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Elections 2021: Independent group leader ‘inclined’ to back rainbow coalition to take control of Cambridgeshire County Council

The prospect of a rainbow coalition taking control of Cambridgeshire County Council has grown after the leader of the independent group said he was “inclined” to back a power-sharing agreement with the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

The Conservative group fell three seats short of retaining their majority on the county council in the May 6 elections.

The leader of the independent group, Tom Sanderson (47022535)
The leader of the independent group, Tom Sanderson (47022535)

Discussions are now taking place between parties over control of the council.

With 28 seats out of 61, the Conservatives remain the largest party, but the Liberal Democrats now have 20, Labour nine and there are four independents.

The council is operated by a committee system and will elect a leader on May 18.

The outcome of the election, announced on Friday (May 7), means no one party has overall control of the council, and so its leadership and key committee positions and positions on outside boards – such as the Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership – could be determined by those who can secure the backing of other parties.

Liberal Democrat group leader Lucy Nethsingha told the Cambridge Independent on Friday that she was hopeful of some sort of deal.

Two independent councillors and two for the St Neots Independent Group were elected - and they could hold sway in helping to create a majority of more than 31 seats for a coalition of parties.

The leader of the independent group, Tom Sanderson, who has been re-elected to represent Huntingdon West, said: “We haven’t had any formal agreement with the other parties yet, and obviously I will need to talk to the other three in more detail in due course.

“I think we only have a few days really to sort everything out.

“But I think we are inclined to go with the Liberal Democrats and the Labour group, assuming they can reach an agreement. I think it’s fair to say the Conservatives lost control of the county council and I don’t think we would be inclined to change that at all.”

Cllr Sanderson said he has had provisional discussions with the leaders of the Labour and Lib Dem groups, but as of Monday morning had not spoken with the Conservative group leader, Steve Count.

“I think we’re more inclined to look towards a new administration at the county council, but I will talk to Steve if he wishes to do so,” he said.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha talks to Labour group leader Elisa Meschini. Picture: Keith Heppell
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha talks to Labour group leader Elisa Meschini. Picture: Keith Heppell

Meanwhile Cllr Nethsingha said: “We are having some very constructive conversations with the Labour group and the independent group, and those conversations are ongoing.

“As the leader of the largest group within that alliance, I would hope and expect that I would then become leader of the council. But those conversations are ongoing, but making good progress.”

The leader of the Labour group, Elisa Meschini, said: “The Labour Party is working across party lines to reach an agreement. Talks are ongoing and all options remain on the table at the moment.”

Four of the Liberal Democrat’s gains in South Cambridgeshire – Cottenham and Willingham, Duxford, Hardwick, and Longstanton, Northstowe and Over – were in seats where Labour did not field candidates.

But neither Cllr Meschini or Cllr Nethsingha would comment on why Labour did not stand in those seats and whether or not there was a pre-election agreement between the parties.

On Friday, when asked about retaining his position as council leader, Cllr Count said: “It may be that between the parties that they want a different leader, it may be that they want the same. It really is a case of just starting to have conversations and see what it is that people want to be doing in the next four years and to see where we have consensus or can gain consensus, and to see what unites us rather than what divides us.”

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