Independent councillors turn blue

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TWO county councillors have turned blue – by deciding to declare their allegiance to the Conservatives.

Coun Jeff Watson, whose ward is Warkworth and Amble West, and Coun Gordon Castle, who represents Alnwick, are already independent members of the Conservative-Independent group at County Hall, which forms the main opposition to the Liberal Democrat minority administration.

Jeff Watson

Jeff Watson

As fully-fledged Tories, however, they say they will be able to exercise more influence in serving the people of north Northumberland.

Coun Castle said: “We intend to stand as Conservative councillors at the next county council elections in 2013, rather than as independents.

“We have made the decision to become fully-fledged Conservative councillors because we have both been members of the Conservative group at Northumberland County Council for the past six years.

“Since the demise of the district councils, and with them the old committee system of government where independents could flourish, we now have a system of local government that mirrors parliament, with an executive cabinet and scrutiny bodies whose membership is determined by political groupings.”

Coun Watson said: “Independents who do not join a group are, rather unfairly, rendered almost ineffective in the daily business of the council, which is why we both joined the Conservative group whilst trying to maintain an independent status. However, our fears about party whips and pressure to vote against our better judgment have proved groundless, as all decisions are arrived at by consensus and members are free to vote as they see fit if agreement cannot be reached.

“Therefore, as we are both Conservative by disposition, and have never made any secret of it, we feel that we can stand as Conservative members whilst still retaining full independence of action.”

He added: “Were this to change, we would, of course, be free to change our minds and leave the group.

“However, both of us are in positions of considerable influence at County Hall solely because we are members of the Conservative group and we will continue to use our privileged positions of trust and responsibility to serve the interests of all Northumberland residents, especially those in our wards, to the best of our ability.”