Harpenden councillor ‘snubbed’

A COUNCILLOR has clashed with Conservative Party colleagues after they snubbed him in a recent selection bid to continue contesting the ward he has represented for the past eight years.

Harpenden West town councillor Tony McFarland will now consider standing against his former allies as an independent candidate when residents vote in local government polls next May.

His decision has disappointed chairman of the Hitchen and Harpenden Conservative Association Lance Thomas who defended the organisation’s “democratic” decision to ask Cllr McFarland to instead stand for an alternative ward.

Cllr McFarland confirmed that he resigned from the Conservative Party after being asked to stand for south Harpenden despite being the current elected representative for the west ward, as he felt he was being forced out.

At a recent selection meeting officials asked him to move aside for a new candidate and contest south Harpenden instead.

Cllr McFarland said new candidates should not stand against recumbent members and questioned: “Why is a new candidate who hasn’t stood before being put forward? They should have been offered the south ward.”

He said the selection committee used the fact that he hadn’t shown up at west ward association meetings for eight years against him to instead offer the candidature to another person – an allegation confirmed by Mr Thomas.

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Cllr McFarland admitted: “I’m guilty of not going to them, but those association members should be keeping in the loop on what is happening locally; they should be attending full town council meetings. I have always attended full council meetings.”

The businessman said: “I live in the west ward and I know the area like the back of my hand. I have worked very hard. I always keep my fingers on the pulse of what is happening locally.

“I am disappointed at this point at the way it has been dealt with but will continue to serve the town and help the constituents in the ward that I currently represent. I will consider standing as an independent in the forthcoming election.”

He also questioned the choice of candidate as his replacement, Simon Leadbeater, is the son of an association committee member Gordon Leadbeater, who is on the selection committee.

But Mr Thomas dismissed his fears and said: “I don’t view that as being odd.” He explained that at the selection meeting Mr Leadbeater declared an interest in the process and abstained from voting. Mr Thomas said the association would put forward four candidates for each of the four Harpenden wards.

The organisation had been faced with the challenge of meeting the political ambitions of a growing number of potential candidates. Mr Thomas said: “More and more people want to stand as a Conservative candidate.”

He added: “Tony hasn’t done much to keep in contact with his branch. People on the selection committee don’t know him that well. Tony didn’t even know the president or the chairman of the selection committee. He has never attended branch meetings in eight years.

“He wasn’t forced to leave; he was asked whether he’d consider standing in [the] south because most of the south branch knows him.” There was a shortage of Conservative candidates in that ward.

Standing alongside Simon Leadbeater in the west ward are David Williams and current councillors, Harpenden mayor Daniel Chichester-Miles and Nicola Linacre.

Mr Thomas said that Cllr McFarland hadn’t attended the recent selection committee meeting, “like every other candidate.”

He added: “It is unfortunate he has resigned from the party … [but] it is the nature of politics. There was no subterfuge. It was a democratic process.”