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Former Tories prioritise local commitments after joining HRA

Cllr Christine Smith (from left to right), Cllr John Crowder and Cllr Philippa Crowder  (Credit: Havering Council)

Three former Conservative councillors who defected to a rival party said they would rather support residents than a “party political agenda”.

(Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Sebastian Mann)

Councillors John Crowder, Philippa Crowder, and Christine Smith crossed the floor to join Havering Residents Association (HRA) last week.

The HRA, headed by Ray Morgon, controls Havering Council in a coalition with nine Labour councillors.

In a joint statement issued today (2nd May), Cllr Philippa Crowder said the three former Tories would remain committed to residents but had decided on a “new course of action”.

She said: “Unfortunately, from 2022, the working relationships between the association did not hold the same level of trust and values that we hold dear.

“So, in light of our experience and expectations we have decided on a new course of action for ourselves in principles and values.

“However, we only became councillors in order to serve our residents rather than any party political agenda.”

Since the May 2022 local elections, a total of seven Conservatives have switched allegiance to the residents’ group, with rumours circulating that more could follow.

In February, councillor Robby Misir made the switch after saying he could not see a future for the party on a “local level”.

He added that the HRA was “better equipped” to deal with the “unprecedented” financial challenges the borough faces, including a £32.5million gap in council finances.

In their letter, published in The Havering Daily, the councillors said: “Given the financial issues that Havering Council faces, we will do whatever we can to support both our ward residents and Havering in these challenging times.

“We wish to have the confidence of the residents to continue with the loyal support you have shown us in the past.

“Let’s work together to build a stronger community and truly put Havering on the map as a place to live, work and raise our families.”

Prior to their statement going out, a spokesperson for the HRA said it was the group’s “open, honest and inclusive” approach that attracted them.

They wrote on Facebook: “We don’t stand in national elections and have councillors of all political persuasions. It is our cross-party working within one group that makes us representative of our communities.”

They added: “National political parties usually corrupt local politics. National ideologies should be kept out of decision making where at all possible.

Some residents, however, felt the move demonstrated a lack of loyalty.

One person, commenting on Facebook, said: “What is the point of voting for anybody when they switch allegiance so easily and you end up with councillors you never voted for?

“None of them seem to have any loyalty. Surely, they should stand for re-election before they can join another party?”

There is currently no requirement that an elected official, either a councillor or an MP, must stand for re-election once they decide to change parties.

Another resident said they were “jumping ship”.

The HRA now holds 25 seats, with the Tories – the borough’s second-largest party – trailing behind with 16.

The residents’ group entered into a coalition with Labour’s nine councillors in May 2022, having fallen short of the 28 majority needed to govern on its own.

Though the HRA may no longer need Labour in the future, group leader Keith Darvill said Labour councillors remained committed to the borough.

He said: “We’re hopeful that there will be a change in government and we are lobbying for Havering in general issues, including housing and finances. The current government doesn’t understand pressure we’re under.”

The defections have meant that some wards have changed their political identity.

In 2022, three Tory councillors were elected to represent the people of Marshall & Rise Park: Osman Dervish, Robby Misir and Philippa Crowder. It is now two-thirds HRA.

Cllr John Crowder’s ward of Havering-atte-Bower remains mostly Tory. He will represent constituents alongside Tory councillors Damian White and Ray Best.

Conservative group leader Keith Prince declined to comment on his former colleagues’ departure from the party.

Despite the upset, an HRA spokesperson said its three new members had the backing of the association.

In a statement previously supplied to the LDRS, they said: “Our new members have already started working with residents, and with the support and backing of the HRA team behind them.”

 

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