Doug Bainbridge: Stevenage Labour councillor defects to Conservatives over wait for town centre regeneration

PUBLISHED: 06:57 23 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:36 23 November 2017

Councillor Doug Bainbridge, second from right, with Stevenage Conservative Association chairman Alexander Clarkson, local government minister Marcus Jones and Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland. Picture: Conservative Party

Councillor Doug Bainbridge, second from right, with Stevenage Conservative Association chairman Alexander Clarkson, local government minister Marcus Jones and Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland. Picture: Conservative Party

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A Stevenage Labour councillor has joined the Conservatives, citing unease with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the lack of progress on the long-awaited town centre regeneration.

Announcing his defection last night, Doug Bainbridge – who represents Longmeadow – told Stevenage Borough Council’s controlling Labour group to “step aside” and let Conservative MP Stephen McPartland lead the way on the town centre rebuild.

Mr Bainbridge said: “I have never really been a socialist and it is clear the Labour Party in Stevenage are becoming more extreme as they follow Jeremy Corbyn.

“There is also an obsession with Stevenage Borough Council controlling the town centre regeneration, but they have no money to do it. The council launched their plans over 22 years ago and have never got them off the ground. It is time the Labour council stepped aside, stopped coming up with unfunded schemes, and let developers work with our local member of parliament to get the job done.”

Mr Bainbridge gained his seat from the Tories when he was elected for Labour in 2014.

Last year, he signed a letter backing Owen Smith to replace Mr Corbyn as Labour leader. Council leader Sharon Taylor, then-mayor John Lloyd and current mayor Pam Stuart also supported Mr Smith.

Mr Bainbridge retains his seat after changing party, and will run for re-election as a Conservative in May 2018. His switch means Stevenage Borough Council now has 27 Labour members, nine Tories and three Lib Dems.

Stevenage Conservative Association chairman Alexander Clarkson said: “Councillor Bainbridge is a fantastic community campaigner and someone who always puts the interests of local people first. He is a great addition to our team.

“The Conservative government has made over £30 million available to pump into priming the regeneration and we need to be allowed to get on with it.”

Mr McPartland added: “I love Stevenage, but its town centre is not fit for purpose. It needs regenerating and bringing forward into the 21st century. The latest plan fails to regenerate the town centre, as it does not include the shops in Queensway – but don’t worry, it includes fancy new council offices!”

A Stevenage Labour Party spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed to hear that Councillor Doug Bainbridge has crossed the floor to the Conservatives – as will be Labour supporters who voted for him – but thank him for his service.

“We presume this is due to the fact he was not selected to stand again by local members in his own area.

“He will quickly realise that he has got it wrong on town centre regeneration and is moving against the tide of public opinion that overwhelmingly in Stevenage wants to see the comprehensive regeneration of Stevenage town centre, the building of much-needed new homes, and the delivery of new jobs.

“It must be incomprehensible to the Labour voters who supported Mr Bainbridge that he has chosen instead to join a Tory party in chaos, who are wrecking our economy with their internal squabbles over Brexit, and whose MP is intent on blocking our comprehensive regeneration plans.”

The Stevenage branch of Momentum, an activist organisation supporting Mr Corbyn, issued its own statement calling Mr Bainbridge’s defection “grossly unfair on the residents of Longmeadow”, and highlighting Labour members’ recent decision not to re-select him as a candidate.

Momentum Stevenage said the councillor’s switch “crucially displays the political weakness of someone so willing to side with a shambolic and cruel Tory party, who on a daily basis are slashing the living standards of people right across the UK”.

The group added: “We cannot help but feel that the timing of this resignation may be far less about the town centre regeneration nor Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, but instead about saving his own skin.

“We look forward to campaigning and unseating Councillor Bainbridge in the May 2018 elections, and installing a genuine representative of the Labour Party – and the Labour movement – who understands that we are a democratic socialist party, and knows what the people of Longmeadow want and need in their town.”

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