THE Mayor of Henley has defected to the Conservative Party. Martin Akehurst is one of two former Henley Residents’ Group councillors making the switch.
THE Mayor of Henley has defected to the Conservative Party.
Martin Akehurst is one of two former Henley Residents’ Group councillors making the switch. The other is Dieter Hinke, who chairs the town council’s planning committee.
It comes less than three months after the pair and three other councillors quit HRG, blaming “serious conflict” within the party.
It means the Conservatives will become the ruling group on the council in the run-up to the elections in May for the first time since 2003. The two defectors will be formally elected as election candidates at the Henley Conservatives’ annual meeting tonight (Friday).
Councillor Akehurst, 67, of Two Tree Hill, Henley, told the Henley Standard that joining the Conservatives would allow him to concentrate on his last three months as Mayor.He said: “I don’t want to spend the last few months of my mayorship doing my own canvassing and leafleting — that is not fair on the residents of Henley — and the Conservatives can help with that.
“It will mean that I can make better use of my time raising money and helpo with PR for charities and working on the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan.” The Mayor, a former actor who is married with two children, said he was approached by the Conservatives soon after resigning from HRG and had been offered the chance to be their candidate for the Sonning Common ward on South Oxfordshire District Council at the elections.
He said: “I have been a paid-up member of the party since 1967, when I was in the Young Conservatives at university. I had to suspend my membership for the three years that I was in HRG but in that time I had a good working relationship with the Conservatives on the planning committee and we worked together very well.”
He hinted at why he, Cllr Hinke and former mayors Elizabeth Hodgkin, Jeni Wood and Pam Phillips all quit HRG in mid-November to sit as independents.
He said: “Fifty per cent of the time we were dealing with relationships within the party. It is not fair on our residents to get into mud-slinging as council work is done in our own time but we are there to do things for the residents, not to muck around with other stuff.”
Cllr Hinke, who is chairman of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan working group, said he wanted to concentrate on his council work rather than worry about relationships within HRG.
He said: “I found that because of difficulties within the group we spent too much time addressing those difficulties rather than doing the things for the people who elected us.
“A lot of things have been happening with the neighbourhood plan and I want to carry on with the experience I have had over the last few years.
“I have made it very clear that I would want to stand again as a town councillor but with regards to roles nothing has been decided but I would like to continue with planning, if possible.”
Cllr Hinke, who lives in Elizabeth Road with his wife Virginia and three children, said the Conservatives had members at town, district and county council level, which was an advantage.
He said: “I would call myself a team player and looking at the challenges ahead for Henley I would say it would need a strong team of many talents rather than individual councillors.
“I think we have got to realise that Henley is basically a parish council and our responsibilities are limited.
“We need to persuade the county council and district council on things so we need a good relationship.”
Chris Baker, 65, of Laud’s Close, Henley, who resigned as chairman of the HRG executive committee when the five councillors left, has also switched to the Tories.
He said: “As chairman of HRG, I was right in the middle of it all. I think that since the break-up the people of Henley have been better represented than before.
“The Conservative Party has county, district and town council members and they have shown that they are very much involved in local issues.
“Even though they have the occasional disagreement among themselves they get back to an agreement on how to take it forward and action takes place. I can see things literally happening.
“I want this to continue beyond the election for the benefit of Henley. There are things that I want to get my teeth into.”
Henley’s Conservative MP John Howell said: “I welcome Martin and Dieter with great celebration. That they have come to join us together shows that the Conservative pact in Henley is a very effective one.”
David Nimmo Smith, leader of the Conservatives on the council, said: “We’re delighted that Martin and Dieter would like to join the Conservative Party and we welcome them into our gang.
“We have got on very well with them on the council as it has been a meeting of minds since they were elected.”
Cllrs Hodgkin, Wood and Phillips said they were still undecided on whether they would stand in the elections.
Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, chairman of HRG, said: “I’m not surprised. Dieter and Martin have been angling towards the Tories for quite a while. We will just have to get on with it.
“If the Conservatives have a majority then we will continue to put positive policies before the residents of Henley. HRG will be fighting the May election and we will stand by our record over the last three-and-a-half years.
“HRG policies over the last 20 years have improved Henley and we will continue to look after the interests of residents without any external influences because the Conservatives will be influenced by South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council.”
The new council will have seven Conservatives, five HRG representatives and four independents.