both of them.”

Asked whether he would divulge which party he had been talking to more than the other, Cllr Roodhouse replied: “Not at the moment, they have a process to go through and so do we.

“I just hope we can get to some agreement about those major items, otherwise this council will fail because it will be stymied from one side or the other.”

No outright coalition

Cllr Roodhouse did reaffirm that it would not take the form of a formal coalition, more a “confidence and supply” arrangement to vote together to get things done.

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“We would need to be clear about what is coming towards us so we have time to look at it and decide whether to agree on that issue,” he added.

“There would need to be some sort of terms of reference so the officers know what is going to happen, a good strong set of principles with some guidance, a public facing document that anyone could see.”

Labour: Time for a change

Labour leader Councillor Michael Moran (Admirals & Cawston) said his party’s vote share, coupled with a “40 per cent decline” for the Tories, had created “a feeling that our manifesto has been supported so we will continue on that basis”.

“The point for me is that the Liberal Democrat manifesto was one of change, I think ours had words to the same effect,” he added.

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“We have had a Conservative leadership since time began, effectively. In the sense of good democracy and good business practice, it is time for a change and I think that is what people have voted for.

“We have committed in black and white a 10-page manifesto for Rugby – the Conservatives didn’t put forward any manifesto.

“We have a clear plan, things will be resolved quickly and then whoever it is can get on with leading the town.”

Asked for a timescale, Cllr Moran replied: “I think there is a necessity for people to get on with things.

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“It is important to have today, it is a great ceremony that thanks to the outgoing mayor and brings in a new mayor. This isn’t and should never be a business meeting.

“We will get on with that as quickly as the process allows.”

He said Labour would “not presume anything” over any potential agreement, adding: “It is important to respect the process.

“I sincerely hope the Conservatives will not carry on leading this council because I think the public have dramatically voted against them. Time will tell, we will do our best to create what I think is a more progressive administration but one that is more respectful.

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“There are many examples across the country of how different arrangements can work. I completely support and endorse full transparency.

“I am a fairly new councillor, I was elected two years ago, and coming from a business environment I am shocked and surprised at some of the practices and I think full transparency would be very good.

“The council isn’t always as transparent as it could be and I would completely go along with the publication of standard terms of reference so everyone knows what is happening.”