Monday, 23 July 2012

Conservatives Expel Watford Councillor

Cllr Malcolm Meerabux (Park), half of the remaining Conservative group of two in Watford after the 2012 elections, has had his party membership revoked by his local association.  He is now sitting as an independent member leaving Tory 'group leader' Cllr Steve Johnson (Leggatts) as the sole Conservative member of the council.

According to the Watford Observer, Meerabux had been previously excluded from the party because of a 'row' over letters written to the paper, but had been allowed to re-join.  The reason for his re-exclusion by the party has not yet been made apparent, apart from that it was a decision made by a vote at a meeting of the local Conservative association.

Watford is one of the few remaining real strongholds for the Liberal Democrats, with a directly elected Liberal Democrat mayor, and with Labour making limited progress in the 2012 elections with just one gain from each of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.  The Conservative group fell into fourth largest position after those elections, after the Labour gain left them with just two councillors to the Greens' three.  Now after expelling Meerabux, they are left with just a single councillor, whose term is up in the next elections in 2014.

The council is led by a directly elected Lib Dem mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, who was elected in 2002 and then re-elected in 2006 and 2010.  At her most recent re-election, held under the supplementary vote system, she won just under half of the first preferences cast and easily defeated her Conservative opponent in the second round.  After Meerabux's expulsion, the council's composition stands at:

Watford Borough Council
Lib Dems24-

Southend Lib Dem Defects to Liberal Party

Southend-on-Sea Borough Cllr Ric Morgan (Prittlewell) has left the Liberal Democrats and joined the Liberal Party, although he plans to sit on the council as an independent member.  According to a local Lib Dem blogger, there were 'tensions' between Morgan and the Lib Dem group leader on the council over the effectiveness of the party in holding the Conservative-led council to account.

The Liberal Party descends from the original party of that name that existed until the SDP-Liberal Alliance merged into one single party in 1989, the party that would eventually come to be known as the Liberal Democrats.  Some members of the original Liberal Party, led by former MP Michael Meadowcroft, opposed the merger and formed the continuity Liberal Party. 

However, the Liberal Party never gained much influence beyond a few scattered strongholds in council wards across England, and Meadowcroft himself joined the Lib Dems in 2007.  Despite that, the Liberal Party has continued to contest elections and to attract defections, especially from sitting Lib Dem councillors, that occasionally give it new footholds in different parts of the country.

Southend-on-Sea has historically been a strongly Conservative council, with a Conservative majority in place from 2000 until 2012 without break.  After the 2012 elections however, the Conservatives fell one seat short of winning a majority, but remained in control as a minority administration with the backing of some of the independents.

Morgan's switch on the council to being an independent member leaves the council's political composition as:
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Lib Dems9-1

Plymouth Tory Cllr Leaves Party Over Citybus Sale

Cllr Jill Dolan (Stoke) has left the Conservative group on Plymouth City Council after saying she wished to vote independently from the party whip on matters.  The Plymouth Herald reports that she emphasised the 2009 sale of Plymouth Citybus to a private operator as a major factor in her decision.

Plymouth Citybus was established in 1986 as a limited company, entirely owned by Plymouth City Council, after the Transport Act 1985 brought in deregulation in bus services across the country.  It remained as an arms-length public organisation until 2009 when it was sold off to the Go-Ahead group in a locally controversial decision.  Cllr Dolan formerly sat on the board of directors of Citybus before the sale, and her decision to leave her party seems to be have been driven by differences first wedged open by that event.

Labour regained control of Plymouth City Council back in May after five years of a Conservative majority.  The council has swung back and forth between Labour and Conservative control for some time, with few independents or third parties ever winning seats.  At present, Cllr Dolan is the only councillor outside of the main two political groups, with the new composition of the council being:

Plymouth City Council

A Sort-Of Defection in Stafford

A Lib Dem councillor on Stafford Borough Council has left the party to become an independent, but still remains part of the Liberal Democrat-Independent group on the council.  Such technical groups often exist to allow smaller parties on councils to gain committee seats and more influence, but it is certainly rare for members to switch between the different components of such technical groups.

The Staffordshire Newsletter reported that Cllr Chris Baron (Forebridge, since 1987) had left the party over concerns that they were failing to defend vulnerable groups from the Coalition Government's spending cuts.  This reason has been cited by a number of Lib Dem councillors leaving the party since the coalition agreement was first reached in 2010.

The two-member Forebridge ward had been safely Lib Dem for many years, with Baron repeatedly topping the poll.  However, in the last elections held in 2011 they lost their other seat to the Green Party's Tom Harris, who gained their first ever seat on Stafford Borough Council there.

The switch leaves the strength of each individual party on the council as:

Stafford Borough Council
Lib Dems1-1

Monday, 16 July 2012

Rother Tories Defect Amidst 'Dictatorship' Claims

Two Conservative Councillors on Rother District Council have quit the party to sit as Independents.  The Bexhill-on-Sea Observer reports that Cllr Deirdre Williams (Bexhill Sackville) quit the party last week, followed shortly by Cllr Paul Lendon (Bexhill St. Stephen's).

Lendon pointed to problems on serving on the council's scrutiny committee, saying "To have been accused of voting for an opposition party member, in what was supposed to have been a secret vote, is suggestive of a form of dictatorship which I am not prepared to tolerate."

Council leader Cllr Carl Maynard (Brede Valley) responded, "Paul had issues with the fact that he didn’t want to be part of the strategic view of the district as a whole and very much had his interests in Bexhill."

Rother District Council covers the largely rural eastern parts of East Sussex, surrounding Hastings.  The Council is historically Conservative, who have held majority control since winning it back from No Overall Control in 1999.  The majority of the council lies in the ultra-safe Conservative constituency of Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker MP, 2010 Conservative majority of 12,880 over the Lib Dems), with a small part in the marginal Hastings and Rye seat (Amber Rudd MP, 2010 Conservative majority of 1,993 over Labour).

The Independents also overtake the Lib Dems to become the largest numerical opposition on the Council, although four of the Independents sit in one group while the other two sit as ungrouped members.  Overall however, the Council remains solidly Conservative and is unlikely to change hands in the foreseeable future.

Rother District Council
Lib Dems5-

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Lib Dem Chief Whip Joins Labour In Clegg's Backyard

According to a tweet by Labour MP Denis MacShane, Cllr Clive Skelton - Chief Whip of Sheffield City Council's Lib Dem group - has defected to Labour.

Skelton has served as a Lib Dem Councillor for Beauchief and Greenhill ward since 2004, and according to the local Lib Dem website was previously elected to Suffolk County Council before that.  He was safely re-elected in 2006 and 2010, but Labour won a seat in the ward for the first time in 2012 with the election of Cllr Roy Munn on a 13% swing from the Lib Dems.

The defection may be particularly troubling to Nick Clegg as it comes from his home city of Sheffield, although the Beauchief and Greenhill ward itself is in the neighbouring constitituency of Sheffield Heeley to Clegg's Sheffield Hallam seat.  Sheffield Heeley is held by Labour's Meg Munn, who won a majority of 5,807 over the Lib Dems in 2010.

Sheffield returned to safe Labour control in 2011, having lost it to No Overall Control in 2007 and then to a Lib Dem majority in 2008.  The defection further bolsters Labour's majority in Sheffield to 36 against the Lib Dem and Green opposition.

Sheffield City Council
Lib Dems22-1

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Labour Expels Five Councillors in Tower Hamlets

Labour have today expelled five councillors in Tower Hamlets, accused of supporting the Independent Mayor Lutfur Rahman.  Cllrs Kabir Ahmed (Weavers), Rofique Ahmed (Mile End and Globe Town), Shahed Ali (Whitechapel), Abdul Asad (Whitechapel) and Shafiqul Haque (St. Katherine's and Wapping) were all accused of campaigning against the Labour candidate in a recent local by-election as well as supporting the Independent, also formerly Labour, Mayor.

The East London Advertiser quoted local Labour leader Joshua Peck as saying, "The five expelled councillors have consistently voted and campaigned against the Labour Party. Whilst it is sad that it has had to come to this, these five councillors made their choice and now have to deal with the consequences."

Labour still have the largest number of Councillors in Tower Hamlets and an overall majority of 3, although the Council is controlled by the directly elected Independent Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, and his cabinet of now all Independent Councillors.

Tower Hamlets Council
Lib Dems1-

Denis MacShane MP Rejoins Labour Group

Denis MacShane, the MP for Rotherham since a by-election in 1994, was today re-admitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party.  MacShane was suspended from the party whip in October 2010 following complaints submitted to the Metropolitan Police by the British National Party regarding allowance claims.

However, the Metropolitan Police today announced that it was seeking no further action against MacShane, and consequently the Parliamentary Labour Party immediately welcomed him back into the Labour group in Westminster.

Even during his suspension, MacShane was an active MP, with TheyWorkForYou noting he has spoken in 97 debates in the past year, 'well above average amongst MPs'.  His readmittal to the Parliamentary Labour Party brings Labour's total number of MPs up to 254.