Councillor Brian Salinger has been ousted as council leader in a "right-wing coup", less than a week after taking his party to an election victory.
The plot, which culminated on Tuesday night with the crowning of Mike Freer as Barnet Council leader, was described as "underhand and disgraceful" by the former leader, who acknowledged that his former cabinet members and supporters, Councillor Katia David and Peter Davis, were last year deselected as candidates for the May 4 election as part of the move to dethrone him.
Mr Freer was elected at a turbulent private Tory meeting last Thursday after Mr Salinger lost a vote of no confidence 21 to 16. Councillor Matthew Offord, who has been branded a Thatcherite by the Labour group, was made deputy leader.
Labour group leader Alison Moore said the electorate had a right to feel cheated after voting for a Mr Salinger-led Tory party, but getting Mr Freer instead.
"It is a right-wing coup," she said. "Mike Freer is well known for being right-wing and a Thatcherite. If people voted for the Conservatives on the back of Brian Salinger, then they should feel cheated. They were extremely quick to put the knife in."
Mr Salinger said that he was angry his one-year tenure had been brought to an end.
"Councillor Brian Coleman had made it clear for several months that he didn't approve of my leadership," he said. "The fact they have had the best election result since 1990 is irrelevant. It was clearly a factor in the deselections, and it was most underhand and disgraceful."
But Mr Freer, who was Mr Salinger's deputy until last Thursday, dismissed all suggestion of a conspiracy and said that these types of changes were natural in politics. "We have been voted back on the basis of the results of the administration it is a team effort," he said. "I will also build bridges across my own group to kill off the backbiting and infighting once and for all."
He said that he would be pursuing efficiency savings, and would ensure that the major redevelopment programmes in the borough will not turn Barnet into the new Docklands. A place in the cabinet has been made for Mr Coleman, who will cabinet member for community safety, and Councillor Helena Hart, who will be responsible for public health.
Mr Freer added: "We have some major demographic changes, so we have to make the council efficient. Barnet is not an inner city and we are not the Docklands, and I do not want to make the mistake where we shove people in high-rises."
u Barnet's Labour group meeting was held the same night, and saw Ms Moore re-elected as leader, while Councillor Linda McFadyen becomes the new deputy leader. She replaces Danish Chopra, who stood down for personal reasons.
The Liberal Democrats kept Monroe Palmer and Wayne Casey as leader and deputy leader, respectively.