A CONSERVATIVE Horsham district councillor defected to the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday March 2 blaming frustration at being ‘uninvolved in the decision making process’.
Ian Shepherd, councillor for Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead, said the Conservative group on the council felt as he had moved to Warnham and out of the ward he represents, it would not be appropriate for him to stand in the elections in May.
But Conservative leader Robert Nye said Mr Shepherd had been ‘turned down as the prospective Tory candidate for the Warnham, Barns Green, Slinfold and Itchingfield ward as well as Cowfold.
Mr Shepherd said: “As a Conservative backbencher at Horsham District Council, I have found it increasingly frustrating being uninvolved in the decision making process at HDC.
“All too often major policy decisions are made within Cabinet and then presented to the Conservative Group as a fait accompli.
“We are then encouraged to vote in accordance with the party line. I don’t believe that this allows me to represent the views of the people who elected me as their district councillor.
“I have enjoyed representing the people of Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead over the last few years.
“It is a community with which I still have many close ties but, having moved to Warnham over 18 months ago, the Conservative party now feel that because I no longer live within the ward, it would not be appropriate for me to stand as one of the candidates in the forthcoming local government elections.
“Their decision has also given me the opportunity to further explore and rethink my political views.
“Along with many people today, I have seen a change in the political mood of the country and I find myself drawn more towards Liberal Democratic policies and principles.
“I have, therefore, taken the decision to resign from the Conservative Party and to join the Liberal Democrats - the party whose policies I now have the most affinity with.
“I hope then to be able to stand as a Liberal Democrat, and to win the support of the residents of Itchingfield, Slinfold and Warnham.
“As a councillor I have taken seriously my duty to the people that I was elected to represent.
“I have attended as many of the parish council meetings as possible so that I could look after their interests at district level.
“I am the vice chairman of the Personnel Committee, a member of the licensing committee and, like all councillors, I also sit on the Planning Committee.
“If elected in May I intend to continue to actively look after the interests of the people that I represent.”
Elected to the council in 2007, Mr Shepherd has been working for some years as a GP surgery practice manager.
Mr Nye said: “It is always an unhappy event when you lose a party member, however, I can understand that being turned down as the prospective Tory candidate for the Warnham, Barns Green, Slinfold and Itchingfield seat, as well as his current seat in Cowfold must have been an upsetting experience.
“I am surprised at his comments about the policy making process within the controlling group as in the last two years I have placed a specific focus on the involvement of all members in policy decisions.
“In addition to our regular group meetings we also now have regular special meetings for the sole purpose of in depth policy discussion and formulation with members who are not in the cabinet.
“Ian always appeared to struggle to find time to attend meetings in general. I hope his new choice will enable him to obtain a better balance between his private and public commitments.”
With Mr Shepherd’s defection, there are now 29 Tories on the district council, 13 Liberal Democrats and two independent councillors.
Lib Dem group leader David Holmes (Horsham Park) said: “I am really pleased he has decided to leave the Conservative party and join us.
“He is a councillor that I have a lot of respect for. He has always seemed a very fair and sensible person.
“We are planning to put him forward as a candidate in the forthcoming district council elections and given that he now lives in Warnham it would be appropriate for him to contest Itchingfield, Slinfold and Warnham.”