LABOUR, independents and Lib Dems are set to team up to wrest control of Southend Council from the Conservatives.

Independent leader, Ron Woodley, confirmed his group planned to “enter into a partnership” with Labour and Lib Dems although Labour say nothing has yet been agreed.


Independent - Ron Woodley

Political parties have been battling for control of the council since the elections early this month and the drama peaked this weekend when five members of the Independent Group called for a crunch meeting and a vote on whether to remove Tory leader, Tony Cox.

The Independents allege Mr Cox – who was elected as leader less than two weeks ago - is “unfit” to lead and should be replaced by Labour leader, Ian Gilbert – an about-turn from two weeks ago when they refused to vote for Mr Gilbert to lead the council. Labour holds 14 of the council’s 51 seats and the Conservatives hold 20, so it is vital for Labour to get support from at least seven councillors from rival parties if they wish to oust the Tories.

The Lib Dems have been happy to back Labour but they hold just five seats, making members of the Independent Group the only ones capable of swinging the vote in Labour’s favour.

Independent Group leader, Ron Woodley, said: “We are entering into a partnership arrangement with Labour and the Lib Dems.

“Technically the council has to elect an individual leader but the detail of the partnership deal means that Independent councillors will not be under the control of any political party, whip or pressure group.

“All policy and decisions will come through and from the ‘partnership’, with vetoes/votes for any parts of the ‘partnership’ or individual councillors that are not happy. We will be working with, not under, Lib Dems and Labour, which will provide a healthy majority rather than an unhealthy, unstable, unpopular, Tory minority.”

However, he admitted that the issue has caused some fractures within his group with two members - who he did not name - feeling “uncomfortable” with the arrangements. He said they are unlikely to join them in the alliance and will instead remain independent.

The reason for the no confidence vote, Mr Woodley explained, is Mr Cox’s “arrogant and ill-judged statements” that have shown the Independents that they “do not trust working with him”.

But Mr Cox hit back at Mr Woodley, claiming his group had “cut deals left, right and centre with everyone” and have entered negotiations about forming an administration with his party, as well as Labour.

He also accused them of blackmail, posting on Twitter a screenshot of a text message which he claims is from a “long-standing Independent councillor”.

It reads: “If you wish to keep the administration give us four cabinet posts. That is fair under proportionality. Otherwise it’s Labour.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ian Gilbert said no agreement for an alliance has been reached and talks are “ongoing” but he feels “optimistic”.

The motion for no confidence will take place at the Southend Civic Centre on June 3.

If a majority of members vote in favour, Mr Cox will be forced to step down and a second vote will take place to decide who will lead the council.

If the motion does not get the backing from councillors, the Tories will remain the largest party. and be able form a minority administration for a second time.