Row as Sunderland Ukip councillors quit party to sit as independents
Sunderland City Council’s UKIP representatives have defended their decision to leave the party and become independent councillors.
Councillors Pam Mann, Keith Jenkins and Steven Bewick were elected in 2019 as part of a surge in popularity for the United Kingdom Independence Party on Wearside.
The councillors for St Anne’s, Redhill and Ryhope respectively, formed an official UKIP group which was the third largest opposition group to Labour on the council behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Earlier this month, the councillors announced they had quit UKIP, leaving no elected UKIP city councillors on the local authority.
Instead, the councillors will continue as independents for the remainder of their terms.
The councillors explained their reasons for leaving UKIP in separate statements posted to their constituents on social media.
Reference was made to the declining support for the party in Sunderland in the local elections in May 2021 – where no UKIP candidates were successful in winning a council seat.
The councillors also stressed that sitting as independents would not affect their day-to-day work as ward councillors representing residents.
In a social media statement, Cllr Jenkins said: “ [In 2019] UKIP as a party was extremely relevant due to the Brexit votes, and the importance of sending the message to the establishment, and we feel that message was successfully sent.
“Since then, the party in our opinion has not managed to convince a significant number of the population that UKIP is still required as a political force, and although there is still a place for UKIP, it’s more likely to be in a
different position than local politics.”
In his social media statement to residents, Cllr Bewick noted the “political point scoring” by some elected councillors at Sunderland City Council meetings and claimed they “put their party before the residents.”
He said: “Maybe the way forward is to have more ‘independent councillors,’ so they concentrate on local issues and put the residents and the city first, before their party allegiance.”
While stressing that the decision to leave UKIP was “not taken lightly,” Cllr Mann said she believed the party was “no longer relevant in local politics.”
In a social media statement Cllr Mann explained: “When you elected us in 2019, UKIP as a party was relevant, due to the Brexit vote.
“We feel that we and our city have successfully sent that message to our MPs and that the party is no longer relevant in local politics. You told us this at the ballot in May.
“We thank you for the votes and confidence you gave us in 2019 and hope that we have served you well. In our jobs for you, nothing has changed.
“We will continue to serve you with honesty, integrity and the passion we have for our communities.”
The decision to leave UKIP and continue as independents has since been criticised by senior members of Sunderland City Council’s ruling Labour group.
In an article published on Sunderland Labour’s website, Labour bosses said the independent councillors no longer have the mandate of local people they were elected by and should resign from their posts.
Councillor Paul Stewart, cabinet secretary, said: “They were elected on a UKIP ballot, and in the interests of democracy, it is only right that they step aside and allow the people of their respective wards to vote for a councillor who will respect their community’s views.”
Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy leader of the council, added: “UKIP stands for absolutely nothing post-Brexit, but ultimately, these councillors were voted in on that ballot and they should have the decency to either remain as UKIP councillors for their term and respect their voters, or step down with immediate effect.”
Responding, Cllr Mann, former UKIP group leader, said the calls to resign from the Labour Party were “irrelevant.”
“We left a political party as we didn’t agree with it anymore. Labour still has a sitting councillor who made a false allegation against a member of the public and they didn’t call for his resignation,” she said.
“What we have done, in changing political party or defecting within our term, is allowed within the council’s constitution – and our jobs as councillors haven’t changed whatsoever.
“We left a political party which doesn’t reflect our workings as councillors.
“A ward councillor should not be party political, a councillor should do a job representing their residents.
“As a councillor, I was elected to represent the residents and that’s what I’m going to continue doing at this time – and I have the full backing of and support of every resident I have spoken to.”
Cllr Mann added that the new independent councillors will continue in their current council terms but have not yet decided if they will stand again for re-election.
Although the new independents have not formed an official group on the council at present, they have not ruled this out in future.
Sunderland City Council’s next full council meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, September 13 with a venue to be confirmed.
UKIP was founded in 1993, and since its beginning, campaigned to take Britain out of the European Union, with former leader Nigel Farage claiming the party had forced David Cameron’s hand to hold the 2016 referendum.
But since the Brexit vote, the party has seen a steep decline in popularity, and saw votes transferring to other parties, including the Brexit Party, which was led by Farage, who is now president of its successor Reform UK