South Hams council leaders Julian Brazil has expressed disappointment after claiming some of his fellow Devon Liberal Democrats collaborated to oust him as leader after just 18 months in the role.
Councillor Brazil, who led the party at Devon County Council until this month but still heads it in South Hams, said he feels “badly let down” by his group, who he said had contacted him without warning to demand he stood down.
His replacement as the party’s leader at Conservative-controlled Devon is Councillor Caroline Leaver (Barnstaple South).
“I’m incredibly disappointed, because if there were problems, I was never given the chance to resolve them,” he said.
“They said we weren’t acting together as much as we should be, and that we should be making more noise, but that’s a bit tricky when you’ve only got nine seats out of 60 across the entire council.”
Cllr Leaver said Cllr Brazil was a “good leader” but it made more sense to use the party’s resources to ensure leaders could focus on one authority.
“Leading a district council, particularly in the world of local government financial pressures, is something that takes a lot of time, effort and attention, and we as a group were concerned that all of our district leaders should have sufficient time and capacity to give those jobs justice,” she said.
Cllr Brazil remains as leader at South Hams District Council, a position he has held for four years, and where he won the party a majority at the last election.
In 2019, the Lib Dems won 10 seats in the district elections, but secured 19 in the 2023 ballot under Cllr Brazil’s leadership. The Lib Dems now have 22 seats, making them the largest single party on the 62-seat council.
“I think what I’ve done at South Hams shows what I can do,” Cllr Brazil added, stating that people there are “telling us we are doing a good job.
“I’ve got a track record of delivering, but now the party is prepared to put someone in [at Devon County Council] with no track record,” he continued.
Cllr Leaver agreed Cllr Brazil had secured “fantastic election results” in the South Hams last year, and that the success was “down to him.
“It takes time to look at how things go in practice and we felt as a group – and it was a group decision – that there was an opportunity for us to have another leader [at Devon County Council],” she said.
Cllr Leaver, who is a district councillor in North Devon but does not lead the authority there, said she would use her leadership experience from her working life in her new county role.
She added that she felt due process was followed in enacting the change, and that Cllr Brazil was included in conversations about “how best to use the resources we have at a county and district level”.
Cllr Brazil said he had asked the party to make their views known at its annual general meeting in May, and vote on the leadership then, but was told he had to step down sooner.
“I feel really badly let down as I don’t think I’ve been given an opportunity or an election to try and prove what I can do,” he said.
Earlier in his working life, Cllr Brazil worked for the late Charles Kennedy, who led the Lib Dems at Westminster between 1999 and 2006.
“He always told me to remember that if you want a friend in politics, you should get a dog,” he said.
“He’s right. At this moment in time, that’s how I feel.”
Cllr Brazil remains in post as a county councillor for his Kingsbridge ward, in spite of the change in party leadership at county level.
Elections for seats at Devon County Council are scheduled for May 2025.