Former chairman accuses Tories of “cleansing of candidates” to remove “faces that don’t sit well with those at the top”

Cllr Michael Humphrey.

Cllr Michael Humphrey. - Credit: Archant

A Conservative councillor – and former council chairman- has accused party officials of a “cleansing of candidates” to remove “the faces that don’t sit well with those at the top”.

Robert Sears

Robert Sears - Credit: Archant

Councillor Mike Humphrey, removed as finance portfolio holder after this year’s leadership battle at Fenland Hall, also warned of “mass migration to independent candidates” if changes don’t happen.

His thoughts were put in an email back in July but have only now been made public on the eve of a special meeting of the ruling Conservative group at Fenland Council.

The meeting, on Thursday, will be addressed by Robert Sears, chairman of the NE Cambs Conservative Association.

Mr Sears will focus on concerns expressed by some Conservative councillors over the departure from the group – and subsequent decision to stand as an independent- by Councillor Bernard Keane.

Cllr Bernard Keane during a visit to Wisbech Christmas Market.

Cllr Bernard Keane during a visit to Wisbech Christmas Market. - Credit: Archant

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The former March mayor, and also a former council chairman, quit after being told in an email that unless he continued to paid the £25 a month required of all Tory councillors to help run the association he couldn’t be considered for re-selection.

“Things have got to the stage where I got a letter saying pay up or that’s it, so I thought that’s it,” said Cllr Keane.

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“What annoyed me is that other people didn’t pay, but I’m the only person who got this particular letter.”

Mr Sears admitted the email should not have been written – and he had phoned Cllr Keane to apologise.

Debbie Clark

Debbie Clark - Credit: Archant

“He did receive an email which he shouldn’t have received,” said Mr Sears. “I rang him on the Monday I found out. I had no idea he had received an email and no one else had. He accepted my apology and was pleased I had rung him up.”

Mr Sears said: “I can honestly say to you there is no witch hunt and no cleansing of candidates. However we do expect our Conservative councillors to do a certain amount of canvassing and leaflet dropping.”

He felt some had got the wrong end of the stick “with people interpreting words used in the English language which are not really what it appears to be”.

This summer Mr Sears told the executive council of the NE Cambs Association that all councillors were to be asked to deliver at least 50 leaflets a month until the General Election.

Steve Barclay MP.

Steve Barclay MP. - Credit: Archant

He also wanted people to “come in for an hour or two” and telephone canvass 25 people at a time.

MP Steve Barclay told the same meeting that “if someone wants to stand with the support, brand and organisation” there had to be a “minimum effort that”. He felt 50 leaflets a month for each councillor plus 50 personal contacts by councillors ought to be a target.

“Let’s be blunt,” Mr Barclay told the executive. “If someone isn’t prepared to do half a day’s campaigning once a month they shouldn’t be standing.”

But Cllr Humphrey said, in his leaked email, that he was “surprised at the late introduction of minimum criteria” for candidates, especially as many councillors and candidates had already been adopted following previous association rules.

Of the requirement to make regular payments to the association he urged Mr Sears to speak to those who had stopped paying “to better understand the issues.

“If this ‘cleansing of candidates’ remains count me, and I suspect many others, out,” he said. “Probably what this is all about, is to get rid of the face that don’t sit well with those at the top,”

Cllr Humphrey, a Fenland councillor for 19 years, said he felt the association “sure has a strange way of working and repaying years of loyal support,”

And he warned that if the association continues with this policy “you will have mass migration to independent candidates which, quite frankly, might not be a bad thing for Fenland residents.”

In July Debbie Clark, the association’s organising secretary, emailed councillors about the “minimum criteria for selection” enclosing the executive’s decision – and also asking councillors and candidates to record where posters were to be displayed.

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