A former leader of the South Derbyshire Conservatives has quit the group after 18 months of turbulence and resignations that lost the Tories control of the district council.
Cllr Andrew Churchill, who represents the Tory stronghold ward of Repton, has quit the group after two-and-a-half years and will now sit as an independent councillor.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Churchill said there was no “rancour animosity” (bitterness) between him and the leadership at the South Derbyshire Conservatives.
Cllr Churchill, who was elected in May 2019, said he felt he would be better positioned to be able to represent the people of Repton as an independent, instead of as part of the Conservative group.
He said he would “definitely, definitely” not be part of the district council’s Independent Group, which comprises five other former members of the authority’s Conservative Group, who quit the Tory group in December last year.
Cllr Churchill said: “My philosophical outlook remains Conservative and I look forward to working with all of our councillors and officers for the benefit of our residents, but I felt it time to plough a more independent furrow.
“There has been over the past few years now a lack of harmony within our group and I just feel I can better represent the interests of residents that elected me from an independent perspective.
“There is no rancour animosity and it is not a snap decision, it has been bubbling away as a possibility for some time and I feel it is the right time to do that.”
Cllr Churchill says he has contacted his local parish councils to update them and has continued working closely with Cllr Kerry Haines, who also represents Repton but remains with the Conservative Group.
He says he remains part of the national Conservative Party and said his relationship with his former district colleagues remains “amicable”.
Cllr Churchill said joining the Independent Group would have been “like throwing sand in the eyes” of his former Conservative Group.
He says he is much closer aligned with the Conservative Group and said many council votes are backed unanimously by all political groups.
Cllr Churchill’s resignation from the Conservative Group, leaves the make-up of the now Labour-controlled authority as follows:
Labour – 15
Conservatives – 14
Independent Group – 5
Independents – 2
Labour took control of South Derbyshire District Council in January for the first time since 2007 after three Conservatives quit the council entirely and six Tories left the group.
The Tory group leader, Cllr Marytn Ford, who had been leader of the authority, also quit his role, but remained on the council, leaving Cllr Churchill as interim leader.
Cllr Melanie Bridgen is the current leader of the Conservative Group and has been approached for comment on Cllr Churchill’s resignation.
Labour retained its control of the authority at a crunch meeting in May, at which the Independent Group sided with Labour instead of their former party.