A LEADING Labour councillor who defected to the Liberal Democrats has released a strongly worded statement on her departure.

Councillor Julia Wassell said she left Labour as she found it "increasingly authoritarian".

Cllr Wassell - who stood for the party in the 2005 general election - has quit the group on Wycombe District Council and Buckinghamshire County Council.

She represents Bowerdean at the district council and Bowerdean, Micklefield and Totteridge at the county council.

But a Labour leader suggested Cllr Wassell had left because of concerns about Labour's popularity - and said she should call a by-election for her sears.

In a statement to the Bucks Free Press Cllr Wassell said: "I have found the Labour Party to be increasingly authoritarian at a local, regional and national level.

"Last year there was an attempt to deselect me for supporting the Bucks Free Press campaign to protect Wycombe Hospital's A and E.

"This year I have under a lot of pressure again and criticized for saving Micklefield Library without party approval.

"All this started when I stood for selection as Wycombe's Parliamentary Candidate, the first woman to be selected.

"The regional office have described some Labour members as "children who should grow up" because of continuous disparaging remarks.

"This type of thing, which I know others have experienced, has made me re-consider my commitment to local Labour, coupled with disagreement with national policies like ID cards, 10p tax rate and a long standing opposition to the Iraq War.

"The Liberal Democrats in Wycombe and Bucks have given me a very warm welcome and appreciate my commitment to local campaigning and casework, unlike the Labour Party who have been decrying my efforts for several years.

"I have known leading Liberal Democrats like Frances Alexander and Tim Andrews for a long time and that they put their principles into practice.

"I believe that with the Liberal Democrats I will be able to serve the community and represent local residents effectively. This is because Liberal Democrats are in touch with grass roots rather than being top heavy and centralised.

"A number of Labour Party members and supporters have joined me in making a positive choice in signing up to the Liberal Democrats."

Malcolm Powers, Labour South East regional director, said: "It is extremely disappointing that she has decided to leave the Labour Party.

"Given she was elected as a Labour councillor she should do the honourable thing and step down and call a by-election and I am sure Labour will win."

He declined to comment on the circumstances of her departure but said: "Julia Wassell clearly didn't have a problem with policy issues a few weeks ago.

"I can only assume her change of mind is something to do with the fact that she feels more comfortable as a member of the Liberal Democrats and has a better chance of being elected as a member of the Liberal Democrats."