The man cast as the Nick Clegg-style kingmaker of Hyndburn politics has sensationally promised to keep the town hall in Tory hands.
Independent Councillor Malcolm Pritchard has confirmed he intends to back council leader Peter Britcliffe at next week’s (May 18) AGM, effectively guaranteeing his job.
It will be a controversial vote for an ex-Liberal Democrat who was elected on a resounding Labour ticket in 2007, before falling out with the leadership mid-term and declaring himself an Independent.
Councillor Pritchard, who celebrated his 60th birthday on Monday, admits his vote is pivotal after last week’s round of elections left the council hung - mirroring the unprecedented battle for Downing Street.
And, like the national scene, the accusations of horse trading and backstabbing are in full swing.
But the Milnshaw ward councillor is unapologetic about propping up the largest party.
Labour’s inroads at Friday’s polls left the town hall's arithmetic on a knife-edge - with 17 Tories, 14 Labour and four independents - three of whom are expected to join the opposition ranks.
Britcliffe has spoken openly of an ‘informal’ pact with Pritchard, amid rumours of a long-standing deal involving support for him to become Mayor of Hyndburn, in this a year of special personal significance.
The Labour group has already proposed Councillor John Broadley for the role.
Pritchard won Accrington North as an Independent at last year's county council elections, where no Conservative candidate was fielded, with the council leader’s public backing.
However, he told the Observer that he only finally made up his mind earlier this week.
He said: "Talking to the electorate it was something like 60/40 in favour of supporting what Peter Britcliffe is doing round here. I had to take a decision on what they wanted - what with being an Independent."
Pritchard has honoured a pledge to his constituents never to claim councillor’s expenses.
He added: "I’ve been working on Hyndburn Council for 30 years. The Labour party know all this. but all they’re trying to do is play bitchiness because they think it’s only a two-party system."
Pritchard added that he was the only true Independent on the council, claiming that the other three, including newly elected councillor Ian Robinson, were in Labour’s pockets.
They include another Overton councillor David Mason, elected on a Tory ticket in 2007, before quitting the party the following year.
But new Labour group leader Councillor Miles Parkinson said: "If you look at last week’s election in Overton and Milnshaw the mandate in Overton was for an Independent, and in Milnshaw for a Labour candidate. In the last few years there has never been a mandate in Milnshaw for a councillor to vote to support a Conservative administration.
"The people of Milnshaw have not voted that way. The present leader of the council has had some agreement with Malcolm Pritchard that he supports Peter Britcliffe, due to certain things that have been provided for Malcolm previously. "
Overall - Con 3 (-1), Lab 7 (+2), Ind 1 (-1).
State of the council: Con 17 Lab 14 Ind 4.