Two more Uttlesford Tories resign from whip and defect to new residents’ party

Cllr David Watson

Cllr David Watson - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) is being taken up a “blind alley” by its leaders, according to a Conservative councillor who resigned during a heated council meeting on Tuesday night.

Councillor David Watson became the third Tory to defect to a newly-formed residents’ party in less than a week when he made the announcement after what he called “disgraceful” comments by Leader Howard Rolfe.

His resignation was triggered by a shake-up of the council’s committees, which saw Cllr Keith Mackman, who last week defected to Residents-For-Uttlesford (R4U), removed from the planning committee.

The chamber also learnt that Cllr Heather Asker had defected to R4U, and would accordingly be removed from her spot on the planning and licensing committee.

Cllr Rolfe said these councillors had been elected on “Conservative tickets”, and should no longer represent the party on those groups.

“In the same way as Douglas Carswell and other UKIP defectors, I think Cllrs Mackman and Asker should do the honourable thing and hold a by-election. I think it is perfectly reasonable for them to ask their constituents,” he said, to cheers of support in the chamber.

According to UDC, the estimated cost of a by-election to the taxpayer would be about £4,000 per ward, depending on its size, but a spokesman said one would not need to be held in this situation.

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Not everyone was in agreement with Cllr Rolfe’s suggestion.

“I thought what you just said was disgraceful,” said Cllr Watson, before formally announcing his withdrawal from the Conservatives – although only at a district level. He is also a member of Saffron Walden Town Council.

Speaking to the Reporter after the meeting, Cllr Watson said Cllr Rolfe’s comments were “the last straw”, before it was revealed he intended to join the Residents-for-Uttlesford party.

“I will still represent the Conservatives at Saffron Walden Town Council level, and vote for Sir Alan Haselhurst at the General Election – so in that respect I am still a Conservative.

“But I am ashamed to represent the party at district level. We are there to serve the public, we were elected by the public and to continue to do things in secret when there was really no justification – I think the leadership is taking us up a blind alley,” he said.