Former mayor of Sudbury among pair of councillors to leave Babergh Conservatives to serve as independents
The Conservative Party’s hold on Babergh District Council has been dealt another blow, after two prominent members defected this week to serve as independents.
Long-serving councillors Sue Ayres and Margaret Maybury left the Babergh Tories on Monday over policy disagreements, with both citing the controversial proposal to change the council’s name as “the last straw” that led to their decisions.
This exodus means the Tories, who previously lost their overall majority following the most recent local elections in May, now hold just 13 of the authority’s 32 seats, while the number of independents rises from eight to 10.
Cllr Ayres, who represents Sudbury South West and has formerly served as the town’s mayor, said she had been a part of the Babergh Conservatives for 55 years, but her decision to cross the floor at the district council was prompted by feedback from residents.
“It was a build-up of several issues,” she told the Free Press. “For a while, I have been wanting to be free of the restrictions of the South Suffolk Conservatives’ Association.
“The final straw was this rubbish about trying to get rid of the Babergh name. There are so many people who are against it.
“Nationally, it’s all very worrying. Lots of people are worried about where the country is going.
“Part of the guidance for being a councillor is you are there to serve the community who voted for you, not to have your own agenda.
“I have to represent my ward, and that’s what I want to do with honesty and integrity.”
This sentiment was echoed by Cllr Maybury, who represents Lavenham.
She claimed there had been an underlying issue for some time at the council of members feeling forced to follow their party line, arguing this was not in the interest of those who had elected her.
“Residents talk to me and rely on me to make the right decision,” she said. “To be told a decision has been made and I need to align with that, I think is completely wrong.
“I am a person of principles and am very loyal, so this has caused me great heartache and I’ve done a great deal of soul searching.
“If I feel I have to toe the party line when I believe something is wrong for the residents, I’m going to stick up for the residents, because they are the ones who have put me in this very privileged position.
“As a councillor, I have to represent the residents and their needs. How can I respond to residents, some of whom are struggling, and say we want to change the name instead of spending money on an actual policy? I don’t feel I can.”
Following the departures, Babergh District Council’s Conservative leader John Ward expressed disappointment at the decisions of both councillors, but added that the administration will not be affected and will remain “a collaborative one that is working together for the benefit of our residents.”
He said: “Cllr Ayres’ decision was a complete surprise, as she hadn’t let me know that she had reservations about anything.
“We have always got on very well and, should she change her mind, I would welcome her back.
“Cllr Maybury has been very upset since losing her cabinet position after the election. It is a cross-party cabinet now and so not all of the positions can be filled by Conservatives.
“As one of the weaker members of the previous cabinet, I had to consider what is best for Babergh when choosing the new one. I now have a very capable team in place, drawing on experience from other political groups.”
However, this was disputed by Cllr Maybury, who stated she always had been and always will be a hard-working councillor, pointing to her work on health matters, community groups and securing funds for leisure centre improvements.