3:00pm Wednesday 15th May 2013
DUDLEY Council's ex-Conservative leader has delivered a bitter broadside to former allies following his shock resignation from their ranks.
Councillor Les Jones quit the Tory group on the council ahead of their AGM after months of in-fighting, following heavy local election defeats which handed control of the authority to Labour in 2012.
He resigned as group leader in February but now says he is unable to work within the group and will remain on the council as an independent Conservative.
Cllr Jones, who represents the safe Tory seat of Pedmore and Stourbridge East, said: "There are a small number of people who, I believe, have behaved in a way that is morally indefensible, I can't share a room with them let alone a policy debate.
"A small number of people are personal and vindictive. I'm desperately sad, I particularly enjoyed being leader of the council and later in opposition holding Labour to account."
His successor as Tory group leader, cllr Patrick Harley, called on cllr Jones to step down from his ward to give voters a chance to decide if they want an independent councillor.
Cllr Harley said: "There should be a by-election, we have some very able young candidates and if people don't want to be part of our resurgence they should resign their seats."
However cllr Jones, who also dismissed speculation he intends to defect to UKIP, is refusing to budge.
He said: "We still live in a representative democracy where you vote for the person on the ballot paper. There is no reason to go to the electorate, my principles haven't changed.
"Dudley group is not a party but a group of people who have got together to support a set of policies."
Cllr Jones' wife, cllr Karen Shakespeare, who holds a seat for the Halesowen North ward, has also left the council's Tory group, describing cllr Harley's remarks as "the straw that broke the camel's back".
She also intends to serve as an independent Conservative and added she would not stand against a member of the party when she is due for re-election in 2015.
The row has reached national level after a complaint to Dudley Council's chief executive, John Polychronakis, from cllr Harley that the word Conservative should not be used in future election campaigns by the rebel Tories.
Mr Polychronakis said: "I have spoken to both cllr Harley and cllr Jones and advised them this is a matter that needs to be determined by the national Conservative office. We will be informed of their decision in due course."
As time of going to press, Conservative Central Office was still to respond the requests for clarification of their rules.
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