THE UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) general election campaign has got off to a bumpy start in South Tyneside amid claim and counter-claim.
The party has issued a statement saying former councillor Steve Harrison has been removed from his position as chairman of the South Tyneside branch, because of a “failure to comply with internal party rules”.
That has been rejected by Mr Harrison, who says he stood down to concentrate on his campaign as UKIP’s Parliamentary candidate for the Jarrow Constituency at May’s general election.
The party was on a crest of a political wave back in May 2013 when its candidate in the South Shields Parliamentary by-election, Richard Elvin, polled almost 25 per cent of the vote in finishing second to Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck.
A month later, the party enjoyed a political coup when three borough councillors joined its ranks.
However, Coun George Elsom, for Cleadon Park, left the party within three months, admitting his decision to join the UKIP ranks a “mistake” and returning to the council chamber as an independent.
At last year’s May local elections, Mr Harrison, another defector, lost his seat in Fellgate and Hedworth, leaving his fellow ward member Coun Linda Hemmer as UKIP’s sole representative on the council.
The party’s fortunes changed again in October last year when Coun Norman Dennis snatched victory in the Westoe by-election, but the general election campaign has got off to a less than smooth start.
The party has confirmed that Coun Dennis has been selected as its Parliamentary candidate for South Shields, just months after his by-election triumph.
The regional UKIP spokesman said: “Steve Harrison was indeed removed as branch chairman of South Tyneside late in 2014 following a failure to comply with internal party rules.
“Mr Harrison had the right of appeal against this decision, but declined to exercise that right.
“The party’s membership locally continues to grow, and Coun Norman Dennis is an excellent candidate in an area where UKIP has high hopes, after gaining close to 25 per cent of the vote nearly two years ago in a Parliamentary by-election”.
Mr Harrison said: “All branch committees have received a recommendation from the party chairman that any chairman or vice-chairman who has been adopted as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, should consider their position until after the general election in order to concentrate on their campaigns.
“After giving this careful thought, I realised the wisdom of this advice and have decided to announce at our branch meeting on Tuesday that I will be standing down as chairman of the South Tyneside branch, so that I can direct all my efforts into my Westminster campaign.”