Colin Fitzgerald, the Deputy Leader of Hastings Borough Council comments on the removal of two Conservative councillors from the council cabinet last month. 

Methinks Councillor Rob Lee doth protest too much! His fact-free and fatuous attacks on the leadership of Hastings Council are a classic example of hurt feelings. Yet there are good reasons why he no longer deserves a seat at the cabinet table.

Getting dumped is never easy. Most of us have experienced it at least once. It hurts; makes life difficult for a while but eventually we get over it. The other option is to ‘do a Cllr Lee’: become enraged and start spouting off about how it was all the fault of the other party, how you did nothing wrong and were treated appallingly. 

In this case, it also helps Cllr Lee ignore a rather inconvenient truth. At the start of the pandemic, under emergency powers granted throughout the UK, he was one of a group of cabinet councillors invited to oversee and comment on this work. 

Our work with partners from across Hastings and St Leonards has been a huge success – particularly the multi-agency community hub set up in just days. And the agility and creativity of council staff allowed us to respond, redeploy and adjust to issues such as homelessness, street cleaning, and the maintenance of our crematorium.

As we approached June, we were determined to have a cabinet that reflected that effort and diligence and provided the best value for our town and its residents. And here’s the rub: when we looked at the Tory leadership and Cllr Lee’s role in cabinet, we didn’t think we were getting that value. 

Since the crisis began, Cllr Lee hasn’t ever reached out to the leader of the council, not once. What’s more, Cllr Lee’s non-contribution was being underlined by the very different approach of Tory councillors who have shown a willingness to work in a true cross-party sense. 

Looking for value for the council, we acted accordingly; confident that the contributions of our Labour colleagues Cllrs Barnett and O’Callaghan would be considerably greater than those of Cllr Lee. Not least because a pattern of his behaviour has been to vote one way when it was put forward to cabinet, then change his mind later on. 

Cllr Lee’s responses since being taken out of cabinet have only served to highlight why this was the correct decision. His claim that we are scared of scrutiny is as outlandish as it is false. I have no idea if the consistent rumours of a challenge to his leadership from within his own group are true or not, but wouldn’t be surprised if they, like us, have looked at what he has to offer and decided it doesn’t amount to much.

If a more mature and credible Tory leadership team emerges, we are of course ready to listen to new ideas. And we have suggestions on how they can help.

We’re concentrating on the true challenge of keeping people safe and standing with our residents to help them through this crisis. That should be the focus of every political voice in the town.

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