‘Everything is on the table’ as coalition talks continue into weekend

As talks over the future of West Norfolk’s political leadership continue, councillors have warned that “nearly everything is on the table”.

Last week’s elections saw the ruling Conservative group take just 21 seats, with 28 required for a majority victory.

With the Independent group winning 18 seats of its own, and 11 Labour candidates emerging victorious, a coalition to take control of West Norfolk Council currently looks the most likely outcome.

Charles Joyce, the Labour leader in West Norfolk
Charles Joyce, the Labour leader in West Norfolk

The borough’s Labour leader, Charles Joyce, has told the Lynn News that he has been in talks with the party’s national bosses – who are happy for him to negotiate a deal with Independent councillors.

However, Terry Parish – the Independent leader who sits on the Heacham ward – says that a potential coalition is “entirely up in the air at the moment”.

Stuart Dark, the Conservative chief and current council leader, also believes there are a number of possible outcomes.

West Norfolk's Conservative leader Stuart Dark
West Norfolk’s Conservative leader Stuart Dark

And Cllr Parish is now heading a newly-formed group called the Independent Partnership, which is made up of all Independent winners and the five combined Green and Liberal Democrat candidates voted in last week.

This group is not large enough to form a coalition leadership, but Lib Dem leader Rob Colwell says he feels the partnership will help bring “brighter days” to the borough.

Fellow Independent councillor Jim Moriarty will be its co-leader

While a link-up between Conservative and Labour parties remains unlikely, Cllr Joyce has warned that all possibilities are being considered going into this weekend.

Independent leader Terry Parish
Independent leader Terry Parish

He says there is “some reluctance” to join arms with either the Tories or Independent councillors.

“Of course that is the big decision that the Labour group has to make – do we go Independent, do we go Conservative?” he said.

“We can’t have everything we want – we just have to suck it and see.

West Norfolk's Lib Dem leader Rob Colwell
West Norfolk’s Lib Dem leader Rob Colwell

“I think nearly everything is on the table. It’s whether Labour can make the best deal for the people who live here, the people they represent, and the people who will come here.

“That will be the first priority, the agreement we make – assuming we do make an agreement, as no agreement is still a possibility. It’s still a possibility that the Independents will join with the Conservatives and leave us on the sidelines.

“I don’t think it’s a high probability, but you can’t rule out anything. Of course we have to watch our backs as well.

“A lot is up in the air. There’s some things that we can’t predict at this precise minute.”

Cllr Parish, who is leader of the New Independent Partnership, hopes an outcome on the borough’s leadership can be reached “swiftly” before next Thursday’s annual council meeting.

However, he too remains unsure about how things will proceed.

“It’s entirely up in the air at the moment. I can’t speak for what Labour may or may not ask for or decide,” he said.

“I think that there’s a mandate to have a council that’s led by someone other than the Conservatives, because with the Labour vote as well there’s 34 councillors who aren’t Conservative and 21 who are.

“But at the end of the day we’ll all have to co-operate to run the council, because the Conservatives do have 21 seats.”

Cllr Dark, the current leader of the borough council, echoed the sentiment that nothing is yet on the table, but nothing is off it either.

“It was a difficult election. National issues came into play,” he said.

“We are still proud of what we have delivered in West Norfolk, with ourselves still being the largest party by far and achieving 40% of the votes cast.

“We understand several other groups who achieved a much lower percentage of the vote are now working to forge an alliance to take control of the council, and we will be looking at how things come together over the coming days.

“We stand ready to either continue as the adminstration delivering for West Norfolk, or as an effective opposition.”

Cllr Colwell, who was “absolutely thrilled” after the Lib Dems’ best performance in the borough for 12 years last week, said he is hopeful that news on the council’s leadership will become clearer by this weekend.

“I know that there are lots of conversations going on behind the scenes at the moment. I’m optimistic anyway,” he added.

Cllr Colwell, who was elected in the Gaywood North Bank ward, is also looking forward to what he hopes will be a “bright future” – and he hopes the new Independent partnership can play a role in that.

“I’m looking forward to meeting and finding out what the priorities of the other councillors are,” he said.

“I’ve been quite firm with what the Liberal Democrat policies are and what are important issues are for us, but it’s still very much early days.

“The future is bright – finally. I know lots of us have been hoping for better days.”