Thursday, 6 March 2008

'Tories in turmoil' claim by ex-chairman

ALLEGATIONS of turmoil within the ranks of Minehead Conservatives have surfaced in the wake of last year’s co-option to the town council of Mandy Chilcott.
Former town councillor Tony Berry (pictured, right), an ex-chairman of the Minehead branch, said the organisation was in disarray, with the past four chairmen all resigning because of lack of support.
As well as himself, the other chairmen to have departed were Phil Cross, Terry Venner, and Phil Greatorex.
Mr Berry told The Post: “They are all hard working people but they have all left because of the in-fighting and due to certain individuals.”
Speaking for himself, Mr Berry said matters came to a head after he was put forward as the Conservatives’ preferred candidate to fill a town council vacancy in Alcombe East ward.
Mr Berry, who was previously chairman of the council’s finance committee, said the names of two other unofficial candidates were subsequently put forward, whom he believed were encouraged by the Bridgwater constituency association.
They were Norman Hercock, who was already a district councillor, and Mandy Chilcott.
Town councillors then voted to co-opt Mrs Chilcott, with at least two Conservatives councillors supporting her.
Mr Berry told The Post: “I was let down by my colleagues after the branch had decided I would be the candidate.
“I was upset and disappointed. I do not like to talk about it because it is a smack against the Conservatives, but I feel it is the only way to make people realise what is going on.”
Mr Berry said he had not received any reply from the association when he queried what had gone on, and he believed two other people had also written to the association without a response.
“I have been waiting three months for Bridgwater to reply to correspondence about it,” he said.
“The Minehead branch has been in limbo. Nothing has been going on, no fund-raising or anything.
“I spent ages getting it going again when I was chairman, and now I have been kicked in the teeth by my colleagues.
“As soon as another vacancy comes along, I shall stand. I shall probably stand as an Independent, but I shall always have leanings towards the Conservatives.
“If I could move to a different branch of the Conservatives, like Watchet, I would probably do that.”
The Bridgwater constituency agent, John Cole, was asked by The Post if he wanted to respond to Mr Berry’s comments but had not done so by the time the newspaper went to press.
The Minehead branch was reconstituted at a meeting last week, when former Minehead Deputy Mayor, Stephen Dear, was appointed chairman, and former mayor and district council chairman Ann Foxhuntley became vice-chairman.
The Post understands that the branch has also reinstated renegade Conservative John Malin as a member.
Dr Malin caused fury within the party at the last Somerset County Council elections in 2005 when he quit the party and stood as an Independent in Minehead against sitting Conservative councillor Colin Hill.
Consequently the vote was split, causing Mr Hill to lose his seat, which then gave the Liberal Democrats a one seat majority over the Conservatives at County Hall.
His reinstatement now is seen as an attempt to lobby for the official Conservative nomination for next year’s county council elections.

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