Tory blues as councillor defects to independents

BEXHILL councillor Deirdre Williams has rocked Rother's Tory ranks by resigning as a Conservative and announcing that she is to become an Independent.

Cllr Williams, a former town mayor, from Terminus Avenue, represents Bexhill’s Sackville Ward and was re-elected to do so in May last year as a Conservative. She has shared responsibility for the ward with another Tory, Cllr Patrick Douart.

But this week she told the Bexhill Observer that she had had enough of the way the Conservative-controlled council is being led and the way its Cabinet operates.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

She is concerned that after Rother’s controversial £5.6 million Next Wave project to rejuvenate Bexhill’s West Parade, the East Parade in her ward could be next for changes.

It is not the first time Cllr Williams has defected. First picked by voters to represent Bexhill Old Town as a Labour member in May 1999, she switched allegiance to the Tories barely a year later.

Now she will join Cllrs John Lee, Tony Mansi and Stuart Earl and their Association of Independents, where she says she feels she will best be able to serve her constituents. Cllr Charlie Clark sits as the independent for St Michael’s Ward.

Cllr Williams said: “I have taken a decision which I hope the residents of Sackville Ward will understand. It was taken after several months of consideration – a decision that was not taken without a great deal of heart-searching and some apprehension.

“I resigned from the Labour Party after one year and became a Conservative councillor, which I felt to be my natural home. I was unhappy that with Labour I was under “the whip” when decisions were made, and was therefore unable to serve the best interests of the people who elected me.

“I served under two Conservative Leaders, and was a Cabinet member for eight years. During that time I did not always agree with decisions made, but I was able to keep my integrity, and vote accordingly.”

But in a reference to Cllr Carl Maynard, she said; “Currently, under the present Leader, we have a system where every decision HAS to be unanimous.

“It upsets me to admit that there have been times when I have been persuaded to vote against my conscience because - it is or was - at the time, the party line.

“On Monday this week there was an item on the Cabinet agenda referring to investigating all possibilities for funding improvements to East Parade. The scrutiny committee had voted against this item, but Cabinet overturned the decision.

“When canvassing Sackville Ward last May, it was made very clear to me that ‘most’ people wanted our end of the seafront to remain as it is, although obviously some titivating, such as tidying up and maybe some attractive statues would be acceptable.

“The wide open space, the shelters and the general atmosphere is considered by the residents to be desirable.”

Cllr Mrs Williams was worried that she did not know what was in the minds of the leader and officers, and added: “ I fear we COULD be in the situation where once more the consultation will be after the event, and decisions made by a Cabinet which consists of only three members from Bexhill, and six country members.

“I now believe that I have no choice, if I am to keep my integrity, but to resign from the Conservative group and become an independent councillor with no political allegiance, only a determination to serve loyally those who elected me, and to shout loudly for a voice for Bexhill.

“I will continue to do my best to promote democracy at all levels, to assist those who wish to see decisions which affect tax payers and residents are made by Bexhill representatives and not after consultation overruled by people who do not live here.

“Whilst I appreciate we are part of Rother District Council, and that certain issues and problems are shared, I do not believe we should be dictated to on what is good for us is good for everyone. I have to say I hate this ‘one size fits all’ philosophy.

“I must be true to myself if I am to serve my constituents well, and I hope they share this point of view.”

Cllr Maynard was unavailable for comment as the Observer went to press, but his deputy, Cllr Robin Patten, said: “It’s sad and disappointing that Deirdre has decided to do this, but she clearly has her reasons and I respect that.

“It is in the constitution that Cabinet decisions must be unanimous, with only abstentions allowed, and she will know that.”

Cllr Williams’s move alters Rother’s political make up to: Conservative, 26; Liberal Democrats, five; Labour, two; Association of Independents 4; Independent Member for St Michaels Ward, one.