Resign your seats, demand Lib Dems

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CALLS have been made for two county councillors to resign their seats, after they announced they will be standing as Conservatives at the next election.

Gordon Castle was elected to his Alnwick seat on an Independent ticket in 2008, as was Amble West with Warkworth councillor Jeff Watson.

Jeff Watson

Jeff Watson

Both were already members of the Conservative-Independent Group at Northumberland County Council, but last week they declared they would stand as Conservatives in the 2013 elections, claiming they will be able to exercise more influence in serving their divisions.

But their change of colour has infuriated local Liberal Democrats, whose own candidates were beaten into second place by Castle and Watson in 2008.

Ian Hinson was 106 votes behind for Amble West with Warkworth, while former district council leader Heather Cairns was 121 votes short of representing Alnwick at County Hall.

Chairman of Berwick Liberal Democrats, Dr John Hobrough, who lives in Coun Watson’s division, has now called for the pair to resign immediately.

He said: “Coun Castle and Coun Watson have misled the people they are supposed to represent.

“They should now do the honourable thing and resign their seats on the council and seek re-election as Conservatives.

“Local people feel let down. Trust plays a big part in politics – this trust has now been broken and many local people feel betrayed.”

The Lib Dems say they have also received complaints from voters, claiming that both councillors would have lost votes if they had stood as Conservatives three years ago.

Dr Hobrough added: “One person we spoke to said they had voted for Gordon Castle because he said that he was an Independent.

“They said they would never have supported a Conservative candidate.

“Coun Watson said they were ‘both Conservative by disposition and never made any secret of it’ but people think this has been kept secret and they should be ashamed.”

But Coun Castle said their decision would have ‘no effect’ on their actions at County Hall and the electorate would always come before any party politics.

“Nobody has yet approached me critically since my announcement, though I accept that there may be some who do not like my decision,” he said. “This is the usual Lib Dem tactic of kicking the man instead of the ball.

“I also speak for Jeff when I say that we remain members of the same group that we joined openly six years ago and we both successfully fought the election as members of that same group, so nobody has been misled.

“What has changed is our reluctant acceptance that Independents cannot represent their constituents as well as they might unless they are part of a declared group.

“This was never the case under the old committee system of local government, but it certainly is the case with the Executive/Scrutiny system at Northumberland County Council.

“What really concerned us about joining a political party was that we might be subject to a party whip or block voting against our better judgement, but this has yet to happen in the six years we have been members of the group.”

He added: “As experienced councillors on our group we already hold positions of great influence and responsibility on the council that would not be available to us as Independents if we declined to join a political group.

“Residents can be assured that we will continue to represent their interests as well as is humanly possible and they can pass judgement on our records in office at the next election.”