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Tory council leader backs Lib Dem rival as replacement

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The outgoing Conservative leader of a council made a radical departure and backed a Liberal Democrat as his replacement.

Lewes DC leader James Page (Con) used a council meeting last night to give his support for Liberal Democrat group leader Sarah Osborne in “all good conscience”.

In his final speech as leader he condemned the “stench of tribalism” and said local people deserved better from their politicians. He called on colleagues to put aside petty political differences and focus on “putting people first”.

Cllr Page nearly saw his wish come true as his successor – former deputy leader Rob Blackman (Con) – won by just one vote.

The knife-edge vote was possible because of Lewes DC’s political make-up. The Conservative group has 20 councillors, the Liberal Democrat group has 18, Ukip two and there is one independent councillor.

Cllr Page, who stepped down from the role to focus on business interests, was made leader in February 2012.

He said: “I’ve always said I wanted to do things differently and I believe I have done exactly that and while this may have caused some frustration from even within my own group, I have always held the firm view that we must always put the interests of the residents first. This is the principle reason why I have voted for Cllr Osborne. If I wanted to play party politics I would have nominated someone in my own party, but I couldn’t in all good conscience see how that would benefit the community.

He added: “Cllr Osborne is an outstanding local politician and has the qualities to take the council to the next level.”

It was not the first time Cllr Page had taken an unorthodox line on cross-party working, having stated on the council’s website: “I would prefer to be working with 41 councillors, not just my own group.”

“While it is important to respect party differences, we can still collaborate across party lines,” he said.

Cllr Page, who had taken the policy decision while leader not to outsource services, also paid tribute to his council’s staff for their hard work: “Often officers are overlooked for their dedication, commitment and expertise. We should be proud of the people working in local government and I have been privileged to work alongside some tremendously talented people.”

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