New political group launched in Fareham after councillors' clash with leader Sean Woodward

A NEW political group has been formed within Fareham Borough Council following two longstanding Conservatives leaving their former party – and is now the opposition.

Thursday, 5th March 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th March 2020, 7:20 pm

Councillor Leslie Keeble, who had served as a Conservative councillor for 20 years, is the chairman of the new group, consisting of existing independent councillors and another former Conservative who quit on Wednesday, March 4.

Councillor Keith Barton, of Fareham South ward, said he made his decision after he was deselected as a party candidate last February and became increasingly unhappy with council leader Sean Woodward’s ‘Machiavellian leadership style.’

He said: ‘I have done so much for the party and then all of a sudden I’m told I was not on the approved candidates list.

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Councillor Leslie Keeble, who now sits as an independent.

‘If you disagree with Sean Woodward you make yourself a target.

‘If I had kept my mouth shut and not got into arguments with Cllr Woodward I may have stayed on.

‘There are more people who are disgruntled but they don’t want to do anything about it.’

But Cllr Barton was close to being disqualified by law from standing as a councillor due to his ‘disgraceful’ attendance record, according to Cllr Woodward.

Cllr Sean Woodward, the leader of Fareham Borough Council

He said: ‘He attended one meeting in the last seven months.

‘We reminded him to attend a meeting so he could save face and not be disqualified.

‘His attendance was appalling.’

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Cllr Barton attended 44 per cent of meetings expecting his attendance in the last year – but attended 94 per cent before he was deselected last February.

Commenting on Cllr Barton’s deselection as a party candidate, Cllr Woodward said: ‘I am advised there were a number of reasons including his almost total lack of attendance at meetings, including Conservative group meetings.’

The new group will not require members to vote as a unit, but will allow for more independent voices on committees, according to Cllr Keeble.

The councillor had becoming increasingly unhappy with his former party after Councillor Tina Ellis, his daughter and former secretary at the Fareham Conservative Association, was not selected to stand again as a candidate in the upcoming May elections – despite securing 70 per cent of the vote in Fareham West in 2016.

He believes a personal disagreement between Cllr Ellis and Cllr Woodward led to her application being rejected by a selection panel, which included two councillors, in January last year.

Cllr Keeble said: ‘Sean Woodward is in complete control of the council, and people are frightened of him.

‘I couldn’t canvas for someone else in Tina’s area.’

The Fareham Conservative Association declined to comment on the outcome of the selection process for council candidates.

Councillor Woodward said he had not spoken to Cllr Keeble about his decision to leave the party.

The council leader said: ‘He should do the right thing and resign, and then fight for his seat under his new colours.’

Regarding the selection panel, he added: ‘I didn’t have a vote on the matter, and they are secret votes. I can attend the selection panels as an observer.

‘Cllr Keeble happens to be Tina’s father, but they are separate individuals, and Cllr Ellis is still a member of the party.’

The council now consists of 22 Conservative councillors, five members of The Independent Group, and four Liberal Democrats.