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West Berkshire: Lib Dem resigns in PPC row

Reporter – Niki Hinman

A leading Liberal Democrat councillor on West Berkshire Council has resigned, labelling his own party HQ corrupt and incompetent.
Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) has ditched his party and his executive role heading the environment portfolio in a row over the selection of Wiltshire councillor Helen Belcher for the Reading West and Mid Berkshire Parliamentary seat.

He says he was the winning candidate to run for the Lib Dems for the new constituency announced this year by the Boundary Commission.
And he claims Ms Belcher’s selection demonstrates that “politics is in such a sorry state”.

“To illustrate just how sorry the state of politics is, let me explain what happened to me recently,” he said. “It’s likely similar things are happening in other parties.

“The new constituency of Reading West and Mid Berkshire is no exception, and the Liberal Democrats recently ran their selection here.

“The candidate who initially won was me. Second place went to Helen Belcher, who is a sitting councillor in Wiltshire.

“Throughout the campaign, rumours circulated that Helen was HQ’s favoured candidate.

“At the hustings to members held on 5th September she named Mark Pack [president of the Lib Dems], saying that if she was selected by members the campaign would be looked at more favourably by HQ.

“Despite this clear use of endorsement, which is not allowed, she still did not win.

“This must have caused consternation at HQ, so it seems they needed to find a way of changing the result.

“The reason given for excluding me, is that I used ‘references’ in printed material delivered to members’ doors.”

He said he provided a list of names of people who had given him permission to share their details as references for his work as a councillor and campaigner.

“The returning officer ruled that it was inferred endorsement, a term that does not even exist in the selection rules of the Lib Dems,” he added.

“He only did this based on one suspicious complaint which arrived within two hours of the initial result.

“Even stranger, other complaints that were sent to the returning officer by Lib Dem members about mistakes in the selection process, and about Helen using endorsements, have all been swept aside and ignored by the returning officer.

“They were also ignored by the English candidates committee chair and by the standards body that is meant to oversee what happens across the Lib Dem party.

“This is the level of incompetence or corruption that exists before MPs even win a seat.

“No wonder we end up with MPs that don’t seem to reflect normal people and life.”

The Liberal Democrat HQ has been approached for comment.

Lee Dillon heads the West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, and appointed Mr Abbs to his executive committee when the Lib Dems took control of the council in May.

He is the Lib Dem prospective Parliamentaty candidate for Newbuy, set to go head to head against sitting MP Laura Farris at the next general election.

“It is really disappointing that Adrian has decided to leave,” he said. “But we wish him well for the future. He decided to leave the portfolio role to spend more time on his business and with his granddaughter.”

Mr Abbs says he also wants to devote more time to his business, and wishes to remain as a ward councillor for Wash Common – but as an Independent councillor.

He says he is speaking to his ward residents to gauge whether that is what they want, bearing in mind he was elected on a Lib Dem ticket.

“One thing I should say, is that my now ex-colleagues at the council are people that care and try hard to help the community.
“It all seems to go wrong when Westminster is involved.”

Mr Abbs will be interviewed on Kennet Radio on Saturday Chatterday at 12, this Saturday 28th October.