Conservative candidate quits council elections over Brexit
Tories play down talk of exodus of councillors and candidates ahead of boroughwide vote
15 February, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Marx de Morais
A CONSERVATIVE election candidate has quit the race after claiming his party was not taking Brexit seriously enough on the doorstep.
Marx de Morais said he was tired of hearing that Britain’s divorce from the European Union was not an issue for residents voting. The Tories are fielding candidates from both the Remain and Leave camps in Camden, an area where people heavily voted in favour of staying in the EU.
When asked whether Brexiteers would find the political landscape at local elections difficult at May’s local elections, the line from the party has regularly been that people will not vote on national – or international issues – when choosing their next councillors.
But in an explosive letter to the New Journal, Mr De Morais, who was due to stand in Gospel Oak ward where he has already contested a by-election in the past, said he did not agree and that he could no longer “represent the actual politics of the Camden Conservatives in front of voters, and it would be hypocritical of me if I would say otherwise. Hate and assault, division, xenophobia and belief in one’s own superiority, they are challenges of our time.”
He added: “I joined the Conservatives as it was a party where open, liberal people wanted to shape the future… This has changed over the last few months. It is the right wing that has been able to expand and take over more and more relevant positions.” His departure from the elections comes amid an exodus of councillors and candidates, although the party is insistent each individual’s decision has been based on personal life choices rather than a change of heart based on Labour’s success in London during last year’s general election.
Siobhan Baillie, pictured with group leader Gio Spinella, is among the councillors stepping down
Councillors Tom Currie, Andrew Mennear and Siobhan Baillie are stepping down, while previously selected candidates Charlotte Kude, Chantelle de Villiers, Helen Harris, Nick Grierson and Hamish Hunter have now decided they will not stand, largely based on decisions to move out of the borough or to take new private work. Also leaving is former group leader Claire-Louise Leyland.
Her successor Gio Spinella said: “Yes, Brexit comes up when we are canvassing: it is in every newspaper, every talk show after all. It is the national debate. But it is not the exclusive topic on the doorstep, nor the primary one. More and more, bin collections come up. If you vote on Brexit at these elections, you miss the chance to have a concrete say on issues you can change at a local level.”
The Tories will also be without the long-serving Jonny Bucknell at the polls, after he has been deselected, and Andrew Marshall, a former group leader who is now a member of the Liberal Democrats after quitting the party in protest as the Conservatives’ approach to Brexit. Cllr Spinella said he could appreciate how the shuffling of the candidate list might look from the outside but in each case people had given personal reasons based on changing life circumstances.
Former group leader Andrew Marshall joined the Lib Dems
Labour already hold a strong majority at the Town Hall and are looking to scythe back the Tory opposition even further by taking target wards in Belsize and Swiss Cottage. Strategists would also like to pick off Lib Dem and Green councillors in Fortune Green and Highgate, amid talk of an Islington-style Labour landslide.
Mr Spinella said: “The irony of the Brexit debate is that the prime minister was a Remainer while the leader of the Labour party has been a lifelong Brexiteer, so for Labour to be somehow presenting itself as the party of the Remain is disingenuous. ” He said Mr de Morais’ use of the word xenophobic was “offensive”, adding: “I am an EU national as an Italian, my deputy leader is Jamaican, our whip is French, we have people from a diverse range of backgrounds.”