Tories suspend group of council merger rebels

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Clockwork from top left: Cllrs David Flagg, Janet Abbott, Nick Geary, Margaret Phipps, Lesley Dedman and David Jones

A GROUP of Christchurch councillors have been suspended from the Conservative Party in the wake of some threatening to stand as independents at forthcoming elections for the new unitary authority.

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The councillors, including leader Cllr David Flagg, warned they would go it alone amid the fallout from the controversial decision to merge Christchurch with Bournemouth and Poole.

Cllrs Flagg, Lesley Dedman, Margaret Phipps and David Jones, confirmed they received emails from the Conservative Central Office in London last Friday suspending their membership.

It is thought Cllr Nick Geary also received a similar email but he did not respond to requests for a comment.

Another of the merger rebels, Cllr Janet Abbott, told the A&T on Thursday that contrary to reports she had not received a suspension notice from the party.

No official reason has been given for the suspensions – but local sources told the A&T it was Conservative Party policy to act if any member stands against its candidates at an election.

Cllrs Flagg, Dedman, Geary and Phipps were all opposed to the council merger and have publicly said they will fight the upcoming elections for the BCP authority as independents.

Cllr Jones is not standing at all but was a vociferous opponent of the restructure. He told the A&T he had not been provided with the detail of allegations against him or evidence.

“After 38 years in the Conservative Party, serving the people as both as a volunteer and as an elected councillor, I view this with surprise and shock – especially when others who have done incalculable damage to the interests of the party locally, and who systematically defied the policy of their council group were welcomed back into the party and warmly accepted as candidates,” he said.

“I shall, of course, appeal against this suspension. I have always understood that the Conservative Party believes in the principles of natural justice and I demand the right to put my case.”

Both Cllrs Phipps and Dedman said their suspensions were “irrelevant” as they had already resigned from the Conservative Party and were “focused” on the May BCP elections.

But Cllr Ray Nottage, who backed the BCP merger, took aim at the five independent candidates.

He said: “The suggestion from the ‘so called’ independent candidates is that those Christchurch Conservative councillors that have supported local government reorganisation in order to protect and indeed enhance services to their community against the vilest of opposition over the last two years, would meekly submit to abandoning their conscience when in place in the new BCP Council, is juvenile.”

He added: “The Conservative candidates for the BCP election on 2nd May who have shown such resolve, vision and understanding of the perilous state of financing local authorities and the potential effect on vital services for the most vulnerable of our communities as a result, have shown that when it comes to a conscience vote they will stand firm on their principles.

“Simplification of what is a highly complex issue of local government reorganisation in Dorset affecting over 700,000 residents to ‘say no to rule by Bournemouth’, and designing a campaign which attempts to undermine the objective of maintaining and enhancing services to our communities, is, frankly, irresponsible.”

When the A&T contacted Central Office, it issued a statement from  the chairman of Christchurch and East Dorset Conservative Association, Cllr Ray Bryan, which  said: “A number of members of the local association have been suspended by the Conservative Party.”

A new leader must now be elected at the last full meeting of the Conservative-controlled council.

However, whoever is selected will only be in charge for a matter of days before the authority ceases to exist.

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