Alliance implodes after in-fighting sees three key members walk out

Alliance implodes after in-fighting sees three key members walk out
The failed theatre and civic centre (artist's impression)

Party members have been left stunned after two Councillors quit following a leadership row that forced their controversial Chairman to step down.

Park Ward Councillors Christian Atwood and Becki Bruneau, who was the party’s leader, walked out of the Alliance last week. The new theatre was to be built in Park Ward.

Their decision to quit came just a week after the Chairman of the party, Dr Robert Chris, also stepped down from his role.

Yesterday [Tuesday], in an interview with the Times, Cllr Atwood explained how the Alliance:

  • Totally lost interest in politics as soon as the Calverley Square vote was won.
  • Had no ‘forward plan and no policies’ in place.
  • The then leader Cllr Nick Pope announced he was quitting to take a six week holiday.
  • The breakup of the Alliance is understood to have been the consequence of a meeting earlier this month, when several members of the party demanded Chris’s resignation by threatening to form a breakaway group.

Tensions had arisen over a decision made by Chris just before Christmas to make Cllr Bruneau party leader. It’s claimed the decision was taken without any consultation with other members of the group.

Cllr Atwood, who is the son of former Alliance chairman and previous Conservative Leader at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Robert Atwood, is also said to have felt mounting public resentment to the party after his father was ousted from his position last year.

In a statement, the Alliance said: “The appointment of the Group Leader was organised by the Chairman, and both the process and the pre-determination of the new Group Leader did not go down well with most of the Councillors.”

The statement continued “Feeling that she was not achieving what she intended, Becki Bruneau decided to quit, with Christian, who believed his father had been forced to resign as Chairman, seizing the opportunity to do so at the same time.”

Cllr Atwood has left to join the Conservatives who accepted his membership to the group yesterday [Tuesday], while Cllr Bruneau has said she will now sit on the Council as an independent Councillor and insists she ‘will continue working for my lovely residents and retailers. Something I have done since day one’.

The rift in the Alliance comes three months after the Council voted to drop the £108million Calverley Square project in October, which took more than four years to plan with a cost to taxpayers of nearly £11million.

Support for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, who now only have four councillors on the 40-seat Council, has waned considerably since then, with the party struggling to find direction amid accusations it was just ‘a single issue party’.

During the Culverden by-election in November, the party managed only fourth, securing just 180 votes, causing further tensions in the group.

The Alliance has denied they are a single-issue party with no forward direction or new policy ideas.

A spokesman for Alliance said: “The need to clarify that we are not a single issue party is paramount and the successes in bringing about change in areas other than Calverley Square should be highlighted.”

He continued: “We have shown we can work together to improve the Council, working with Councillors from other parties, for the people of the borough, and not for national political party interests.”

It is understood Cllr Nick Pope, who stepped down as leader after the Calverley Square vote to ‘pursue other commitments’ has replaced Robert Chris as interim Chairman, while Pembury Councillor David Hayward is the new group leader.

Cllr Hayward insists the party remains ‘fiercely committed and united’ and ‘will continue to push for a better-run Council working with Councillors across the Council’.


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