Why Conservative Calderdale councillor left party to become first Change UK member

Calderdale Councillor Colin Peel
Calderdale Councillor Colin Peel

A wish to return to centre ground politics through a new political party’s offer is behind a Calderdale councillor’s decision to leave the Conservative group.

Coun Colin Peel, who will now represent Brighouse as the council’s first Change UK councillor, said he felt nationally that the middle ground had been deserted by the two main parties and Change UK offered the best chance of mapping a new way forward.

“In joining Change UK I want to bring new ways of achieving results instead of the old left and right pitch.

“It is still young, still forming and the chance to be in there at the beginning is a significant part of it. This is the honeymoon period. The hard work starts now.

“We have to build up the grass roots in each of the communities, get membership and get a message out there that people can follow.”

He admitted there were no guarantees the party would be successful or able to achieve new goals but the right thing to do was to try, he said. Coun Peel is old enough to remember the formation of the SDP in 1981, which eventually merged with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats.

“There is a chance of it fading away disappointed – but that shouldn’t stop us trying,” he said.

He has met with senior Change UK figures and has been encouraged by what he has heard them say.

“The old system is broken and needing a better way forward,” he said.

It was not being said that would be through proportional representation but PR would form part of the party’s discussion.

Policies had still to be developed and helping shape them was exciting, said Coun Peel, and they would offer something for the centre ground.

“The centre is empty – but that is where the public are. They want to get on with their lives, have services delivered but paid for. That’s what local politics is. They also want that nationally.

“I do want change. I want to see a different politics, I want to see faith put back into politics, in the centre ground with a modern approach where there is more consensus, more inclusion, where the right people are making decisions for the right reasons – a new politics for the 21st century,” he said,” he said.

He believed the Liberal Democrats should naturally offer that alternative but he felt they were not. “They are just as entrenched in their outdated thinking and methods as the other two, therefore a fresh approach is needed,” said Coun Peel.

He said he would continue to represent the people of Brighouse on Calderdale Council – Conservative Group Leader on Calderdale Council, Coun Scott Benton, has argued he should resign and fight the seat afresh.

Coun Peel said it was national politics that eventually saw him reach his decision and not issues with his former Conservative colleagues locally.

Channel 4 television footage recently filmed him answering a question “on the hoof” while campaigning for the Conservatives ahead of May’s council elections which seemed to indicate he was considering switching parties, but he says it was actually the experience of canvassing this year which really got him thinking.

He thinks a referendum or even a series of them on various Brexit options might be inevitable because Parliament had shown it could not answer the question which had been asked – so the people would have to, but he was not wedded to the idea.

Coun Peel said he had faced what he says was real anger on the doorstep for the first time purely because he was a politician, in reaction to the Brexit situation.

“I had knocked on hundreds of doors, delivered thousands of leaflets and had hundreds of conversations. Everyone wanted to talk about Brexit and what is happening in politics and I had no answers.

“I looked at where we were, where the party is and the leadership is, and there is open revolt, MPs talking down their own leader and that’s not what we should be doing,” he said.

“I had to look at myself and say can I keep on pretending there isn’t a problem and I couldn’t. I had to decide on what to do about that.”

Coun Peel said he considered just becoming an independent councillor but wanted to make a difference and believes that is more likely through a party representation.

“When I looked around all I could see was Change UK. I know a lot of ‘blues’ have gone over to the Brexit Party but that’s a one issue thing and as soon as the European Elections are over it could disappear,” he said.

He does say, referring to Coun Benton, that “Scott and I are different ‘blues'” and Coun Peel feels it is his lighter shade of blue that means he is able to choose the Change UK option. “It wasn’t a casual thing to do but a necessary thing to do,” he said.

“Change UK will take the middle ground and hopefully become big enough to make a difference – let’s see.”