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Tory rebels vote with Labour in bid to save lollipop men and women

In Westminster the revolt by seven Tory Councillors on Suffolk County Council yesterday would have been described as a substantial rebellion. The issue was a small one, the abandonment of a saving of £174,000 by continuing to pay for school crossing patrols. This is out of a budget of £1bn.

On paper, the Labour group of four, looked weak, limiting their amendment to the budget to this single item, while the Lib Dems suggested a much larger change in the budget.

But politically it was an astute move by Labour leader Sandy Martin, that identified a weakness in the ruling party and exploited it to show wavering Conservative solidarity.

The tone of the debate, which lasted most of the three hours I was in the chamber, was set not by a councillor buy by Lianne Shepherd, a lollipop lady from Lowestoft.

She was presenting a petition against the cut and stood, for a moment silent before the microphone, biting her lip. Then she said “I am nervous” and went on to talk fluently for five minutes.

She had rapt attention. While she was speaking my neighbour in the public gallery leaned across and said: “Have you seen the smirk on Andrea Hill’s face.” I looked towards the council’s chief executive and her expression did indeed look something like that.

After the Labour amendment was proposed the flow of debate was in support. The arguments were put strongly including that the cost of one injury accident as a result of not having a lollipop person would cost more than the savings.

The only real argument in support of the cuts was that providing crossing patrols was better done by the community than by the county council.

When Conservative members started to stand up to announce they would support the amendment, I began to expect to hear an echo of David Cameron’s “not happy” statement on forests.

The realisation dawned that they knew, from the earlier Conservative group meeting, that this rebellion was coming. Their leadership simply did not care that there was clear public support for the crossing patrols, because their majority is so huge. With seven votes switching they still had twice the number of the opposition.

After that I had to leave but the budget debate went on for a further three hours before it was approved with no amendment, despite a spirited attempt by the Lib Dems to save libraries, youth clubs, bus service, park and ride, the explore card and crossing patrols from cuts.

The EastAnglian Daily Time report of the debate is here.

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