Central Beds councillors quit Conservative party - and slam its culture as they switch to independents

Biggleswade councillor Steven Watkins and Stotfold and Langford councillor Nicola Harris have quit

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 3:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 4:23 pm
Councillors Steven Watkins (inset left) and Nicola Harris (inset right) have both quit the Conservative party
Councillors Steven Watkins (inset left) and Nicola Harris (inset right) have both quit the Conservative party

Two Central Bedfordshire Conservative councillors have quit the party to become independents - and criticised its culture in the process.

Biggleswade North councillor Steven Watkins has supported the Tories since his teenage years and suggested his (Conservative) "political career is over" now.

Stotfold and Langford councillor Nicola Harris accused the party of putting "self-interest" ahead of everything else.

Councillor Watkins took to social media to vent his frustration, saying on Facebook: "I’m very disappointed and upset to have left the Conservative group on Central Bedfordshire Council.

"I’ve been a member of the Tory Party since I was sixteen and always supported them locally and nationally."

"I’ve been increasingly vocal in cabinet about the poor performance of some of my colleagues. My view was that I should be able to do this privately. If not then, when?" he asked.

"I'm a Biggleswade man through and through, but we have seen this council let us down with dodgy developer deals, allowing more housing than we can accept, a lack of progress on a health hub, with GP appointments a rarity and a lack of a plan for our town, apart from more housing.

"The council leader thought my insolence was too much to bear and suggested I ‘resign’ from cabinet, abstain from votes on policies I didn’t agree with and perhaps disappear to the toilet for votes on issues I couldn’t stomach.

"If anyone thinks it’s an ego trip, I must say that in reality my political career is over. I sit as an independent until 2023 when I need to decide if I stand again," he concluded.

His decision to become an independent follows that of councillor Harris last month.

She said in a statement online: "Following much consideration I resigned from the Conservative party as of November 28th 2021.

"I'll continue to work as your local councillor, as an independent member without any affiliation to a political party.

"Acting as an independent allows me to address your concerns and issues as always, but without the restrictions and limits placed upon me by a political party.

"The phrase ‘toeing the party line’ is commonly used and unfortunately is a very accurate way to describe what's currently expected of a party member.

"A Conservative councillor is expected and required to vote with the party on any matters, even if they feel it's not in the interest of the local community.

"The party puts self-interest ahead of anything else, and this is not something I can agree to.

"Within the local Conservative group, this culture means an elected representative is penalised if they don't accept the party line, even when they don't agree with it.

"This is clearly not in the best interest of the local community," she added. "Neither is this what democracy is about, and the party I was once proud to represent has become an embarrassment.

"The national Conservative party is antiquated and has lost sight of its core values."

Conservative leader of CBC and Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham said: "As a group we expect high standards of attendance and civility among our members.

"Also if you're in the Cabinet and you feel you cannot accept an executive decision then the honourable action is to stand down.

"The choice of these councillors to go further and leave the Conservative party and sit as independents is their personal decision and wasn't initiated by the Conservative Party."