Tories at Whittlesey threaten breakaway after Fenland Council deselection row as former county council leader Martin Curtis abandons political comeback

NECCA logo and below (from left) Martin Curtis, MP Steve Barclay and Cllr David Mason

NECCA logo and below (from left) Martin Curtis, MP Steve Barclay and Cllr David Mason - Credit: Archant

Tories in Whittlesey are threatening to split from the NE Cambs Conservative Association (NECCA) after a bitter row over the deselection of councillors on Fenland District Council.

Out? Tories councillors Alex Miscandlon (top left) and Michelle Tanfield and (bottom left) Will Sutt

Out? Tories councillors Alex Miscandlon (top left) and Michelle Tanfield and (bottom left) Will Sutton and Mike Cornwell. - Credit: Archant

Caught up in the current infighting is the former Whittlesey councillor Martin Curtis, and one time leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, who has decided not to seek a return to politics in next May’s local elections.

Fenland cabinet member David Mason is spearheading the grassroots revolt after fellow councillor Will Sutton, already deselected at Christchurch, failed to win nomination for Wisbech St Mary in which he was the only candidate put forward. The branch there will be re-running the contest for a candidate after voting decisively against his nomination.

Cllr Mason, the member for Whittlesey St Andrew district, wants his town’s Conservative branch to withdraw from NECCA and continue as a branch of the Cambridgeshire Conservative Association “in its own right”.

He said this would enable them to retain “full control on the selection of candidates at future elections within our town and at district level”.

Cllr Mason said he also supported the suggestion – raised at a recent branch meeting – that they should support the Conservative candidate for Peterborough at the next General Election in preference to supporting NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay.

With a majority of 16,000 he felt Mr Barclay would be sure to “understand our reasoning”.

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Details of the simmering row were leaked (surprisingly by a number of people) and show growing discontent at the move to oust Tory councillors.

Not only has Will Sutton been deselected but other senior Tories such as Michelle Tanfield, Alex Miscandlon and Mike Cornwell also lost out.

Mr Curtis, who had already been nominated successfully for the Eastrea, Coates and Benwick seat, has told colleagues he is no longer a candidate.

“I can’t, in all honestly, tell people that voting Conservative in Fenland is the best thing to do,” he said.

“The best thing for people to do is vote for the candidate that best recognises the need for change and articulates the best vision for that change.”

He said a recent peer review “has proved, once again, that Fenland District Council is an inept organisation that needs serious top down change in order to develop vision and drive for the District.

“The peer review sits on the back of a peer review of some four years ago that had pretty much the same findings.”

In his email he accuses Fenland Council of having “no vision, no clue what Fenland is or wants to be, it doesn’t understand consultation, merely tokenism - I could go on.”

He added: “FDC is a failing Council. Conservatives should be embarrassed to be associated with it, and should be arguing the case for change and improvement not supporting the status quo.

“To make change happen people need to change. Surely in those circumstances, those that recognise this should be applauded not rounded upon?”

And he’s dismissive of Cllr Mason’s bid to take Whittlesey out of NECCA.

“The idea of creating some sort of rebel, breakaway, branch is at best bizarre, especially for the reasons you give,” he said.

But Cllr Mason is determined to end the power struggle within NECCA that he believes is damaging the party.

He says the power in essence “rests with a hard core of members from Wisbech that through sheer weight of numbers are able to effectively determine the political future of politics at local government level.

“And in theory they may eventually have undue influence in the future selection of a candidate as MP at a national level.”

Cllr Mason said de-selection of fellow councillors “is to say the least regrettable” and we “simply cannot allow experienced candidates such as these to be swept aside by an organisation that frankly at the present time I believe is not fit for purpose.

“The actions of NECCA seriously undermine the prospects of Conservative success at forthcoming elections and I can only surmise that personal views have been allowed to obscure political sense.”

Cllr Mason is to take his campaign to remove Whittlesey from NECCA to the annual meeting of his local branch in January.

Mr Curtis said today he had nothing to add.

“The fact the emails have been leaked to you says it all really,” he added.