Four independent East Devon councillors will stand as Liberal Democrat candidates at the forthcoming local elections in May.
Council leader Paul Arnott will be joined by fellow cabinet members Cllr Nick Hookway, Cllr Geoff Jung and Cllr Marianne Rixson in switching allegiance.
At the last election in 2019, the Conservatives took more seats than anyone else, but the Lib Dems combined with Labour, the Green Party and Independents to form the East Devon Alliance. This gave the group more seats than the Tories, giving them control of the council.
“For the last three years, we have been proud to be part of the Democratic Alliance leading the council as Independent, Lib Dem and Green councillors,” said a spokesperson on behalf of the four councillors. “Under this administration, East Devon is the only district council in Devon to balance its books without major borrowing from reserves.
“Together we led the district through covid-19, supporting thousands of individuals and businesses. We kept our leisure centres open. We made huge strides in environmental protection, from new projects to sea defences, and created new economic strategies around tourism and culture.
“We have invested sustainably in the economic powerhouse in the West End of the district which will lead to more than a thousand new jobs. We dealt with toilet and car park legacy issues which were ignored by the Tories for more than a decade.
“We believe that this democratic alliance of the last three years is the sustainable future for East Devon. The historic election victory of Richard Foord MP last summer was a watershed moment. In order to grow a progressive, centrist East Devon – with Homes, the Environment and Economic Growth at its heart – we believe that by standing as Lib Dems we can help guarantee this for the future.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Eileen Wragg welcomed the news. “I am delighted to welcome these councillors into the Liberal Democrat fold,” she said. “We have all been working together as the Democratic Alliance putting the needs of East Devon first, and courageously addressing the years of neglect of former administrations.
“This includes car parking charges, toilet provision, the environment, housing and more. Councillors Arnott, Jung, Hookway and Rixson all have special responsibilities and with their experience and expertise will help influence Westminster through MP Richard Foord in giving East Devon a voice to be heard.”
Opposition Conservative leader Cllr Philip Skinner argued that covid support came from his party in Westminster, and queried the independents’ decision to align themselves with a political party.
“I find it incredible that the whole EDA mantra from its inception was its distance from mainstream politics,” he said. “So how strange that four cabinet members have decided to move into mainstream politics, following Cllr Arnott’s position as a member of the Liberal Democrat party.”
The Tale Vale representative also took issue with Cllr Wragg’s remarks about the “neglect of former administrations.”
“Cllr Wragg was a part of that administration,” added Cllr Skinner. “She’s been a councillor for over 30 years so she’s been complicit to what she’s just said, so I find that an incredible statement really.”