A LABOUR councillor has shocked the Swindon political establishment by defecting to the Conservative Party.

Coun Matthew Courtliff was only elected to the Lydiard and Freshbrook ward in May, clinching the seat for Labour after a closely fought contest.

He described his victory as a "new start for Swindon Labour."

But now, just five months on, he has decided to cross the council chamber.

Coun Courtliff said: "I stood for election to serve the people of Lydiard and Freshbrook and, at that time, I believed the Labour Party offered the best vision for the ward and the borough's future.

“Unfortunately, the direction of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has been out of touch with the needs of the country, and with my son’s birth seven weeks away, I have had to make a decision for his future, my residents’ future and the country’s future, and I look forward to Theresa May’s leadership.
“I have been impressed by the Conservative administration’s vision for Swindon, and by its willingness under the strong leadership of Councillor David Renard to take the necessary decisions that will provide a sustainable future for public services while also supporting the vital private sector on which we depend.

“I look forward to working with Councillor Renard and my Conservative colleagues Caryl Sydney-Smith and Tim Swinyard to find the best solutions for the challenges that face our ward and the borough.”

The young councillor, who was just 25 when he was elected, campaigned on a pledge to keep Lydiard Park and House from falling into commercial hands as the council looks to offload control of the popular site next year. 

It is understood that he has been offered assurances about the future of the Lydiard site although given the council is still engaged in a bidding process it is unclear how firm these could be. 

Leader of the Council and the Conservative Group, Coun David Renard, added: “I am delighted to welcome Matthew as a Conservative councillor.

"He has thought long and hard about how best to serve the residents of the ward and crossing the floor requires great courage.  

"He is most welcome in the Swindon Conservative Group."

Coun Jim Grant, leader of the Labour Group on Swindon Borough Council, said: "To join the Conservative Party five months after being elected as a Labour councillor for a four-year term is a terribly dishonourable position and represents the worst about politics.  

"I really don’t know how Coun Courtliff will be able to justify his decision to the 1,421 people in Lydiard and Freshbrook Ward who voted for him as a Labour candidate.

"Swindon’s Labour councillors will continue holding the Conservative council to account, particularly their proposals relating to transferring Lydiard Park out of public control; ignoring the views of residents to introduce new parish councils in order to dramatically increase residents’ council-taxes and cuts to bus services and the Dial a Ride service.

"Coun Courtliff campaigned vehemently against these policies so it will be interesting to see how he justifies this change of heart.”

Conservative MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland, said: "I am delighted to welcome Matthew to the Conservatives.  

"More and more people are recognising that the Conservatives led by Theresa May offer the only positive and realistic choice for our country.  

"I look forward to working with Matthew on local issues in the years ahead."

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after he announced his defection to the Conservative Party, Coun Courtliff declared that he had made a "terrible mistake" and changed his mind.

The full details of that u-turn are available at http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/14811132.Labour_councillor_in_dramatic_defection_U_turn/