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Ipswich: Tories in meltdown over leadership crisis after split on borough budget vote

PUBLISHED: 16:05 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:05 28 February 2014

Conservative group leader Chris Stewart.

Conservative group leader Chris Stewart.

Archant

The leader of the opposition Conservatives on Ipswich council is coming under increasing pressure to stand down after his group was reduced to a laughing stock at this week’s meeting of the borough.

Chris Stewart proposed an amendment to the Labour-controlled borough’s budget at this week’s council meeting – but when it came to the vote only five of the nine Tories present backed it.

Among those who abstained were former council deputy leader John Carnall, and former leisure portfolio holder Judy Terry.

Another four Tories did not turn up at the meeting.

Mr Stewart’s amendment proposed raising more money from the Regent theatre and raiding the borough’s reserves – a move firmly rejected by the Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council.

Mrs Terry said: “We did not know about this amendment until a press release was sent out late on Friday afternoon. At the group meeting at the start of the week we tried to persuade Chris to drop the amendment.

“It fundamentally failed to understand the issues surrounding the Regent, and I should know. I was responsible for the theatre for several years.

“He would not listen to us, but I could not – in all conscience – support such an amendment.”

Mrs Terry felt that she and other Conservatives on the borough would be happier with a change of group leadership. But one of her colleagues said: “Chris has the skin of a rhinoceros!”

Mr Stewart said he had a meeting with colleagues before drawing up the amendment, but those who had been most critical were not there.

He said: “I always consider my position!” But he said he had no immediate plans to step down from the group leadership.

He was aware that some members of his group would like to see a change of leadership, adding: “It is always at its darkest just before dawn.”

The group is in a perilous position. At present it holds 12 seats on the borough covering six different wards. However in three of these wards the seats are up for re-election in May and the other two seats are already held by Labour.

Many feel it is unlikely to hold Stoke Park, Rushmere, and Whitton wards. The Holywells ward could also be vulnerable – and a UKIP county councillor was elected by voters in the Castle Hill ward last year.

In the worst-case scenario for them, the Conservatives could be left with only seven seats on the borough council after May – with a general election less than a year away.

A senior Conservative in Ipswich said of Mr Stewart: “It is vital he stands down as soon as possible. You can’t lead a group on the council if half of those present don’t vote in favour of your own amendment!”

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