‘The time has surely come for the Conservative Party to show some humility on this incinerator issue’ - Tories accused of damaging Norfolk County Council’s reputation

Warring Conservatives were last night accused of damaging public confidence in Norfolk County Council after their in-fighting escalated.

Leader Derrick Murphy yesterday survived a bid within his Tory group to oust him, although one of the men who called for his removal was later expelled.

A motion of no confidence in Mr Murphy's leadership was put before the county council Conservatives by West Norfolk duo John Dobson and Brian Long.

It was defeated by a vote held among the Tories who attended the meeting at County Hall, in Norwich. It is believed 45 of the group's 62 members turned up.

Mr Dobson, county councillor for the Dersingham division, was then expelled from the group after complaints were made against his conduct.

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His expulsion is expected to last until the council's next elections in May 2013.

Disagreements concerning the council's King's Lynn incinerator proposal, which is expected to be subject to a public inquiry next year, has helped fuel the tensions.

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Mr Dobson told the EDP: 'In securing my expulsion from the Conservative group, councillor Murphy has sought to find a scapegoat for his own exceptionally inept management of the incinerator project since it began.'

Mr Dobson said the result of the vote was not revealed but he remained a Conservative despite his exclusion from the group.

He said: 'I'm still a full Conservative Party member and I am still a county council member and the expulsion doesn't carry forward after the end of this council, so the council will dissolve in May next year for an election.

'When that election is held, I've been selected as a candidate for the Conservative Party for Dersingham, where I am a sitting councillor.'

Yesterday's motion was the first time Mr Murphy's position has been formally debated by the Tory county council group.

Mr Dobson added: 'I didn't expect it to go any other way but it needed to be done to clear the air and I think it's done that.'

George Nobbs, Labour group leader at County Hall, said the Tory infighting and 'self-inflicted damage' to the council could have been avoided if the cabinet had listened to advice in November 2010 to allow communities secretary Eric Pickles to consider the King's Lynn incinerator proposal.

Mr Pickles revealed he was calling in the plans for a rubbish burner at Saddlebow on Thursday.

Mr Nobbs said: 'I ought, as Labour group leader, to take some pleasure of what's happened to them. But I don't, as it's damaging to all of us.

'Councillor Dobson might be a difficult chap to some but expelling him is another example of arrogance.

'The time has surely come for the Conservative Party to show some humility on this incinerator issue. It really has done nothing but damage to them, the council and other councils.'

Mr Murphy, before the meeting, stated he had done nothing wrong and his accusers were not 'Mother Teresa and her sister'.

He said yesterday: 'The vote of confidence in me was confirmed. As it was completely in confidence, I can't tell you the result.

'The group seemed to be fairly happy.'

Mr Murphy said Mr Dobson had been censured in November 2011 and further complaints had been received, which prompted a vote yesterday.

He continued: 'I must point out, John Dobson has a right to appeal. In the meantime he is expelled from the group.'

The Conservative leader also bemoaned 'briefings' and 'leaks' being made to the press about the motion challenging his leadership.

Mr Murphy said: 'The Conservative Party, which must be frustrating for journalists, is a private organisation. We have meetings in private, which means people can discuss things in a candid, frank and open manner and no doubt the Liberal Democrats and Labour like the same.

'It's been enormous the amount of leaks in the press recently against me. It's a classic case of trying to make me the issue but really when you look at the comments made, I am the person who supported the energy from waste proposal, several people in West Norfolk don't like that, for several reasons.

'The good news is the secretary of state has called it in so if anyone wants to pass comment on that, they can go to the secretary of state.'

Developments yesterday again highlighted the worsening relationship between Norfolk's Tories, with challenges against Mr Murphy emerging in North West and South West Norfolk.

But Green Party group leader Richard Bearman said he did not agree with the suggestion the Tories' actions put all parties in a bad light and hoped the public would be able to separate the issues.

He said: 'I am not surprised cracks are appearing in the Conservative group at the county council. It's been quite clear Derrick Murphy's style of leadership has been publicly quite damaging to the Conservative group.

'I would not be surprised if further councillors were to distance themselves from his type of approach to the incinerator and other issues.'

Mike Brindle, Liberal Democrat group leader at the county council, said yesterday: 'I think it was brave of John Dobson to challenge the Conservative hierarchy and although we are not surprised by the result, it's one more open criticism of Derrick Murphy. We think in the long-run it will weaken his position even though that may not be apparent from the vote today.'

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said his only interest was finding a way forward with the incinerator, a subject which was 'the case of the in-fighting'.

He said: 'I think the council needs to stop flogging a dead horse and get back to the drawing board.'

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