FOUR Forest of Dean Labour district councillors have quit the party just weeks before electors go to the polls for Gloucestershire County Council.
Tim Gwilliam, of Berry Hill, Roger James in Coleford East, Paul Hiett of Bream and Bill Osborne in Lydney East say there is a “huge difference in ideology and approach” since the district council elections in 2015 – and by implication since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader – which means they can no longer stay in the party.
And in a pointed parting shot, they say that Labour candidates Graham Morgan in Cinderford and Di Martin in Lydbrook, should be elected to the county council – but no mention is made of the other six would-be councillors standing on the party’s ticket.
Their former leader on the district council, Di Martin, said the party was “bemused and saddened” by the quartet’s decision to quit but that their focus was solely on the forthcoming election.
Cllr Gwilliam said “infiltration” by members of Momentum – the organisation set up to support Mr Corbyn – and left-wing ‘extremists’ had changed the Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party (CLP).
They say they are leaving the Labour Party both locally and nationally “with great regret” after many years service to the Labour movement.
The quartet will form a new group, Forest of Dean Independent Labour, at the district council.
They arrived at the decision, because “while acknowledging the democratic right of both national and local parties to follow whatever policies they see fit”, they felt their views were no longer being taken into account.
In a statement issued last Friday (April 7), they say: “From the behaviour and tone of the local party in recent times, we are sure the Forest of Dean CLP will actually welcome our departure.
“We will form a new group in council based on the Labour Party and Socialist principles that we and many others believe in.
“We will concentrate on the local issues that affect those people in the Forest of Dean we represent.
“This statement signifies the emergence of realistic Labour policies in the Forest of Dean.
“As former Labour Party members we can appreciate that the decision which lies ahead for members of Labour may prove to be deeply painful and agonising.
“Yet with bravery, knowledge and courage, the requirement for a realignment in British politics must now be faced.”
Di Martin said: “I’m bemused and saddened that they have decided to leave so close to an election but our focus is solely on the election – we are getting a very good response on the doorstep.
“The Constituency Labour Party has not been taken over by anybody and nobody has been silenced.
“We have positions filled by old and new volunteers who are working very well together.”
Ironically, the split comes exactly 30 years after another group of Labour district councillors formed a rival group because they disagreed with the direction the party was taking.