Fenland Council Leader John Clark says he felt his position was undermined by the local Conservative party after two of his cabinet members failed to be re-selected as candidates in next year’s local elections.
Speaking on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’ breakfast show this morning Councillor Clark, who shocked his council colleagues by resigning as leader at a meeting last night (Thursday), told presenter Dotty McLeod that he felt the decision by the local association not to re-select Councillors Will Sutton and Michelle Tanfield made his “position difficult”.
Both councillors currently serve the Elm and Christchurch ward and Coun Sutton has acted like a deputy to Coun Clark since he took on the leadership role in May 2014.
Coun Sutton is portfolio holder for neighbourhood planning, while Coun Tanfield is portfolio holder for leisure and young people.
Coun Clark denied that he told fellow councillors at last night’s meeting that he was resigning “because he had had enough”.
He said if Donald Trump were involved he would have branded that as “fake news”.
“I don’t recall making that statement at all,” said Coun Clark, who went on to say there were several reasons behind his decision, which he said he had discussed over the Christmas period with his wife and family.
“I think it was some what of a suprise. I haven’t consulted with that many people. It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction, I wasn’t necessarily forced into it. I just felt it was the right time.
“It is combination of a lot of things. I underwent open heart surgery at the wonderful Royal Papworth Hospital last year. I have been doing the job for the best part of four years. There are a lot of commitments being part of the combined authority, but probably the main reason was the local Conservative party decided to deselect two of my cabinet members and that made my position difficult to carry on. I just felt it undermined my position and highlighted that it is probably time for a change.”
Coun Clark said he would be coming away with “some regrets” but felt over all “we haven’t done a bad job over the last four years”.
He added he was particularly proud of the introduction of the Combined Authority, which he said would be “very very good for Fenland”, and has “already brought quite a lot of money to the area”.
There will now be a process involving a secret ballot next month to find Coun Clark’s replacement.
Councillor Chris Boden, a Whittlesey councillor, who is among those being touted as a possible successor admitted Coun Clark’s resignation had “come as a suprise” and said it was too early to say whether or not he would be standing for the job.
Coun Boden, who is also secretary of the North East Cambridgeshire Conservative Assocation, said the process of selecting candidates for the 2019 elections was still in the early stages and that both Coun Tanfield and Coun Sutton had at least 20 other opportunities to be chosen for another seat.
He also said the association was in the “fortunate” position of having more people coming forward for selection than they have had in the past.
“We have had more people come forward than there are seats which has given use more choice than we perhaps have had in the past,” said Coun Boden, who added a number of younger people had expressed an interest including several in their early 20s and one teenager.