Two north Wiltshire Lib Dems quit party to go independent
Updated 10:07am Wednesday 23rd October 2013 in By Victoria Latchman
Two Wiltshire Councillors have defected from the Liberal Democrat party to go independent.
Coun Simon Killane resigned from the party a week after he narrowly missed out on being selected as its parliamentary candidate for North Wiltshire.
Coun Chris Caswill, who has been a member and supporter of the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats for nearly 50 years, left saying he was dismayed at his fellow members’ choice of Monkton Park for a skatepark, and was disillusioned with the support by Lib Dem MPs, including Chippenham’s own Duncan Hames, of certain policies in Parliament.
Malmesbury town and Wiltshire Councillor Killane said that going independent is a weight off his shoulders, separating him from what he called “old, dogmatic, party political dinosaurs”.
Coun Killane said he had always felt the party needed to change and focus on listening to what people want.
“I’ve been flung off the rollercoaster, dusted myself off and got back on with things,” he said.
“I lost by three points. It’s not sour grapes but I did have to ask myself ‘what am I doing here’? The candidacy was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I will go through any doors that I can to change politics and when that door closes I will move on, and that is what has happened.”
On October 11, the father-of-three was told he had not been selected to represent the Lib Dem party to run as the prospective parliamentary candidate for North Wiltshire, a seat held by Tory James Gray, in the 2015 general elections.
He was beaten by aid worker Dr Brian Matthews from Yatton Keynell.
“I initially joined the party as I believe in people’s democracy and I knew that Malmesbury really needed a community activist but I’ve never really felt comfortable with party politics,” said Mr Killane, who chairs Wiltshire Council’s scrutiny committee.
“I don’t know where I am going to go with the independent role. Whatever door is open to me I will go through.”
Coun Jon Hubbard, leader of the Wiltshire Council Liberal Democrat group, said: “I was very disappointed that, just days after failing to be selected, Coun Killane suddenly decided that he no longer believed in party politics.
“Simon has sat as a Lib Dem on Wiltshire Council since 2009 and certainly had no problem with party politics when it came to his election campaign in May this year. I will leave people to draw their own conclusions over his motivations for change.”
Coun Caswill, who was this year voted in to Wiltshire Council’s Chippenham Monkton ward by almost 1,000 voters, has also resigned from his position as vice-chair of Chippenham Area Board after they voted to submit a planning application for a skatepark in Monkton Park.
He was replaced by Desna Allen, who said: “His skills and talents are undoubted and will be a loss to the party.”
Coun Caswill said: “When four Lib Dem councillors in Chippenham decided to vote with the Tories to impose a skateboard facility on the beautiful and tranquil Monkton Park, against the wishes of the vast majority of the local community, and in deliberate neglect of a better alternative, and of the deeply flawed process by which this recommendation had been made, I knew that it was time to be elsewhere.”
He said he had expected Lib Dems to “listen to and engage with the views of local communities, and support them when in conflict with powerful interests”.
Coun Caswill said he was keen to use his new independence to argue the case for the National Health Service, and had been shocked by the support of the Lib Dem party, including local MP Duncan Hames, for “the privatisation of the NHS, for secret courts and the destruction of legal aid and judicial review, for the demonisation of the poor, for assaults on support for the disabled, for the bedroom tax, for brutal cuts in local authority funding, for the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance for the less well-off kids - indeed for the whole attempt to put the burden of our economic problems on the disadvantaged and the hard-working poor”.
He said: “Up until now I have hoped that Liberal Democrats would at least commit to trying to reverse some of these dreadful policies, but it's now clear that they will not.
"More recently, the party has committed itself to support for fracking and for nuclear power and has sat silent while Conservative ministers have rubbished climate change and imposed a badger cull against all serious scientific advice.
“These are the directions in which the party leadership has taken the Liberal Democrats and it is not a direction which I'm prepared to go.”
He said without the “humanity and willingness to debate the issues” of the Wiltshire Lib Dem group’s leader, he might have left some time earlier.
Coun Hubbard said he continued to count Coun Caswill as a friend.
“I know that Chris has thought long and hard over his decision,” he said. “Whilst I cannot agree with his assessment of the coalition I do sympathise with the policy dilemmas he has found himself struggling with and understand and accept his reasons for not renewing his membership of the party.
“The Lib Dems continue to be the largest opposition group by some considerable margin on Wiltshire Council and will continue to offer constructive opposition to the Conservative administration.
“We do not, and never have, offered opposition for the sake of opposition and have contributed positively to many of the decisions that the council has made in recent years.”
Asked to comment, Mr Hames said: “I know people have been finding these to be tough times, which is why Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government have made the tax system fairer, raising the personal allowance, halving the income tax bill of anyone working full-time on the minimum wage.
“As a local MP, I continue my efforts to make Coalition Government work for Wiltshire, securing investment to support local jobs, and the government funding for a new TransWilts rail service.
“I have written to Chris, acknowledging his years of public service here in Wiltshire, and before that in London. I have appreciated working with him for local residents, and intend that we should continue to work together on their behalf, be that improving the cycle path at Market Quarter, the facilities at the college for students to get skills they need for work, or our rail service from Chippenham station.”
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