TWO disillusioned councillors have sensationally quit the Liberal Democrat party to form their own independent group for the east of High Wycombe.
Cllr Julia Wassell and Cllr Matt Knight – who was the deputy leader of the Wycombe Lib Dem group – dramatically resigned from the party on Friday and believe others from within the yellow corner could soon follow.
They said they were disenchanted with the way the party is being run at local and regional level; which they say is ‘lacking organisation, oversimplifying complex issues and failing to support their dwindling local councillors’.
Their decision comes after Cllr Wassell was suspended from the party pending an investigation into ‘particular issues in High Wycombe’ earlier this month.
But that proposed review now appears to be null and void after Cllr Wassell handed back her Lib Dem registration on Thursday.
She said there was ‘nothing she had done that justified the suspension’.
She cryptically told the BFP that, as group whip, she “found something out, tried to flush it out, and was suspended for it” before adding the electorate would ‘soon realise she and Cllr Knight made the right decision in quitting’.
Cllr Knight said “My passion has always been the people of Micklefield but, unfortunately over the last year, rather than support me, the Lib Dems has become a distraction and a drain on the energy I should be putting in to my community.”
The pair will continue to serve as independent councillors under a fledgling umbrella group with the working title of the East-Wycombe Independents.
Cllr Wassell said the group would produce a manifesto and have a representative standing in every ward in east Wycombe at the May elections.
The pair believes the Lib Dems are not a force in local politics and their new independent stance will actually strengthen their bid for re-election.
They said many other councillors could follow their lead in quitting the big parties to set up similar hyper-local political groups, as residents have been turned off by party politics at town, district and county level.
Cllr Knight said: “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with political parties nationally, which was reflected by the support for UKIP at the European elections - but they are still the same old party model.
“A lot of people don’t like the rigidity of party politics - they want to get involved in something for a few months, go away and come back later. They don’t want to associated with a particular party or a set agenda.”
Cllr Wassell added: “We haven’t left the Lib Dems because they are unpopular.
“People want you to be outspoken on their behalf on the small things to the big issues and don’t support a particular ideology – and we, as politicians, like some of the Lib Dem policies but we also like other ideas.
“Now that we are independents, we can ask about parish councils, village greens etc without a background of noise from the Lib Dems saying ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘that’s against national policy’.”
It is not the first time Cllr Wassell has switched political allegiances.
In 2008 she defected to the Lib Dems from the Labour party as she found it "increasingly authoritarian".