Councillors had the first of two induction days at County Hall/ Lys Kernow, Truro today -but we are still not much closer to knowing who will form the new administration.
The Conservatives – supported today by the presence of Steve Double MP – are in the driving seat but it is the Independent group who will decide direction of travel.
The political parties were given the chance to meet separately and behind closed doors at 2pm to decide their strategies.
The Lib Dems have ruled out any coalition with the Tories, who wouldn’t have wanted one with them anyway.
The Independent group with up to 30 members will be kingmakers. We say ‘up to’ as part of today’s induction process is to officially tell the council which group you are aligning to. A few independents have stalled on joining the group officially until they know the outcome of the talks. If they don’t join the Independent group they will be called ‘stand alone independents’.
By it’s very nature the Independents are of quite varying political minds and today’s group meeting was described to us today as ‘like herding cats’.
There are 3 obvious options:
Conservatives form minority administration by themselves and a few inds
Conservatives form admin with Independent group
Lib Dems and Independents form coalition again
However the Inds did agree to form three ‘working groups’ to negotiate each option as it arises. The group as a whole will not make any first moves to the Tories or Lib Dems – but they will wait for first the Tories to come calling, and if they don’t by the end of the week then they would be open to a Lib Dem advance.
The Conservatives also have an option of trying to go it alone and try to raise support issue by issue.
But they also know that if they can persuade enough of the independent group to join them in the administration then their lives will be much easier over the next four years.
The Conservative group were seen lobbying many independents as they left their prospective meetings today.
The Independents want to see what they will be offered but also what type of administration the Conservatives will hope to run, what policies they are keen to implement etc before deciding if they will support a coalition.
The numbers are tight for all ideas. Labour and MK (with 5 and 4 councillors each) were enjoying the show from the sidelines today but they still might be needed and maybe offered more than their contribution would warrant to make up the team.
The numbers are important because of the council’s constitution. It is within the power of the leader of the Council (previously John Pollard) to form the administration. The leader is elected by the full council – it scheduled to do this on May 23rd.
It is actually the Leader who appoints the cabinet etc. If one party had won an overall majority this isn’t normally a problem – your 63+ party members are enough to vote through your party leader.
The Conservatives have 46 councillors. So to get enough people (in this case the Independents) to join they will have to offer important jobs and cabinet posts to persuade them.
The Conservatives hope to have an announcement by the end of the week. If not then the Lib Dems will talk to the Independents about a re-run of the previous council. However one option for the Lib Dems is to stay well clear of running Cornwall over the next four years as the austerity cuts really kick in and set the Tories up to fail. “It’s their messy bed let them lie in it” we were told today – referring to the massive budget cuts in local government under the current Conservative rule.
The numbers are also tricky for the Conservatives as they are not known for voting together as a bloc on the best of occasions. Their attendance record will also need to improve if they hope to get anything done.
By May 23rd all the horsetrading, committee appointments, portfolio holders and the rest of the job offers should all be sufficiently agreed for a proposal to pass the full council vote.