Knowle Council Chamber yet again rang with cries of “Shame” from the public gallery, as entrenched Party allegiance took precedence over East Devon’s wellbeing, and the Motion of No Confidence in the EDDC Leader was lost by 31 votes to 18.
Of the 32 Tory members present (there were some notable absences, including some who had distanced themselves from Diviani) , one abstained and 31 voted against. The Motion, called by the Independent Group, was supported by strong and clear arguments condemning Diviani for his conduct at the Devon County Health Scrutiny Committee*. As Cllr Roger Giles (Ottery St Mary) spoke of it as “a day of shame and infamy” , adding, ” In 26 years on this Council, I cannot think of a single occasion where a Leader has gone against his Council” .
Condemnation came from Council representatives far and wide across the District, to frequent applause from the crammed-full public gallery. Cllr Ben Ingham (Lympstone), who had called the Motion, pointed out why Diviani’s conduct had failed “all of the 7 Nolan principles in one go”, indicating how “This council continues to fester under a pernicious Leader”. Cllr Val Ranger (Newton Poppleford and Harpford) reminded Members that “We relied on Paul Diviani”, and arguing that “He does not understand the role of his own Scrutiny Committee.”
Cllr Cathy Gardner (Sidmouth) sympathised with Tory Councillors now finding themselves “between a rock and a hard place” (as they’d voted unanimously for the decision that their Leader had then ignored), and asked them, “Are your principles with your Party or with the people of East Devon?” Cllr Geoff Jung (Woodbury) put his support for the No Confidence Motion succinctly, “Cllr Diviani agreed to take our vote to the DCC meeting, but he voted the other way”. Cllr Cllr Marianne Rixson (Sidmouth-Sidford ) said , “He’s betrayed everyone. How can we trust a Leader who ignores us? When will he do it again?” . Cllr Susie Bond (Feniton & Buckerell) reported her own town council’s “unanimous and extreme dismay”. Cllr Steve Gazzard (Exmouth) , reasoned that “The Leader has got it totally wrong” . Cllr Peter Burrows (Seaton) said, “Councillors should support Community first, Party second.” Cllr Peter Faithfull (Ottery St Mary) drew attention to the central issue that “The personal views of one councillor (Diviani) is not what this is about. It’s whether we can have confidence in him”.
In contrast, contributions from the Conservative Councillors supporting their Leader, seemed to be largely out of focus. Cllrs Mark Williamson , Geoff Pook, Ian Hall and others, spoke mainly about NHS difficulties, some citing personal stories at some length. There were frequent calls of “irrelevant” from the public. The Chair made no attempt to remind them of the wording of the Motion they were there to debate, but cautioned the public on several occasions, that hecklers would be removed.
So many members of the public had registered to speak, but the time allocation of 15 minutes in total, meant that several questions could not be put. The Chair, Andrew Moulding (Axminster) did however ensure that one question to the Leader, from East Devon resident, Jane Ashton, was answered straightaway. Here it is, with the response.
Jane Ashton : “When members of the public stand up for democracy, honesty and representation, to accuse them of being politically motivated is disrespectful. Would you acknowledge that?”
Paul Diviani replied that he “doesn’t recall himself ever saying these words. I would not like to be seen to be disrespectful in any way.”
The Leader’s reply might perplex the public who were there last night for the second Extra Ordinary Meeting concerning the fate of the Exmouth Fun Park .
Full report on both Extra Ordinary Meetings on the Devonlive news: