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Royal Borough councillor quits Tories over 'autocratic leader'

‘Systemic, sanctioned autocracy’ at the heart of the Royal Borough’s Conservative party has prompted a prominent councillor to quit.

Cllr Claire Stretton, who represents Maidenhead’s Oldfield ward, will now sit as an independent after resigning her membership Conservative Councillors’ Association.

Until Tuesday (January 16) she had been sitting as an ‘Independent Conservative’, after leaving the Royal Borough’s Conservative group in protest at the ‘autocratic style’ of Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Maidenhead Riverside).

In her letter, Cllr Stretton said: “I have now come to the conclusion that this systemic, sanctioned autocracy via the leader’s power, coupled with all decisions being made in secret party group meetings and then whipped, means that there is no place for political parties in local government.

“The only way to have open, transparent and democratic government, truly representing local needs as opposed to political doctrine, is for all councillors to be independent.”

Cllr Stretton was previously cabinet member for Communities under the leadership of Cllr David Burbage (Con, Bray), who was ousted from the top job and replaced by Cllr Dudley in 2016.

However, she claims that from day one Cllr Dudley had ‘displayed an autocratic style’ and that concerns she raised with wider Conservative group had been ignored.

She added: “I have watched with disbelief this behaviour become more and more extreme and undemocratic since then, culminating in his actions over Christmas when he communicated in a letter his own position on a highly sensitive matter, purportedly on behalf of the Council, but with no consultation other than with his Deputy, Cllr Phill Bicknell.

“Whilst his opinion regarding the subject of the letter is deplorable, the fact that he chose to voice his opinion with no evidence or advice from Officers, or wider consultation, is typical of his arrogant and cavalier approach.”

Cllr Stretton said she would continue to serve as an independent councillor but that she would not represent a political party in future.

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