Conservative councillor in Reading crosses floor to join Labour

Elliot Chappell
© Sandy Maya Matzen/Shutterstock.com

David Stevens, a longstanding Tory councillor on Reading Borough Council, has defected from the Conservative Party and announced that he will be joining Labour.

First elected in 2004, and having served as mayor between May 2020 and November 2021 and in frontbench positions for the Tories, including recently as their finance spokesperson, Stevens said today that he is “delighted to now be joining Labour”.

The move came after the councillor was informed by the local Tory Party that he could not stand as a Conservative candidate in the elections later this year. But Stevens noted that he is “not making the move to find some transitory new home”.

“I endorse the positive and forward-looking vision that Labour has for Reading. I am excited, even enthusiastic, to play my part in that endeavour,” the Thames ward councillor said.

Labour retained a 12-seat majority on the council in the local elections last year. Stevens attributed his former party’s decision not to pick him as a candidate to the “constructive and collaborative approach” he has taken in opposition.

“My style was precisely because my values and Reading Labour’s values were so closely aligned. I never sought to be antagonistic in order to simply score political points or seek a partisan advantage – the responsibility that councillors have for their community is too important for such games,” Stevens added.

This is the first time in the history of Reading Borough Council that a sitting councillor has crossed the floor to join the Labour Party. The Reading Labour group now has 30 councillors out of a total of 46 serving on the local authority.

Reacting to the news today, Labour council leader Jason Brock welcomed Stevens to the party. He added that it shows that the party is “on the right track nationally, demonstrating a serious and competent alternative to the Conservatives”.

“David was not some marginal figure in the council’s opposition but, rather, someone known for his sincere approach to politics as an experienced and thoughtful councillor, and someone who is much respected and admired on all sides,” Brock said.

“We greatly look forward to working with him, and to drawing on his knowledge and talents, as we push forward our programme of investment in Reading and continue to protect vital local services in the face of the government’s underfunding of councils.”

Local authorities have seen a reduction in core funding of £16bn over the last decade. Between 2012 and 2020, local councils lost 60p out of every £1 that central government had provided to spend on local services.

Councils across the country have responded to the reduction in central funding by making deep cuts to services, as well as finding new ways of operating while still delivering the vital services on which their residents rely.

Local Government Association research, conducted before the pandemic, showed that services already faced a funding gap of £7.8bn by 2025. The LGA declared – before Covid hit – that the funding situation represented an “immense challenge”.

Michael Gove announced £1bn of extra funding for social care last month, alongside a one-off £822m grant for councils’ general funds. He said England’s local authorities would get £3.5bn more funding than they did this financial year.

But just £700m of the £1bn social care funding is from central government. Most councils will be allowed to raise council tax by at least 3%, adding £57 to the current £1,898 average band D bill. This is up £1,439 from the year 2010/11.

The few councils in England that did not raise council tax by 3% on the last occasion will be allowed to make up the difference in the next rise, meaning residents in some areas could see their bills rise by more than 5%.

Shadow minister for local government Mike Amesbury argued at the time that people “pay more but get less” under the Conservatives and that the government is hitting people with higher taxes to “paper over the cracks” of austerity.

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