New political party forms

Coun Geoff Lilley
Coun Geoff Lilley

INDEPENDENT councillors have joined forces to form a new political party.

Hartlepool Independents – Putting Hartlepool First has formed in a bid to give independents more of a say within the council chamber, which is dominated by the Labour group.

Independent councillor Geoff Lilley is the leader of the party which also includes fellow independents Alison Lilley and Steve Gibbon.

They say the aim is to set party politics aside, and they would welcome members from other parties to join them.

The Labour group currently takes up more than half of the elected councillor positions on Hartlepool Borough Council with 29 out of the 47 seats.

Coun Geoff Lilley said: “Hartlepool hospital is a classic case of national party policy being enforced over local interest.

“While the Labour Government was in power the town’s Labour councillors were almost totally silent about the issue because it was Labour Party policy.

“Now the Con-Dems are in power, Hartlepool’s Labour councillors are claiming to have always opposed the hospital closure.”

The party intends to field candidates in the May 2012 local elections, which will be fought under the new boundaries when the number of councillors is slashed from 47 to 33.

The list of candidates won’t be released until closer to the election.

Party treasurer Coun Gibbon said: “The new boundaries appear to have been drawn to advantage the Labour party, not reflect local wishes.

“The Headland and Harbour ward is the glaring example but most of the other ward boundaries are set for party political advantage, not to reflect the natural communities within the town.”

Meanwhile, former UKIP councillor Stephen Allison, who is the party’s campaigns officer, said: “For too many councillors in Hartlepool Civic Centre it looks like they put party first, political career second and Hartlepool at best a distant third.

“Hartlepool First wants to change those priorities.”

The new party, which has its own logo, has formally registered with the UK Electoral Commission.

Coun Geoff Lilley added: “In Hartlepool Council at the moment the independents are easily brushed aside because they don’t work together.

“Forming Hartlepool First means we can combine our strength and really have a chance of defeating decades of Labour dominance in the council chamber.”

The party lists nine policies on its website including a pledge to support local businesses, to obtain best value for public money and zero council tax increases.

Coun Alison Lilley said: “Putting Hartlepool first is something I have always done, and this is just formalising that.”

Councillors Geoff and Alison Lilley and Coun Gibbon used to be members of the Association of Independent Councillors, another group formed by councillors without any party allegiances in Hartlepool back in May 2010, until they resigned on Monday.

As yet, the political party is not a registered group within the council chamber so the leader does not qualify for a leader’s allowance.

There would also need to be more than three councillors as members.