LABOUR has lost overall control of York after one of its councillors dramatically quit the party and joined the Conservatives.

Clifton councillor Helen Douglas said Labour had no vision nationally and the wrong vision locally, and hit out at the way the York party was run.

Her defection is the third from Labour in just over two years and leaves the party with only 23 of the 47 seats on City of York Council. The party will be plunged into minority control if it loses next month's by-election in Westfield, prompted by the recent death of Cllr Lynn Jeffries.

If that happens, Labour could struggle to pass major decisions between now and next May's council elections, including the controversial Local Plan, which sets out the legally-binding blueprint for the future development of the city and its greenbelt.

Cllr Douglas said: "I do not think Labour nationally has a vision. Labour locally does have a vision - but it is misguided."

She said her decision was prompted more by national than local politics but said she had become "fed up" with Labour at both levels.

Cllr Douglas was deselected by Labour in May along with fellow Clifton councillors Ken King and David Scott. It is not yet confirmed whether she will stand there or elsewhere for the Conservatives next May but she said she would not be standing down to force a by-election. Asked how Labour voters would feel by her defection, she said many in Clifton had told her they too planned to vote Conservative.

Cllr Douglas said she feared Labour had taken on too much debt for the council and said the cabinet had too often told backbenchers "only what they want them to know". She criticised what she saw as a lack of political balance on the Fairness Commission and said there had been no “real achievements” from the recent Fairness Conference, which cost more than £10,000.

Conservative leader Chris Steward said: "I am absolutely delighted to welcome Helen to the group. Her record speaks for itself as someone who has always worked hard for her residents and for York.

"Although until now I have been on the opposite political side to Helen, she is always a councillor that has commanded my respect and I look forward to working with her now on the direction of the Conservative Group and hopefully after May 2015 the future direction of York council."

He said the Liberal Democrats were a "spent force" and said only the Conservatives could beat Labour next May.

Cllr Douglas is the third councillor to quit Labour since 2012. The late Lynn Jeffries quit the party that year and veteran Brian Watson became an independent councillor earlier this year after being deselected in Guildhall. Both criticised the way the Labour group was run locally, claiming dissenting voices were not tolerated.

The 47-seat council now has 23 Labour councillors, 10 Conservatives, eight Liberal Democrats, two Greens and three independents, with one vacant seat to be filled in the Westfield by-election on October 16.

A Labour spokesman said: "The Westfield by-election is now a clear choice between a council run by Labour and a coalition Conservative-Lib Dem council, one that will not stand up to protect local public services, but instead support their parties imposing cuts on the people of York."


Cllr Douglas: "I am totally disillusioned"

Helen Douglas said: "I feel Labour has no vision not direction nationally and am totally disillusioned with the lack of leadership from Ed Miliband and there being a lack of strong and visionary policies.

"The Labour Party seems to rush from one bandwagon to another and their utterances on cost of living look empty words.

"It is simplistic and wrong for Labour to blame the Government for all changes in people's personal/financial circumstances.There are so many social influences which lead people into poverty or otherwise. People have to something tighten their belts and that is what the country is having to do right now.

"It is clear that it is the people in the Conservative Party, whether MPs or councillors, who have that vision and the genuine solutions the country needs to achieve sustainable growth."

On local issues, she said: "I don't believe the Local Plan that Labour is producing is right for York. I support the need for more housing and more affordable housing. However it is vital we protect York, allowing some growth but proportional to what is sustainable.

"We need more brownfield development and less urban sprawl as the plan currently proposes. It is vital residents of the centre are within easy reach of the countryside and that rural communities retain their identity rather than being engulfed."

She said she voiced dissatisfaction two years ago about how Labour operated but was persuaded by colleagues to try to make changes from within the group, rather than resigning, but now found that impossible.

She said she sought as a councillor to help people but said Labour councillors had been told not to present petitions at full council meetings unless party leader James Alexander agreed with them, saying

 "He did not want to embarrass the party if we had to say no. That was the last straw for me - I was elected by the people in my ward, not chosen by James Alexander."


York Press: James Alexander

Cllr James Alexander: "We are disappointed"

James Alexander, leader of the Labour group and City of York Council, said: "We are disappointed that Helen has decided to embrace the Conservative agenda of austerity after being elected by residents in Clifton to support Labour measures to protect public services

"It is a matter of regret that, after failing to secure the support of local Labour members to be re-selected to contest next May's election, she has now decided she is a Tory.

"The public will make its own judgment on this choice. I am not sure how, after being elected as a Labour councillor, she can now accept and defend Tory policies such as the bedroom tax and total opposition to a new community stadium for York."

Viv Kind, chair of the City of York Constituency Labour Party, said: "The party regrets that Helen Douglas has left the council's Labour group. City of York Labour Party will maintain its focus on supporting its councillors in defending our city and its residents from the cruel cuts imposed by the Conservative-led government, and making sure that we have a strong team of candidates for the local elections in 2015."