A day of high drama in the council chamber as leader Alec Robertson is axed
There was an unmistakable air of revolution in the council chamber as Conservative leader Alec Robertson paid the price for championing a controversial private sector deal.
In a heated debate watched by 4,400 people on the internet and trending as the third biggest issue in the UK on Twitter, personal insults flew and an accusation of back- stabbing nearly prompted the premature end of the session.
But after just over two hours of frequently fractious debate, the numbers said it all.
Some 62 votes – just over half the council – were needed to carry the motion to remove the leader of the cabinet.
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The final tally was 63, a significant number above the 49 who had voted against and paving the way for the leader's former deputy, Conservative Jim Currie, to seize power.
Mr Robertson had excused himself from the debate at the onset and afterwards refused to answer questions, saying simply "no comment".
But the reactions from people who had crowded into the public gallery were more vociferous.
Keith Shilson, of the Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, one of the groups vehemently opposed to Cornwall Council signing a joint venture with a private company to take over the running of key services, was unsympathetic.
"He got his just desserts," he said.
"I think the result speaks for itself as an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the Tory leader."
Stuart Roden, regional organiser for the trade union Unison, said the leadership had failed to grasp just how strongly people were opposed to the shared services scheme.
"I feel sorry for Alec personally, but it was all around the joint venture and how that was handled.
"We hope people will reflect on that and make it an issue come the elections in May."
Jeremy Rowe, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said it was a difficult day, but the people had made their feelings clear.
"I don't think this was about personality," he said. "It is maybe about leadership, which is not far removed from personality, but this has been about more than that.
"It is about the fact that people do not feel they have been listened to."
Plans to set up a joint venture with a private firm to run key services such as benefits administration and personnel, was a flagship policy of Cornwall Council, but a controversial one.
In August, Cornwall Council's cabinet ignored opposition to press ahead with plans to sign an agreement with a private firm to establish a new company. A petition set up to force the matter back to the council chamber for a fresh debate soon passed the critical 5,000 threshold. But then just last week Mr Robertson made the surprise announcement that his cabinet would scrap it if attempts to secure grassroots backing failed.
Deputy leader Jim Currie then piled on the pressure by stepping down over the issue and airing scepticism of the promise.
He was immediately named favourite as successor, a prediction which came true yesterday.
Many people spoke in favour of Mr Robertson during the debate and his ousting provoked strong reactions.
A visibly shaken Graham Hicks, an independent member of the cabinet, afterwards condemned the vote as "a disgrace".
He said: "I'm appalled. I'm gutted.
"People haven't recognised the difficult decisions we have had to take over the last three years."
Mr Hicks said many of the attacks had been personal.
"There were a lot of backstabbers there," he said. "It was a personal attack and this has been going on in the background for years."
Fellow cabinet member Julian German urged members to consider what effect the removal of the leader would have on the whole of Cornwall just six months ahead of elections in May.
He added that portfolio holders would not let Mr Robertson carry the can alone. "We recognised that a vote of no confidence in Alec Robertson is a vote of no confidence in all portfolio holders."
Mr German, along with Mr Hicks and fellow cabinet members Steve Double and Chris Ridgers, followed through the veiled threat and subsequently resigned from their posts.
There was uproar at one point when Mark Kaczmarek spoke against the motion of no confidence and accused Liberal Democrat leader Jeremy Rowe of being a "backstabber".
Chairman Pat Harvey ordered the Independent councillor and cabinet member to sit down while calls were made for him to withdraw the accusation
When Mr Kaczmarek refused to be seated, Mrs Harvey shouted "will you get security" and threatened to rise, thereby bringing the meeting to a close. A brief recess and a huddle of members around the back of the council chamber followed, after which Mr Kaczmarek retracted the remark.
However, inevitably it was the weight of numbers speaking against Mr Robertson which mounted.
John Pollard, Independent, spoke disparagingly of the apparent last minute U-turn performed by Mr Robertson over shared services.
"It is greatly to the leader's shame that he had to have a gun put to his head to change his options."
However, he added that "Although Alec Robertson's approach is insensitive, I have not heard it said that he acted unconstitutionally".
Fred Greenslade, another Independent, said he would vote for the motion, because that was what his constituents wanted. I find the whole process here to be a very defining moment for each individual councillor to decide upon," he said. "The thing that has convinced me to vote is the views of my electorate, who feel let down by the county council.
"I will vote for the motion today because people matter. They inform me that they are not happy with the way things are going here."
Tamsin Williams, from Mebyon Kernow, said the issue was simply about defeating the shared services scheme.
"The whole thing here is that this policy must be defeated and this is the way to do it."