Turbulence as outspoken Midhurst Tory defects

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In a dramatic move, Midhurst’s outspoken Tory Chichester district councillor Brian Weekes has defected to the Independent benches just weeks after being re-elected under the blue banner.

Cllr Weekes was known to have had a turbulent year with some Tory colleagues before the election.

But the last straw came for him when the new ruling Conservative administration stripped him of his place on the council’s health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) last week.

“It was a bitter blow to be removed from the HOSC after all the years of service I have given them,” he told the Observer.

Cllr Weekes has always been passionate about the health service and was a leading figure north of the Downs in the fight to save St Richard’s Hospital, funding at his own expense, and organising a mass meeting at the Grange Centre as part of the campaign.

He was also devastated when he was removed from his post as chairman of the north area development control committee a year ago.

Cllr Weekes made it known publicly that he opposed the introduction of car-parking charges and went so far as to be photographed accepting a petition against the proposals.

It was no secret he had an acrimonious relationship with former leader of CDC Myles Cullen, who publicly rebuked Cllr Weekes for speaking out.

“Obviously I will continue to support the council and work for Chichester district in general, but I feel I can work much better as an Independent with Gordon McAra for the benefit of the people of Midhurst,” said Cllr Weekes.

He stood as a Tory beside fellow Tory district councillor Nick Thomas at the May 5 election.

Although Cllr Weekes topped the poll with 777 votes, Mr Thomas, who was CDC’s portfolio holder for culture and sport, paid the price for failing to back Midhurst’s campaign against car-parking charges. He lost his seat to Independent candidate Gordon McAra who polled just nine votes fewer than Cllr Weekes.

Cllr Weekes’ decision makes Midhurst a unique entity on the district council which after the election turned an even-brighter shade of true-blue as Conservatives swept back to power, boosting their already hefty majority.

The make-up was 38 Tories, eight Liberal Democrats and two Independents – one in  Midhurst and Andrew Shaxson who was returned to represent Harting.

Mr Weekes’ move makes Midhurst the only town in the district to be totally represented by Independents and together with Mr Thomas’ election defeat reflects the disillusionment of voters in the Tory administration at Chichester over the past few years.

Mr McAra told the Observer: “I welcome another independent voice to help the interest of the people of Midhurst.”