Norfolk council leader quits after standards hearing

 
Councillor Derrick Murphy Derrick Murphy resigns as the leader of Norfolk County Council after two years in the role

It was probably best summed up by the President of the Norfolk Labour party.

"There is nothing like a swift and bloody coup and the Tories do it so ruthlessly" tweeted Steve Morphew, minutes after we broke the news of the resignation of Derrick Murphy as Conservative group leader on Friday.

Even before Norfolk County Council's standards committee had found Mr Murphy brought the office of Leader of the Council into disrepute, Conservative councillors were gathered in huddles around County Hall, in Norwich, and making phone calls.

Start Quote

The last thing I would like to see is for me to become an issue in what will be a very hard fought election.”

End Quote Cllr Derrick Murphy Conservative, former Leader of Norfolk Councy Council

Mr Murphy had left the hearing declaring that he disagreed with the verdict and pointed out that he had been cleared of six other charges.

He hoped he could soon resume his position as council leader but his colleagues had had enough.

An hour later his deputy put out a press release saying: "Derrick Murphy has done really great work for Norfolk County Council and the people of Norfolk over the time he was the leader of the council. In the light of today's events I am sure that he will do the honourable thing and step down."

Censured

Mr Murphy was censured for allegedly sending an email which undermined a fellow Tory, the leader of King's Lynn and West Norfolk District Council, Nick Daubney.

It also emerged during the hearing that the chief executive of the county council, David White, made a secret recording of a phone conversation with Mr Murphy.

He revealed that he found Mr Murphy hard to work with. "He's often not direct with me and I find him constantly evasive," he told the committee.

When he gave evidence Mr Murphy was typically robust and argued with some members of the panel.

Several Norfolk MPs and councillors were already disaffected, blaming Mr Murphy's handling of the King's Lynn waste incinerator plan for a collapse in Conservative support in West Norfolk. His censure by the standards committee added to their dissatisfaction.

Standing down

Mr Murphy says he's standing down because he wants to pursue issues against the council and it would be incompatible for him to be its leader at the same time.

He has expressed concern over the recording of a conversation with him, as have a number of councillors, who are already asking questions over whether the practice is more widespread.

"Members will be cautious when making phone calls with officers of the council, wondering if they're being recorded," says Georgs Nobbs, the leader of the Labour group.

Mr Murphy says in his resignation letter that he is a party loyalist and "the last thing I would like to see is for me to become an issue in what will be a very hard fought (county council) election".

The Conservatives will now have to choose a new leader with only weeks to go before this year's county council election campaign gets underway. Whoever takes over will not only need to build bridges quickly with the party in West Norfolk but will also have to find a way to broker a compromise over the divisive issue of the waste incinerator.

In addition, of course, there is the small matter of running the council at a time of continuing budget cuts.

 
Deborah McGurran Article written by Deborah McGurran Deborah McGurran Political editor, East of England

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