Published: 11:41, 18 October 2021
| Updated: 13:31, 18 October 2021
The Liberal Democrats at Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) have suffered a major blow, after four councillors left the party, including the group's leader.
Leader of the Lib Dem group at MBC, Cllr Martin Cox, East ward, has resigned from the party, but told KentOnline he hopes to continue representing his ward.
Cllr Michelle Hastie, representing Maidstone North, Cllr Denise Joy, High Street, and Cllr Susan Grigg, Loose, have left as well.
The exodus leaves the Liberal Democrats with 13 councillors at MBC, down from 17.
Cllr Cox was formally leader at MBC before the borough elections in May saw the Conservatives strengthen their numbers.
Speaking to KentOnline, Cllr Cox said: "I am an elected councillor for East ward and wish to carry on serving the residents of East ward, so I am now considering what I can do next.
"It wasn't an easy decision, I was the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Maidstone and I think there are things that I won't expand on both locally and nationally that didn't sit well with me.
He said in time he would speak more about the reasons, but didn't want to expand on them now.
When further asked why he had left the group, Cllr Cox said: "It's down to local Liberal Democrat views that I can't personally sit behind, and I think it's better to leave it at that.
"I know I have been elected by the people in that ward and I will do them the courtesy of letting them know of what I intend and how I intend to go forward.
"I think at this layer of local government there's a job to be done and you have to represent every layer of the borough and I think an independent councillor can do that very well.
"I think in the political climate we found ourselves in and in recent events, I think it's better this job is done in a more neutral way."
Cllr Hastie announced on Twitter she had resigned from the Liberal Democrats and will stand as an independent.
In a statement she said: "I have supported the Liberal Democrat’s since 1993.
"It is with sadness that today I have resigned my membership & will stand as an independent councillor in Maidstone.
"National politics is a dark place, I want to focus on supporting local people without a political agenda."
Cllr Grigg confirmed she has also left the party, but did not confirm whether she will stand as an independent, telling KentOnline: "At the moment I am just considering my options."
Cllr Joy also confirmed her departure, but did not say whether she would be standing as an independent.
She said: "There's a discussion that needs to be had with MBC then I shall deliberate."
Cllr Clive English, former deputy of the Lib Dems at MBC, and now the de facto leader, said the departures, announced at a group meeting on Friday, October 15, came as a shock.
He said: "There had been no particular indication there was an issue or a combination of issues that led to this."
He cited the initial reason the members left as differing views over how to handle the council's Local Plan Review, after the latest draft was narrowly voted through for public consultation.
Cllr Clive English said: "I think we will recover from this. It's going to make the next few months extremely difficult but we will recover."