Hatfield Town Council party leader quits Tories saying 'it's the last straw'
PUBLISHED: 17:01 10 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:01 11 May 2018
supplied by Hatfield Town Council
Self-described "lifelong Conservative" councillor Frank Bowron, leader of the Conservative Group at Hatfield Town Council, has left the party and will continue his term as an independent.
Cllr Bowron, town councillor for West Ward, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times that he could no longer campaign for the Conservative Party, saying “it’s built up for quite some time”.
His disaffection started in earnest with the Work Capability Assessments for people with disabilities, initially carried out by Atos, in which people had to prove they were not fit to work in a process that has been criticised as overly punitive and badly run.
Due to a family interest in the matter, he gave evidence to a select committee on the issue in 2015.
“I carried on with my activism, but then came the 2017 election and the party put out that terrible manifesto and I couldn’t campaign,” he said.
“It was rubbish, the whole manifesto. I didn’t agree with a single word of it, so I stayed at home.
“I’m not happy with anything that’s going on.”
An RAF veteran, he cares deeply about the armed forces, and is critical of the decision to reduce the army by 22 per cent.
But he said the final straw was on Tuesday, after health and social care minister Jeremy Hunt announced plans to levy 12 per cent national insurance from the working over-65s.
On May 8, he tweeted: “Jeremy Hunt re-imposes the 12 per cent NI contributions on those of us struggling to provide for our old age. B*****d! That’s the last straw in a series of financial disasters imposed on me and my family since 2015. The Conservative Party and I must part company.”
Currently, people stop paying their national insurance when they reach retirement age, but many continue working, including Cllr Bowron who is an avionics engineer.
“I’m 71 years old and I’m still working because I can’t afford to retire,” he told the Welwyn Hatfield Times. “A majority of pensioners are drawing a pension they can’t live on, and they’re working part time.
“It’s just not acceptable. If it passed into law it would be a disaster.”
In a later tweet, he said: “The present Tory Party has abandoned its Conservative principles. Indeed, all principles.”
He has written in detail about his concerns to the party and to Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps.
The Welwyn Hatfield Times has invited the MP to comment.
A spokesperson for the Welwyn Hatfield Conservatives said: “We’re very disappointed that Frank decided to make this decision and that he no longer feels that he can be part of the Conservative Group.”
Cllr Bowron says he will continue as an independent until May 2019, so as not to trigger a by-election.
He will remain on all his current committees.
This will mean that the Resources and Policy committee, with a Labour presence of four and now an independent presence of one, will have its Conservative membership reduced to one.
There will also no longer be a Conservative on the Establishment Sub-committee.
Labour town council leader Lenny Brandon for Hatfield East said: “I personally think it’s a very good decision,” adding that it had “softened the blow” of Labour not winning Hatfield Villages in the May 3 town council elections.
“Frank and I have got a very good working relationship, and I admire the way he operates,” he said.
In his time as a Conservative councillor the work Cllr Bowron is most proud of is the ongoing efforts to renew Ellenbrook playground along with Cllr Brandon and Councillor James Broach.
After May 2019, Cllr Bowron plans not to campaign as an independent due to the difficulties of activism without party support.
“I enjoy that work, but what can you do when you don’t agree with what’s being done?
“I can’t get out on the streets and support the party.”
Cllr Bowron said that it will not be the end of his political involvement. “It’s the end of my activism, rather than politics,” he said, adding that he is considering getting involved in the community in other ways, such as school governance or volunteering.
“I won’t have any free time. I’ll end up doing something else.”