THE leader of the opposition on South Tyneside Council has jumped ship from the UK Independence Party – less than three months after joining.
UKIP looked to have pulled off a political coup when three independent borough councillors defected to it.
George Elsom, Steve Harrison and Linda Hemmer all officially signed up at the beginning of June in a bid to break Labour’s stranglehold on power in the council chamber.
Now Coun Elsom, official opposition leader and representative for the Cleadon Park ward, in South Shields, has resigned from the party.
He says he believes UKIP is more interested in making a political dent nationally and in Europe than putting resources into supporting candidates on a local level.
His resignation leaves the future of the political opposition in the borough hanging in the balance.
Labour has a stranglehold on power, with 49 elected members compared with the opposition’s five.
Coun Elsom, who hopes to continue working with his two fellow “defectors”, denied that joining UKIP was a mistake.
He said his move was a bid to “dip our toes into the water” in an attempt to provide a stronger opposition in South Tyneside.
He said: “UKIP announced some time ago that it was growing from a single-issue pressure group to one which was developing policies across the board, including local government and community issues.
“We looked carefully at their proposals, as anything that could help to strengthen the opposition group would be worthwhile and in the interests of South Tyneside residents.
“Unfortunately, circumstances and events have made it abundantly clear to me that this will not occur in the short-term.
“I believe there is a need to provide an effective opposition leadership on the council, and I am certain that the only way to do this, at present, is as an independent councillor, so I have resigned from UKIP.
“In my view, a councillor’s primary duties are to represent their electorate, and to deal with cases, issues and needs in the ward they represent.”
Coun Elsom said he is now aiming to recruit other independents to stand at next May’s local elections to offer an alternative to what he believes is a “dominant and dictatorial” ruling Labour group.