TWO South Tyneside councillors have revealed they are “undecided” about standing as UK Independence Party candidates at future local elections – after a party colleague quit less than three months after joining.
Coun George Elsom, official opposition leader on South Tyneside Council, last week announced he was leaving UKIP, which he only joined this summer in order to smash Labour’s political power stranglehold in the borough.
Now Steve Harrison and Linda Hemmer have revealed they have not made their minds up about standing for UKIP – or any other political party – at local elections in 2014 and 2015.
Although still “committed” to supporting UKIP, which they joined at the start of June, both say they are still considering their future political options.
And both councillors, who represent the Fellgate and Hedworth ward in Jarrow, say they “understand” the reasons Coun Elsom quit UKIP.
Coun Harrison said: “George dipped his toe in the water and decided that he didn’t like aspects of UKIP, and Linda and I respect that.
“But we joined UKIP because we were able to maintain our political independence and because there is no whip on local councillors with the party, as there is with Labour.
“Linda and I still consider ourselves independents. It’s always been about serving the local people in our ward, never about party politics.
“We can call on the power of UKIP on bigger issues, but there has never been any interference from the party at local level.”
Coun Harrison was a Labour Party member for 12 years, but quit in 2003, after becoming “disillusioned” with the party.
Pressed to say if he will stand as a UKIP candidate in South Tyneside next year, Coun Harrison said: “I would have to go through the proper selection process and it hasn’t got to that stage yet.
“It’s not simply that I haven’t decided I won’t stand for UKIP, but that I haven’t decided I will stand for re-election at all.”
But both councillors are still backing UKIP, which will hold a recruitment meeting at the Little Haven Hotel, in River Drive, South Shields, at 7pm on Tuesday.
Coun Hemmer said: “I haven’t decided if I’m even standing for election in two years’ time.
“Being a councillor is a difficult role and I cannot say what the future holds.
“I understand George’s reasons for leaving UKIP and respect those reasons, but all three of us will still work together as independent councillors.
“Steve and I are still independent councillors, but operating under the umbrella of UKIP.
“But as I’ve said before, I don’t do party politics – I do people – and UKIP puts no party whip on us.
“I left Labour because I was disgusted with the party and remain disgusted over issues such as the closure of Queens Road Day Centre in Jarrow.
“But I don’t know if I’m standing as a candidate for any party in 2015.”
Coun Elsom, who represents the Cleadon Park ward, in South Shields, denied that joining UKIP was “a mistake”.
He said he quit because he did not believe membership would help bolster the political opposition in the borough, for the greater good of the people of South Tyneside.