The Hartlepool Council Conservatives have consolidated their power with the addition of two more independent councillors to their coalition. After two recent council by-election defeats, the Tories now have 14 seats as opposed to Labour’s 13. But their coalition with three independents already boosts the blue voting power to 17. The addition of two more Independents brings the total to a comfortable Tory majority of six over Labour.
The most recent Independents to take that long walk across the floor are Paddy Brown and Sue Little.
Cllr Brown used to be Leader of the council’s Labour Group until December 2020, when he left the party declaring it to be too bureaucratic. In January 2021 he co-founded the Hartlepool People Group, claiming at the time that it was to be apolitical and only in the interests of the people of Hartlepool.
Councillors Brown and Little have joined the Tory coalition
Cllr Brown has confirmed his new position to North East Bylines, but he has not given any reason for the move. He is currently Chair of the Planning Committee.
Cllr Sue Little is an independent in the group Putting Seaton First. She told North East Bylines that her decision was entirely the result of losing two seats – on the Children and Neighbourhoods committees.
When Labour won another council seat, she explained, they had called for a review of the number of committee places they could claim. An outcome was that Cllr Little lost her committee positions.
Her new membership in the Conservative-led coalition has meant a return of her committee seats, she told us.
Cllr Little explained that she could work better for the people of Seaton with a committee place. While any councillor can attend and speak at committees only their members are entitled to vote. Committee chairs get an additional allowance.
Her decision is surprising given her experience with the Conservatives over the conduct of then-Tory ward colleague Cllr Gordon Cranney. She complained to the local Conservative leadership accusing Cranney of harassment, but they still re-selected him for last May’s council elections.
As the polls were closing, Cranney announced that he had recently been convicted of “assault by beating” of his wife, a fact that he had withheld even from the local party leaders. Cranney was expelled from the Conservatives but changes in the law make it impossible to sack him from the Council. He now sits as an independent.
Other independents in the Tory coalition
An independent who is already in the Tory-led coalition is Cllr Jim Lindridge, a Hartlepool People Independent who left Labour in late 2020 within days of Cllr Brown.
Another current coalition Independent, Cllr Tim Fleming, won his seat as a UKIP candidate in 2016. With four other councillors, he quit UKIP in 2018 to escape the national party’s toxic image, joining their new Independent Group. This transformed into the Independent Union in 2019. Later that year, Fleming and other old UKIP hands joined the Brexit Party, forming a new coalition with the Tories, then they reverted back to the Independent Union whilst remaining Tory allies.
The political career of independent and coalition member Cllr Shane Moore has followed a similar trajectory to Cllr Fleming’s. Cllr Moore started off as a member of the Conservative Party before defecting to Ukip, then Independent Group, Independent Union, Brexit Party and Independent Union again. He is leader of the council and Tees Valley Deputy Mayor under Ben Houchen. He also has two convictions for drink-driving whilst he was working as a tanker driver.
The coalition independents remain outside the Conservative Party and are not officially subject to the Tory whip.