THE last remaining Lib Dem councillor in South Tyneside is quitting his party “in disgust” to stand as an independent candidate in May’s local elections, it was revealed today.
After representing the Hebburn North ward as a Lib Dem for a dozen years, Coun Joe Abbott said he no longer believes in his party since it joined the coalition Government.
Coun Abbott said: “I have been unhappy with the Lib Dems since we had a hung Parliament, and my party later joined with the Tories.
“I feel the cuts they have supported have been too fast and too deep, and that they are out of touch with the working class people I represent.”
Coun Abbott, 63, a father and grandfather, who was born and raised in Hebburn Quay – the area he has represented on South Tyneside Council since he was elected as a Lib Dem member in late 1999 – added that he is “very unhappy” with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and the direction the party has taken since joining forces with the Conservatives.
“We have gone back on our policies on issues like tuition fees, and I generally feel that the Lib Dems have been a disaster since joining the coalition Government.
“All my party colleagues know how I feel, but I didn’t want to spark a by-election before May, so I waited to stand as an independent candidate,” Coun Abbott added.
The retired joiner added that former Hebburn North Lib Dem councillors, John McKie and Joe Atkinson, feel similarly “disillusioned” with their party, and are backing Coun Abbott’s political campaign.
But the ex-Labour supporter stressed that his decision to break away from the Lib Dems was not taken lightly.
Coun Abbott said: “I have been thinking this over for a long time, and it’s caused me a lot of distress, but I cannot stand as a Lib Dem.
“It’s a great shame there will be no Lib Dem councillor in Hebburn North after more than a dozen years, but I have to follow my conscience on this,” he added.
A former Labour stronghold, Hebburn North ward was dominated by Lib Dems until recent years.
But Labour regained two of the ward’s three seats in recent local elections.
Coun Abbott added: “I’m the last Lib Dem on the council, and people have been calling me the ‘lone ranger.’ I’ve told local party officials about my decision, and just hope the people of Hebburn North continue to support me.”
Despite rumours to the contrary, Coun Abbott said he never planned to ‘cross the floor’ and join the Labour Party.