Former Wisbech town mayor Nick Meekins the latest to join what is now Fenland’s ‘gang of six’ ahead of May’s local elections

Fenland's new 'gang of six' all standing as independents in the May local elections. Top left: Andy

Fenland's new 'gang of six' all standing as independents in the May local elections. Top left: Andy Maul and top right Nick Meekins. Middle left: Will Sutton. Middle right: Mike Cornwell. Bottom left: Fred Yeulett. Bottom right: Michelle Tanfield. Picture; ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Former town mayor Nick Meekins is the latest to be recruited by the newly formed independent group fighting May’s local elections to Fenland District Council.

Mr Meekins is a former Conservative town councillor in Wisbech and was the mayor from 2010-11.

He will be contesting the Peckover ward for both Wisbech Town Council and for Fenland District Council.

In recent years he has been a critic of the town council and a frequent contributor to the local press critical of the direction taken by the local Conservative controlled council.

In 2015 he unsuccessfully stood for UKIP, prompting the comment from Tory councillor Steve Tierney about his switch of party allegiance.

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Of the Peckover contest Cllr Tierney wrote: “Nick Meekins, who used to be a Conservative but is now standing for UKIP. And David Oliver, Leader of Wisbech Town Council, Cabinet Member at Fenland District Council.

“Both men have previously been Mayor of Wisbech. Nick Meekins and David Oliver used to be best friends, I believe. I don’t know if that remains the case.

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“I think Nick Meekins is also godfather to David Oliver’s daughter Jess, who is also standing in Peckover as a town councillor. So Nick Meekins has switched parties and is standing against his best friend and god daughter? It’s like a Shakespeare plot.”

The decision by Mr Meekins to stand as an independent follows that of Wisbech café boss Andy Maul who yesterday became the latest Conservative to fight May’sl elections as an independent.

It now brings the ‘gang of five’ to six but Cllr Maul’s defection is significant since he had not been de-selected. He was suspended by the Conservative Party once he’d announced his intentions to stand as an independent.

He told reporters: “I have always been a Conservative, which is why it was natural for me to fight the by-election in August 2016 as Conservative,” he said.

“But to be honest I have always felt politics doesn’t really have a place at a local level. I have found the town council to be too political and to be honest I am far from that.”

His switch to the newly formed independent group strengthens their position ahead of the May 2 election.

Cllr Tierney described the row over the defections as “like the ‘beef’ between different Youtubers; drama in a teacup”.

Cllr Sam Hoy, leader of Wisbech Town Council, said Cllr Maul “has been only loosely connected to the group for nearly a year so it is probably for the best”. She said the Tories would “still be standing candidates everywhere”.

She said Cllr Maul had announced his intentions to her of standing as an independent and so she asked the Tory agent Cllr Chris Boden to suspend him.

Cllr Michelle Tanfield, who had been de-selected for Christchurch and Elm but is now standing there as an independent, revealed Cllr Maul’s defection in a brief email,

She said: “The ‘gang of four’ is pleased to confirm that Andy Maul who was a Conservative town councillor, resigned from the Conservative group yesterday.

“He will be joining us to fight the May election in Waterlees ward for both town and district as an independent.”

Only two weeks ago Cllr Maul and Vikki Holmes, who set up the Grub Hub at their Bygones café in Wisbech with the 50 Backpacks for the Homeless charity, won a special award locally for their efforts. Their efforts have resulted in up to 40 homeless people receiving a weekly free hot meal.

Claims of bullying and failing to respect other councillors irrespective of party politics have been given as reasons by the ‘gang of four’ decided to run as independents.

Three of the four were not selected by the North East Cambridgeshire Conservative Association (NECCA) to fight their current wards and a fourth, who planned to stand down in May anyway, changed his mind to fight under the independent banner.

“Our prime reason for leaving the Conservative group and seeking election as independents in the forthcoming elections is the action taken by NECCA,” said Cllr Fred Yeulett.

“They deselected Will Sutton, Michelle Tanfield and Mike Cornwell – who do not deserve such treatment.”

Cllr Yeulett added: “We are concerned at the direction being followed by NECCA and its elected officers, particularly the organised voting practices, namely block voting by Wisbech branch members.

“The current NECCA is not the NECCA that we joined and supported.”

Cllr Michelle Tanfield claimed she had received “abuse and abusive messages” whilst cabinet member for young people and leisure.

“It made it difficult for me to feel part of the team; I don’t think anyone should have to go through the abuse bullying I got.

“There were times when I had to go to cabinet members in tears. I am a human being and all I was doing was best I could I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.”

In social media posts this week a number of Conservative councillors blamed the decision not to select councillors Tanfield, Sutton and Cornwell was because of their original support for considering pay parking across Fenland towns.

Cllr Jan French, chairman of NECCA, said her association had acted constitutionally throughout.

Cllr Mike Cornwell said his reasons for standing as an independent came after he the association failed to select him and he felt the reason was because “I don’t give in to threats. I do not give into pressure from other people; I try to be as ethical as I can in everything I do.”

He said relationships within the group are still not happy “it is not a true Conservative group, I don’t give into things, have a mind of my mind. I am still a Conservative and I think I will always be I will not be a Conservative that falls under the Conservative banner of NECCA – that’s where it stems from.”

Cllr Will Sutton said he was standing as an independent “because I am not prepared to say yes or no” and there was massive support among the villages of Christchurch, Elm and Coldham which he represents with Cllr Tanfield for them to continue.

He said he was also angry at the way non Conservative councillors had been treated by his Tory colleagues.

“There are some very good councillors who are not Tories who have been treated most disrespectfully,” he said. “I can’t condone it and I never will.”

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