Councillors Rush To Defend Brian Ashton After Resignation Speech

PUBLISHED: 15:44 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:23 04 May 2010

TORY councillors rushed to the defence of Cllr Ashton after his resignation speech on Tuesday evening, praising him as a man of integrity and honour, and the victim of a political witchhunt by Liberal Democrats. I would like to say how extremely sorry w

TORY councillors rushed to the defence of Cllr Ashton after his resignation speech on Tuesday evening, praising him as a man of integrity and honour, and the victim of a political witchhunt by Liberal Democrats.

"I would like to say how extremely sorry we are that you have stepped down, Anthea Davidson told Cllr Ashton. "We have all benefitted from your strong leadership. There are people here tonight who have known you for many years. We have never doubted your personal commitment to making East Cambridgeshire a better place to live and are concerned that you felt you had to do the honourable thing and resign on a technicality. We know you are a man of honour and integrity," she added, and received a firm round of applause from Conservative members.

Bill Hunt then weighed in to the debate, saying he was "surprised and disappointed" by the behaviour of the Liberal Democrat member, adding that it was "cheap, political and valueless."

Allen Alderson also decided to tick off the Liberal Democrats, saying "I'm disgusted by what has gone on and will unfortunately be looking in a different way at some of the party opposite from now on."

"How can a deliberate focus to find a weakness be construed as a public good?" asked Soham Tory Mark Duckworth, "when we have spent £50,000 not to mention a raft of officer's time, on the Masterplan?"

Even Independent councillor Andy Wright, said he was sad to see Mr Ashton go.

"In my 32 years on the council, this is one of the saddest days - when procedure and politics obstruct the function of council and policy doesn't matter. I have never doubted Brian Ashton's integrity," he added.

Even Cllr Allen's own colleagues in the Liberal Democrats were equivocal.

"I very much regret what has happened," Jeremy Friend Smith told councillors.

"I am proud of the actions of our group in the past, and I am at the present time.

"It is a question of transparency which is at the heart of the issue." He went on to inform councillors that neither the city council nor the Liberal Democrats had been asked to consult on the document before the general public which may had led to concerns about the Masterplan process.

"I don't think any members believe Brian acted dishonourably, but he probably acted foolishly," claimed Lib Dem leader Gareth Wilson. "It has been unfortunate, but we must be seen to be completely transparent."

Tory John Humphries voted to move the debate on and was roundly supported by fellow party members, leaving Cllr Ashton with no chance to reply to Cllr Allen's comments that he was referring the former council leader to the Standards Board.

After the meeting, Cllr Ashton issued the following statement to the press:

"I have never taken issue with Cllr Allen's request for all the documents to be provided to him. Tonight was the first occasion on which I had heard that Cllr Allen had made a formal complaint to the Standards Board, although I have never doubted that it would happen.

I am concerned that the statements of fact given in his address have not been received, verified or looked at in context. He stated that they were at variance with my statement they may have added to (in an incomplete manner) but did not challenge the combination of the content in my statement and the section 5 notice issued today [legal notice issued by the district council's head of legal services to suspend the Masterplan].

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