Departing Tories' stinging criticism of party as they defect days before by-election
Two Conservative North Shropshire councillors have defected ahead of the by-election next week.
As parties campaign across North Shropshire ahead of the battle for Owen Paterson's former parliamentary seat, two Market Drayton town councillors have defected from the Tories.
A lifelong Conservative, Councillor Mark Whittle has resigned as chairman of the Market Drayton Conservative Party and member of the Shropshire Conservative Executive due to the Tory's choice of candidate in the upcoming by-election.
Councillor Whittle has now joined Reform UK, previously the Brexit Party, after meeting Tory candidate Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst. He said has "zero knowledge" of the area.
Meanwhile, fellow councillor Anthony Allen, has also announced his resignation from the Conservatives and crossed the floor to become the Reclaim Party’s first elected official.
Cab company owner Anthony, 45, of Market Drayton, said the Conservatives "simply aren’t conservative anymore".
At a Reform UK event in Market Drayton, Councillor Whittle – a full-time ambulance driver and military veteran of 20 years service – pledged his support for the party's candidate,
Councillor Whittle, the deputy mayor of Market Drayton, said: "There is great disappointment in what our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has done over the past few months.
"Especially with Owen Paterson – the treatment of one of his own men was shocking. I have met Kirsty before and I know she is local, has family here and is aware of county issues as well as farming and local high streets.
"If we want to go to the hospital in Telford there are no buses, if we want to visit family in Shrewsbury there are no late buses. We are a island surrounded by green.
"Lots of people who have previously always voted Conservative don't know who to vote for now. Kirsty is a Shropshire lass who will fight for the town and for change.
"The Conservative candidate is from a city – he knows nothing about farming or anything Shropshire. I'm faced with no choice – how can I possibly back a candidate from Birmingham who has zero knowledge of North Shropshire and the challenges our community faces.
"It is too late for him to relocate to Shropshire if he wins. The Conservatives should have selected locally rather than be pressured into supporting someone with no prior interest or knowledge of the area."
Richard Tice, Reform UK's leader, said: "I'm absolutely delighted Mark has joined us. He is a lifelong Conservative voter and it shows real courage to defect.
"He is a man of principle to say this is not right – it's a sign of real integrity. It's one thing putting your head above the parapet, but also at a time when the whole media and Westminster is looking at North Shropshire – it shows courage."
Councillor Allen, who has defected to the Reclaim Party, has pledged his support for their by-election candidate, Martin Daubney.
He said: "I’ve resigned my membership to the Tory party and joined the Reclaim Party. The Conservatives simply aren’t conservative any more.
"They have gone soft on illegal immigration, they’ve lost control of taxation and are obsessed with crippling green taxes nobody wants.
"Like so many others, I’m getting more and more frustrated day by day with the continual cuts to public services such as the cuts to the ambulance service, cuts that are beginning to put lives at risk and can't be allowed to continue.
“On December 16 let's send a clear message to the mainstream parties. It’s time for real change. It’s time for Reclaim."
Reclaim Party leader, Laurence Fox, added: “Anthony is an amazing councillor who lives and breathes North Shropshire.
“We have a crisis of freedom of speech in Britain. It’s imperative that politicians like Anthony are free to speak their minds, rather than being constrained by a party that cares more for fashionable, metropolitan opinions rather than the sincerely held views of their membership.
"Anthony is our first councillor, but – watch this space – he won’t be our last. We are mounting a grassroots, “Town Hall Takeover” of Britain ahead of the next General election. I’d urge any other dissatisfied councillors out there to get in touch."
The by-election will be held on December 16 and was prompted following the resignation of former MP Owen Paterson.
Mr Paterson resigned after he was found to have breached lobbying rules, and after the Government U-turned in a bid to save him from immediate suspension.