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Peterborough City Council elects new leader after night of high drama

Cllr Chris Harper presented his vote of no confidence motion, and it was duly passed by 32 votes to 20.

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The votes – 32 in favour, 19 against, two abstentions, and with that Cllr Mohammed Farooq, who only five months ago was a Conservative councillor, but now a member of Peterborough First, is newly elected leader of Peterborough City Council.

Last night’s vote at Peterborough Town Hall was the culmination of an extraordinary, and very British, political coup, and not without moments of venomous attacks which included at one moment – before he was forced to retract the word – Cllr Farooq being described by outgoing leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald as a “liar”.

At one point Cllr Fitzgerald said he had entered the town hall thinking it was Halloween only to find its “a pantomime and the cast already to take up their roles”.

At one point Cllr Fitzgerald said he had entered the town hall thinking it was Halloween only to find its “a pantomime and the cast already to take up their roles”.
Picture by Terry Harris.

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Cllr Fitzgerald used the word to refute the denial by Cllr Farooq that he had been exonerated by an investigation earlier this year into claims he had plotted against the leader whilst a member of the Conservative group.

“By the way,” he told Cllr Farooq. “You are a liar; you told the public…” before the Mayor Cllr Nick Sandford stopped him and told him to withdraw the word.

Undaunted Cllr Fitzgerald continued to insist that Cllr Farooq’s assertion of being cleared by the group was “simply not true” but substituted “misleading” for “liar”.

Cllr Fitzgerald said Cllr Farooq was found to be in breach of party rules and invited Conservative councillors to put their hands up if they agreed.

At one point Cllr Fitzgerald said he had entered the town hall thinking it was Halloween only to find its “a pantomime and the cast already to take up their roles”.

At one point Cllr Fitzgerald said he had entered the town hall thinking it was Halloween only to find its “a pantomime and the cast already to take up their roles”.

At one point Cllr Fitzgerald said he had entered the town hall thinking it was Halloween only to find its “a pantomime and the cast already to take up their roles”.

Challenged on his recent local radio comment about losing seven Conservative councillors since May and that they had “got this cancer out of the group” he urged councillors to consider a definition of the word.

“You talk about cancer look it up – it is, to quote, an evil or destructive practice hard to eradicate, just like gambling is a cancer; it is not about people but about context,” he said.

Cllr Chris Harper presented his vote of no confidence motion, and it was duly passed by 32 votes to 20.

“The minority administration has governed with the goodwill of the opposition members; however, the opposition members no longer have trust or confidence in the leader of the council, their cabinet or their administration,” he said.

Full Council Meeting, Town Hall, Peterborough
Wednesday 01 November 2023.
Picture by Terry Harris.

“The political attacks and weaponization of the council administration against opposition members has led to the relationship between the leader (including his cabinet) and the opposition groups (including former group members) deteriorating to such an extent that the delivery of our council services and having majority consent on major policy including the budget are at risk.

“It is a vital time for our council to have stability and sensible leadership to navigate through the difficult financial and governance challenges it is facing.

“With this in mind we the opposition groups are proposing an alternative leader and subsequent administration.”

Cllr Oliver Sainsbury, elected in May 2021 and at the time the youngest every city councillor in Peterborough, backed Cllr Fitzgerald, setting out what he considered his achievements and describing the no confidence motion as “opportunistic”.

Full Council Meeting, Town Hall, Peterborough
Wednesday 01 November 2023.
Picture by Terry Harris.

For the Greens, Cllr Nicola Day felt the city “deserves and needs a fresh approach” and felt transparency, on issues such as the regional swimming pool and Hilton Hotel “to name but a few” was required.

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Cllr Stephen Lane introduced a culinary theme, wondering if cutting up the cake differently would make a difference and telling colleagues “I fear no good will come from this”.

Cllr Steve Allene thought the vote of no confidence “has no legitimacy” and urged it to be rejected, whilst a former leader Cllr Marco Cereste wondered why if the current leader had “performed so badly how do you reconcile that with his record?”.

Cllr Lynne Ayres took exception to the no confidence vote in the cabinet and described Cllr Fitzgerald as “extremely hard working” and a leader who had “encouraged and enthused” others.

“My pleasure to work for such an enthusiastic leader,” she said.

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald will tonight learn his fate as leader of Peterborough City Council. He expects to be ousted. PHOTO: Terry Harris for CambsNewsOnline

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald awaiting his fate as leader of Peterborough City Council. He expected to be ousted – later he was.
PHOTO: Terry Harris for CambsNewsOnline

Cllr Mohammed Jamil felt “there are things which could have been done better” and with a new leader the council was “in a position to change that”.

Cllr John Howard said he wanted to see better behaviour in the council chamber, whilst Cllr Ryland Ray called for a round of applause “for all Wayne has done for the city”.

Cllr Jackie Allen said she regretted this motion “deeply” and argued Cllr Fitzgerald had “done an amazing job” and criticised for those who had maintained a “sustained attack” on him.

Cllr Chris Wiggin – who said he would talk to and work with anyone to “get a good deal” for Peterborough – felt Cllr Fitzgerald had over stepped the mark on the transport plan for the city.

“The Local Transport Connectivity Plan was the final straw for many of us on this side of the chamber,” he said. “After 23 years of Conservative rule, it is time to give someone else a chance.

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald will tonight learn his fate as leader of Peterborough City Council. He expects to be ousted. PHOTO: Terry Harris for CambsNewsOnline

Peterborough City Council. PHOTO: Terry Harris for CambsNewsOnline

“Reciprocation has ended. Peterborough First has given me every indication they will be different.”

Cllr Christian Hogg said the issues over the Hilton hotel were “not our finest hour” and he was angry that Cllr Fitzgerald had changed his mind at the last minute and vetoed the local transport plan.

He said in the early days, his Lib Dem group had given Peterborough First the cold shoulder, but they returned, time and again, “and we understood where they were coming from”.

They had come with ideas and plans that were “more progressive and offer, better outcomes for our citizens, which is why Lib Dems are going to support this motion”.

After taking on the leadership, Cllr Farooq said he was “humbled and honoured” to do and told councillors he had assembled a competent and experienced cabinet team.

Here’s the new look cabinet:

More later on the extraordinary events of Wednesday night.

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