St Neots councillors quit Conservatives to stand as independents
15:00 01 February 2013
TWO long-serving Conservative councillors in St Neots have quit their party to stand as independents.
Councillors Ken Churchill and Bob Farrer said it was a “sad day” but they could “no longer support the Conservative groups at Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council”.
The pair said they had become disillusioned with the party over the past year, particularly over what they called the HDC and CCC cabinets’ lack of consultation with elected representatives over decisions and the issuing of announcements.
Their discontent came to a head when Cllr Churchill phoned party and HDC executive leader Councillor Jason Ablewhite over the weekend to say he and Cllr Farrer “could not support the leadership at HDC”, particularly over the budget.
“I can’t support a budget where we relinquish the right for under-fives to swim for free,” he said.
However, Cllr Ablewhite said: “This is a reaction, completely and utterly, because they were not selected to be the Conservative Party’s candidates” in their respective divisions. He said it was “nonsense” that they were not properly consulted as council members and said the easiest way to influence decisions they disagreed with was from within the Conservative group.”
The fall out started before last May’s district council elections, when Cllr Farrer was seeking re-election for his St Neots Eaton Ford ward.
Although he said his leaflet was signed off by Huntingdonshire Constituency Conservative Association (HCCA), two councillors reportedly objected to what he had written about the St Neots cinema and concerns over development.
As a result branch members refused to deliver the leaflet, Cllr Farrer said, meaning he had to organise his election campaign alone.
Cllr Farrer won the election last May but when it came to reselection for the St Neots, Eaton Socon and Eynesbury county council division in August, members chose Roger Harrison and Adrian Usher to fight the seat.
Cllr Churchill, who in 2011 was struck off the register of physiotherapists for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a vulnerable patient, said he also lost out to other candidates in his Little Paxton and St Neots North division, although HCCA said the candidates were not confirmed.
“People will say we are only resigning because we didn’t get selected but although its part of the decision, it’s not the main reason for the decision,” said Cllr Churchill, who represents Little Paxton on the district council.
“The party is aware we have been totally disgruntled and I’m afraid someone’s got to make a stand.”
The pair, who will form their own ‘independent Conservative’ group at Shire Hall and Pathfinder House, have not canvassed any other Conservative councillors about joining them but said they would welcome other defectors.
“New and old councillors are concerned about what is going on,” said Cllr Farrer, who says he considered joining UKIP because he agrees with a lot of their policies.
“As an independent, you don’t have to follow the party line. I don’t believe that as a member of the main party you have a chance to influence anything unless you’re in the cabinet.”
INFORMATION: County council elections are set for May 2.