A veteran of independent politics in Biddulph has jumped ship to become a Conservative.
Town councillor Andrew Hart, who is also a Cabinet member of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said he had “crossed the floor” for a number of reasons.
He cited a change in local politics, said it had got “nastier, nastier and nastier” and believed it would give him “more influence” in the decision-making process.
But former colleagues in the Biddulph Independent group said Coun Hart should have waited until the next local elections in 2024 to make the move, not half way through the election cycle.
Announcing his decision to quit as an Independent this week Coun Hart, who represents North Ward in Biddulph, said: “Politics in Biddulph is changing quite a lot and it’s not the way it was 18 years ago.
“I started as an independent Independent originally in 2003 but I joined the Independent group that same year and have been a loyal supporter and exponent of Biddulph Independents for 18 years.
“But things are changing, it has become a little bit more party politically generated.
“In local politics you have to improvise, adapt and overcome, and I’m adapting. It’s time to change, and things are changing.”
Coun Hart, Cabinet member for property and tourism at the district council, added: “I’ve always had a lean toward national Conservative politics but always tried to keep to a non-political line in local government.
“But with the new lot of Labour councillors outwardly aggressive at times on social media, local politics has got nastier, nastier and nastier.
“I think local politics is changing generally and I will have to take that into consideration.
“I want to do more for the people who elected me, it’s about putting myself in a position where I can do more. If you want to stay in the job you have to adapt.”
Asked about what he thought the people who elected him as an Independent would think of his switch the Conservatives, Coun Hart said: “One or two might not be happy but considering when I’ve supported the Conservatives at national elections and it’s been put out there that I’ve allowed my land to be used for Conservative posters for at least four elections, it will not be a surprise to most people.”
He believed his move would also give him more influence in the decision-making process.
“It’s a matter of repositioning yourself to get more done, have more influence and get decisions done quickly and fast in Biddulph’s favour,” Coun Hart said.
“I’ve left Biddulph Independents Group and am in the process of joining the Conservative Party and f I have crossed the floor.”
Independent Coun John Jones, who represents Biddulph Moor, said: “It was a decision for Andrew to take, I don’t know any more about it. I only know he’s joined the Conservative Party. It was his own choice, and I don’t know what his motives were.”
Biddulph Independents Group held its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Speaking on Monday Mr Jones said: “I presume Andrew’s departure will come up but what will be said I don’t know. Most people will think it was a choice for him.”
As to Coun Hart’s claim that he would have more influence in decision making he said: “The district council administration at Leek is an Independent/Tory alliance and Andrew is already a member of the Cabinet.”
He added: “I’m always a bit concerned when people cross the floor mid-term.
“I was originally elected as a Lib Dem when I joined the council and was careful not to dump the party I represented until there was an election. I personally think that was the right thing to do.
“It’s not unprecedented, I wouldn’t do it but would not criticise Andrew for what he has done.”
Independent Coun Wayne Rogers, who represents Biddulph’s West Ward, said: “He’s politically motivated and I’m not. I want to represent Biddulph as an Independent, roll up my sleeves and get the job done as best as I can, not just talk about party politics.”
Coun Rogers added: “I’m surprised that he’s not left it until election time. There is something underlying somewhere that he’s done it at this point in time.”
Labour Coun Nigel Yates, who represents Biddulph West, said: “It’s about time Coun Hart showed a bit of honesty. He has behaved as a Conservative and supported the Conservatives so it’s not a surprise to the Labour group. The core of Biddulph Independents are Conservatives, they have supported the Conservative administration and never look to consider any alternative policies.”
He added: “I don’t understand the timing, there must be something coming up to his advantage that he had done it mid-term.”
In response to Coun Hart’s claim about some Labour councillors being “aggressive” on social media and that local politics has got “nastier” Coun Yates said: “What a pathetic thing to say – he has become a Conservative because Labour has the audacity to hold a failing Conservative administration to account – that is ridiculous.”
He added: “I challenge you to find something offensive on my Facebook page.”