War has broken out among West Berkshire conservatives.
Two councillors say they are not running again in this May’s elections, stating the local party leadership is to blame.
Hungerford and Kintbury councillor James Cole said he had been accused of “blackmail” at an internal party meeting ahead of last week’s budget setting meeting.
“This is just beyond the pale,” he said. “No one was reprimanded. I was just trying to get the party group to change its mind on something.”
He said in recent months he had realised he no longer wanted to be on the council.
The trigger, he said, was what happened to fellow Tory councillor, and former front bencher Clare Rowles (Con, Hungerford and Kintbury).
Ms Rowles was a champion of encouraging more women into politics when she was publicly axed from her committee roles last year. She is also not running again but has so far not commented.
The action, taken by district council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) at the time prompted a furious backlash and allegations of bullying.
The step was taken after Ms Rowles was told she may have been involved in a conflict of interest stemming from a council ethics committee meeting in January, at which she had championed two householders who have received a combined bill of almost £90,000 after incorrectly filling out paperwork before developing their properties.
Her colleague James Cole (Con, Hungerford and Kintbury) condemned Mrs Doherty’s actions and said he was considering his own political future.
Mr Cole told a Hungerford Town Council meeting on Monday, December 5: “This was done quite deliberately.
“To me, this sort of vindictiveness is totally and utterly inexcusable – it’s bullying.”
Mr Cole said he viewed it as “an insult” to Ms Rowles and to himself and added: “I find my future as a West Berkshire councillor open to consideration; I can not abide this sort of behaviour.”
He has now confirmed he will not run again saying he is utterly disillusioned with how the council is currently run.
“I don’t want to jump ship and join the Lib Dems,” he said.
“I’ve been asked locally to stand as an independent, but have decided not to. I realised I was just not enjoying it anymore.”
Another fellow Tory has also fired a retreating salvo on his way out of office.
“I am not a political animal,” said Andy Williamson (Con, Tilehurst and Purley). “I wasn’t a member of the Tory party. I was just asked to stand by people in the village. What a wake up call. There is zero support or encouragement from the leadership. In four years I have never met the leader for a face to face chat.”
He spoke of a potential struggle to encourage people in to local politics.
“There is an element of poor leadership in this,” he added. “There are some very good people in the council doing good things on both sides of the chamber but there is a lack of will to work together as a council.
“I couldn’t say there is a split in the party. But there are certain individuals who think they have a god given right to put their views on to other people. Some of the tactics they use are amazing.”
He said he went against the block vote on a move to make the council make certain information and paperwork available to councillors.
“I got an email telling me I am being disciplined,” he explained, adding that there were threats he would be expelled from the party.
“I said I wasn’t sure if that would be a reward or a punishment – which didn’t go down very well.”
He got a warning for the first offence. “I just thought, for goodness sake, grow up,” he said.
He also cited disillusionment for not standing again.
“I just don’t want to go through that again,” he added. “I’m sad. I have tried to help though.”
Council leader Lynne Doherty said she does not comment on internal party meetings.