There will be a potentially very significant new factor in May’s local elections in Swindon – assuming they go ahead.

The Independent Tories, a two-councillor group made up of former Conservatives Oliver Donachie and Emma Faramarzi, are aiming to be fielding candidates in every marginal ward.

And if that happens then it's possible they could affect the Conservative vote – and potentially bring about a change in administration for Swindon Borough Council.

De facto leader Coun Donachie said: “We are here to provide a credible alternative to people who feel the Conservative group led by David Renard is failing the people of Swindon but they do not wish to vote for the Labour party to do so.

"People are exhausted with hearing the same tired promises to fix issues that simply never materialise. We are committed to action and not words.”

Coun Donachie was – until his split with the Conservatives in May – the cabinet member for economy and place.

He is alarmed by the headline figure that all of the council's spending commitments could leave it in a huge debt.

He said: “We believe the administration is handling the finances of the council terribly.

"The £400m of debt is clear proof of this. We would undertake a zero-line budget review in every area to reveal inefficiency.

"This has never been undertaken in any substantial way. Things are just hidden behind endless borrowing. When the Conservatives took power they inherited a good cash position, they are now in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt with no sign whatsoever of the situation getting better.

“We will also use this opportunity to review all programmes that are nothing more than political vanity projects and focus on what the people of Swindon actually need post Covid-19.”

As a pitch to voters Coun Donachie said: “We will not vote for any rises in council tax.

"We will continue to vote against any more councillor pay increases like the one taken in 2020. We will continue to block any plans around four-weekly bin collections.

“We will immediately undertake a genuine exercise to identify a sustainable way to protect the Oasis.

“Anyone who is bothered that we have one of the worst education outcomes in the country; we have one of the worst-rated town centres in the country; not a single spoon of earth has moved in the much-promised 'Snoasis'; we have some of the worst performing road repairs in the country; and that the leader of the council signed the Oasis to GLL and the council is nearly half a billion pounds in debt, should vote for us.

“We know how to tackle these issues straight on without political spin. We are here because we care about Swindon and its residents. There is no higher priority for us.”

Coun Donachie thinks he may lose his Haydon Wick seat in May after holding it for nearly a decade. But he hopes the Independent Tories might still hold the balance of power in the council chamber.

And that might mean Independent Tory councillors such as Coun Faramazi – who represents Priory Vale – may even support Labour group leader Jim Grant to form an administration.

Coun Donachie said: “The numbers on the council mean outright control is unlikely.

“We will work with anyone who shows genuine leadership and asks what puts the people of Swindon at the centre of the decision and not just trying to advance their position within political parties.

"We are not about red versus blue, we just want to work with good councillors who understand basic business management. People may be shocked to learn it's possible to have key cabinet positions with no qualification or knowledge of the field you are tasked to represent.

“We believe that good and qualified people exist within all the parties – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem.

"We will work with anyone looking for a way to start digging our way out of this crisis, whichever party is showing a credibly plan to resolve any of the issues we have listed for the good of Swindon residents.”

Coun Donachie said his new group and his antipathy to the current administration is not simply the result of a personal falling-out with Coun Renard, a fellow Haydon Wick councillor.

He said: “The angle that this is a personal issue is just a Conservative distraction from the £400m of debt, some of the worst education, road and town centre outcomes in the country.

“You will notice the Conservatives have no response to that, they simply focus on the individual. It’s a smokescreen and the oldest trick in the Conservative bag.

“It is time for residents to take control of this situation. They can help us do so in May.”

The birth of the Independent Tories

The Independent Tories were set up by Councillor Oliver Donachie after what has become an acrimonious split with the Conservatives – and particularly, it seems, their leader David Renard.

Coun Donachie was still a member of Coun Renard’s cabinet in May when he attended a meeting of the council’s special committee, set up to replace full council meetings in the early days of lockdown.

He was unhappy with what seemed a technical measure to give officers more powers to make quicker decisions, feeling there wasn’t enough oversight by elected members.

Within days Coun Donachie had resigned from the cabinet and the Conservative group and was sitting as an independent councillor.

He was very critical of the Tory administration in both the Adver and on Facebook pages he managed. The split seemed terminal.

It then emerged in August that Coun Donachie had applied to rejoin the Conservative group, and councillors voted to let him by a narrow margin after a difficult meeting.

But that broke down after Coun Donachie and Coun Renard could not agree.

A motion of no confidence in Coun Renard’s leadership of the council was put forward by Coun Donachie, only to be withdrawn at the last minute amid allegations of intimidating messages being made to at least one councillor.

It is apparent now there can be no reconciliation between Coun Donachie and the Conservatives led by Coun Renard.

It will be fascinating to see how this split between former colleagues affects Swindon’s electoral map.

Local elections coverage in the Adver

Local elections which should have been held last May were postponed for a year are still scheduled to take place 12 months later.

The universal hope is that increasing numbers of vaccinated people will mean we the coronavirus pandemic is under some sort of control – and politics as normal might return to centre stage.

Today's report on the Independent Tories kicks off an Adver series on the parties who will be vying for your attention on Thursday, May 6.

An new name on the ballot papers, the group was set up in the summer by former Conservative cabinet member Oliver Donachie.

It has two members in the Swindon Borough Council chamber at the moment but has ambitions to make a difference come May.

Ove the next few weeks we will be featuring other parties in the chamber, with the ruling Conservatives in profile on Wednesday, January 20.