North Northants Conservatives call for Tory HQ inquiry over controversial ballot after senior councillor resigns from party

Several local members are said to have expressed worries over the deputy leadership contest to national Conservative bosses

Monday, 7th June 2021, 12:16 pm
There was no room for Cllr Martin Griffiths on the executive team announced at the first meeting of NNC on May 27

A Conservative deputy leadership contest that was re-run after technical difficulties that left an experienced councillor 'with no alternative' but to resign has been referred to national party leaders.

Complaints have been made to the Conservative Councilors' Association over the way in which the North Northamptonshire Conservative Group handled its deputy leadership contest amid accusations that party rules were broken.

Party members have now called for an independent inquiry into the saga and have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Conservative Party Co-Chairs Ben Elliot and Amanda Milling MP to express their disquiet over the affair.

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Cllr Griffiths has already publicly blasted the 'behind the scenes deals and broken promises' that he experienced during recent months.

The internal ballot was held virtually on May 10 after the group won a total of 60 out of the 78 seats available at the first ever North Northants Council (NNC) elections last month. Conservative members selected Cllr Jason Smithers as their leader and Cllr Martin Griffiths, former Wellingborough Council leader and shadow authority deputy leader, as their group deputy. This should have meant that both men would then be voted into the the same positions on the new NNC at the authority's first meeting held on May 27.

But, following the ballot, senior local Conservatives said that unspecified technical difficulties meant the result was invalid and the deputy contest would have to be run again. Cllr Helen Howell was elected as the new deputy leader and Cllr Griffiths was ditched.

After complaints, CCHQ were called in to ratify the result during another meeting, but some members have told the Northants Telegraph they were furious over the way they say they were left muted and unable to have their say during that meeting.

Cllr Griffiths was left out of the executive team altogether and then, last Friday (May 31), he resigned the whip and announced he will sit as an independent.

Now, official complaints have been made to CCHQ by local members who are furious abut the way in which the situation was handled.

Speaking to the Northants Telegraph, Cllr Griffiths said he had received overwhelming cross-party support from many other councillors and local residents since his resignation from the party, adding: "I was left with no alternative to resign from the party that I have served for over 14 years, five of which were as leader of the Borough Council of Wellingborough and four of which I have spent working on the reorganisation of local government here in Northamptonshire.

"That work involved over 150 meetings covering in excess of a thousand hours to get this council up and running with a balanced budget, a new governance framework, an excellent senior management team and a vision for a bright future.

"Before resigning, I requested that the party carry out an independent enquiry over the whole matter that has already upset and alienated a number of the now 59 strong group, who quite rightly want answers.

"It’s probably best that I don’t hold my breath as to the timescales of such an enquiry or indeed if one will be conducted.

"I am a great believer, and have a proud record of, working with opposition councillors and groups in the the best interests of all our residents.

"I now look forward to representing the villages south of the River Nene on this huge new council, working with our brilliant officers and my trusted fellow councillors and friends Tom Partridge Underwood and Jon Paul Carr to do the very best for all our residents.

"I will always uphold the principles that are so important in public office and work selflessly for the residents of Irchester, Knuston, Little Irchester, Wollaston, Strixton, Grendon, Bozeat and Easton Maudit.

"I would like to thank all of those people who have got in touch with me since this became public including all of those from opposition parties. Their support has been overwhelming."

NNC Conservative leader Cllr Smithers said he did not wish to comment.

CCHQ said that they did not comment on internal party matters.

TIMELINE

May 6 - Local people go to the ballot to elect members of the first ever North Northants Council.

May 7 - At the election count, Conservatives win 60 out of 78 seats on the council

May 10 - Local Conservatives take part in a virtual meeting to select Cllr Jason Smithers as leader and Cllr Martin Griffiths as deputy

May 18 - A second ballot is held because leaders say 'technical difficulties' meant the first result was invalid. This referred only to the deputy contest, and not the leader's contest. Cllr Helen Howell is returned as deputy leader.

May 21 - Worries begin to swirl among Tories and opposition councillors that scrutiny chairs will not be from the opposition parties, as is custom in local government. It's revealed all is not well in the local Conservative party.

May 23 - Following concerns raised by members, CCHQ attend another virtual meeting and ratify the results of the second ballot is held. Cllr Howell is confirmed as deputy.

May 27 - NNC meets for the first time. There's no role in the executive for Cllr Griffiths.

May 31 - Cllr Griffiths resigns as a member of the Conservative party.

June 7 - It's revealed that local members have called for an investigation into the debacle by the national Conservative co-chairs' office