Tories come to terms with loss of control: Power-sharing comes to former Conservative stronghold

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SURPRISED, amazed and disappointed was how the leader of the Tory group on Surrey County Council summed up his feelings about no longer being able to run the council.

Michael Gammon, a retired engineer, first elected in 1967, had just seen four key chairs of council committees go to non-Tories. Following a secret ballot, the posts had been allocated in proportion to the way the electorate had voted.

Don Shearly, a do-it-yourself enthusiast and keen gardener, and retired service manager of ICL, was made chair of the fire and consumer protection committee. Mr Shearly, leader of the five-strong group of independents, had not before contemplated being allowed to climb 'the greasy pole'.

The Tories were thrashed in the May elections. Before May they held power easily with 55 seats. Now they have 34, the Liberal Democrats 29, Labour 8 and independents 5. It is the first time since 1889 that power has slipped from their grasp.

The hung council voted yesterday to give the Tories four committee chairs, the Liberal Democrats three, Independents one. Labour had decided not to bid for any of the chairs.

The four group leaders yesterday signed a 'convention' which lays down rules to follow in the light of the new electoral balance. Seats on committees will now be allocated according to this balance. The aim is to ensure 'the dignity and reputation of Surrey County Council as a well-run authority'.

So will it now be all sweetness and light? Perhaps not. Mr Gammon said he was disappointed that some of his talented colleagues had been voted out. 'Normal politeness will continue but it would be forlorn to assume that we will agree on the issues.'

But Dorothy Buckrell, a researcher on transport planning and leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: 'Balanced councils are here to stay. We hope this will lead to changes in what we as a council have to say to central government.'