SOUTHEND’S two main opposition leaders have floated the prospect of a vote of no confidence in the new Tory council leader – but neither will act first.

Independent councillors have written to Southend Council’s Conservative leader, Tony Cox, telling him they would support a vote of no confidence in his leadership – just five days after he was elected.

Last week, the council’s Independent Group refused to support Labour councillor Ian Gilbert’s bid for the leadership, clearing the way for Mr Cox to form a minority administration.

The independents have now told the new Tory leader they would be prepared to support Mr Gilbert as leader if there was a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Independent leader, Ron Woodley, claims in the letter that the U-turn is due to a remark made by Mr Cox in the media who said opposition parties “couldn’t agree on what day of the week it is, let alone who can be leader of the council”.

Mr Woodley wrote that the comments showed the “contempt” that Mr Cox holds for the group’s principles and for the other opposition groups at a time that he was offering better cooperation between the parties.

“If going forward a vote of no confidence in your leadership is called, then the Independent Group will support that vote,” he added.

“They will then support a vote for Councillor Gilbert to become leader of the council.”

When questioned about the letter, Mr Woodley said he would not be the one to call for the vote because Labour should be the one to do it.

Mr Gilbert called the letter a “surprise” and not a result of negotiations between the parties.

He added: “The town voted for change but because of lack of votes we’ve not been able to deliver that change. Having sat on their hands during that vote, the ball is now in the hands of the Independent Group.

“The constitution says the leader can be removed by resolution of the council, clearly that is a drastic step and from our point of view there is no point in going through that as we may find ourselves back in same situation as on Thursday.

“The independents would have to make the vote of no confidence.”

The council leader declined to comment on the dispute but in a letter sent in response to Mr Woodley and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Cox claims the Independent Group had been seeking an alliance with the Tories at the same time they were in talks with Labour.

The Tories had refused because they wanted to give the opposition a chance to form an administration and because they were also not willing to accept an administration led by the Independent Group.

He goes on to say, “the time to change administration at present has passed” and to do so without testing the new arrangements “would not be in the best interests of the town and the voters wouldn’t forgive any of us for that”.

Lib Dem leader Councillor Carole Mulroney was also contacted for comment.