Thursday, 23 September 2021

Tories force out chairman

Tories force out chairman

THE chairman of the Henley Conservatives has resigned following a rebellion within his party.

Frank Browne, who held the position for just over a year, quit on Wednesday following a vote of no confidence at a special general meeting held on Monday.

Councillor Julian Brookes, the leader of the Conservatives on the town council, said an “overwhelming” majority had voted in favour of a motion that the direction of the party would be best served without Mr Browne leading it.

The meeting was called by Mr Browne and was intended to discuss the future direction of the party but descended into a debate about his leadership.

Cllr Brookes told the Henley Standard that the party had become “divided” under his chairmanship.

He and Councillor Laurence Plant claimed Mr Browne acted unilaterally and if he had remained in post it would have affected the party’s chances of securing a majority in next year’s town council elections.

Cllr Brookes said: “There were very serious differences in the party that needed to be resolved.

“We asked him to seriously consider his position as chairman.

“Judging by the vote on Monday [the members] were unhappy and had decided the direction of Henley Conservatives was best served without Frank Browne as chairman.

“The members were saying ‘Frank, are you the right person to lead us into this election?’

“It was divided under his chairmanship. Nobody votes for a divided party so we had to sort it out. We have got to clear the decks for an election campaign.

“It doesn’t mean he didn’t have some good ideas.

“Would we have preferred to have been working together with his technical expertise? Yes, but, regrettably, I think we’re better without him as chairman.” Cllr Brookes had collected 25 signatures on a petition, with the backing of party members, in order to force a second special general meeting next week if necessary.

He called this a “fall back” position and said the meeting would have been required if Mr Browne had refused to allow the motion to be added to the agenda at the first meeting or if he had decided to stay on.

The signatories were mainly party members but also included the majority of serving councillors.

Cllr Brookes said: “If it wasn’t resolved with one bite of the cherry, it was resolved with a second bite. We hoped we didn’t need it and as it transpires we won’t.

“I doubt very much Frank is happy. He was putting his heart and soul into this. It’s was a very unpleasant thing to have to do and I did not enjoy having to do it.”

About 40 people attended Monday’s meeting at the town hall to which all members of the Henley Conservatives were invited,

Cllr Plant, who won a town council by-election in June, said: “Frank realised he didn’t have the support of the majority of members there for him as chairman.”

He paid tribute to Mr Browne’s skills at election strategy but claimed he had stopped listening to the views of those around him.

“He’s almost so passionate he’s not the right make-up to be chair of the party,” said Cllr Plant.

“It was a lack of ability over the last few months to unite the party members behind one direction.

“It started to become more autocratic under Frank.”

Cllr Brookes added: “I had less and less influence in the direction in which we were travelling, which was contrary to the feedback I was getting from members and from the recent by-election.”

The councillors also accused Mr Browne of “overpoliticising” issues.

Cllr Plant said: “It’s not about picking up on the negative points, it’s about how we as councillors and we as a party can achieve positives for Henley.

“That’s what the Henley resident wants. They don’t care about two-party politics on Henley Town Council.

“What we want is good for the town. How hard we rammed that into a campaign and into our policies and our daily workings is something we fundamentally disagreed on.”

Cllr Brookes added: “We’re Henley first and Conservatives second.

“ Frank had brought in positive change over the last year. We’re looking forward to building on that change and launching positive ideas in the future.

“We want to thank him very much for all the very hard work he’s done campaigning on the doorsteps and helping the successful results in two by-elections. We have now two excellent councillors.”

The party will hold a branch committee meeting to elect a new chairman.

Mr Browne, who remains a member of the Henley Conservatives, did not respond to requests for comment.

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