SOUTHEND Council will be ruled by a minority Tory group...for now.

Talks between opposition parties collapsed leaving Tony Cox to take over as leader after a special meeting last night.

The Tory councillor was voted in as leader, beating rivals in the Labour and Independent group.

The vote came after the party lost its majority in the local election last Thursday and Conservative Councillor John Lamb stepped down from his role as council leader to become the mayor.

Opposition parties, made up of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Independents, had plans to oust the Tories by forming a coalition that would have held 31 of the borough’s 51 seats, but discussions later collapsed due to a row over who would be leader.

The Independent group said it could work with a Labour group but not be controlled by a leader of the political group, otherwise the councillors would no longer be independent.

The Labour group, as the largest of the opposition parties, argued the leader should come from their ranks.

During the vote, the Lib Dems chose to back Labour hopeful, Councillor Ian Gilbert, giving him the backing of 19 councillors against 20 for the Conservatives.

But after the leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Ron Woodley, was eliminated in the first round of voting with just 12 votes, the rest of the group chose to abstain rather than side with either political party.

Mr Cox won 21 votes in the second round against 19 for Mr Gilbert, making him the new leader of the council.

The result comes despite the opposition parties declaring that this year’s local elections had signified a rejection of the Conservative Party and their policies.

The Tories lost eight seats last Thursday with several reasons, including Brexit, crime and the state of Southend High Street, suggested as reasons.

Independent Councillor Martin Terry said he would not back a Labour administration because the nation no longer wanted party politics.

He said he believed his group would be “castigated for delivering something the town doesn’t necessarily want”.

Councillor Ian Gilbert had urged the opposition parties to work together after voters indicated they want a change.

Prior to the local elections, it was expected that former Councillor James Courtenay would take on the leadership role if the party stayed in control of the council but he lost his seat to Independent Councillor Keith Evans meaning he could no longer be leader. As a minority administration the Tories on Southend Council could be overruled on major decisions if the other groups can find a consensus.