Claims of a split in borough council Tories

Coun Jean Butterfield
Coun Jean Butterfield

A split has emerged in the ruling Conservative party on Harrogate Borough Counci one member abstained from a vote to award three retiring councillors with “honorary alderman” status, opposition councillors have claimed.

The vote to present the largely symbolic award, which goes to councillors who have served more than 15 years, was held at Harrogate Borough Council’s general purposes committee last week.

Members of the cross-party committee agreed to bestow the status on former mayor Coun Les Ellington, Coun Chris Brown, who has been made a freeman of the borough after a successful ascent of Everest, and Coun Richard Grange, as a “matter of formality”.

But committee member and Tory councillor Jean Butterfield, the former cabinet member for housing who stepped down from the role last month after leader Coun Don Mackenzie was voted out at the district’s Conservative party annual general meeting in a shock move, chose to abstain from the vote.

Coun Butterfield yesterday said her decision to abstain was purely because she didn’t believe all the candidates were worthy of being bestowed with honorary alderman status and denied it was anything to do with the rebellion against the former administration.

But opposition councillors have leapt on her actions as a sign of a widening “split” within the Harrogate Conservatives.

Committee member and Liberal Democrat councillor Matthew Webber said: “Normally this vote goes through almost instantly.

“This is the fall-out from the split within the group.

“When it comes to making a gesture like this on the retirement of long-serving councillors, it is a tradition that the vote is unanimous.

“Whatever differences there may have been in the past are forgotten when it comes to recognising the dedicated service that these councillors have given to their communities.”

Coun Butterfield said: “I abstained from voting because it isn’t just a formality.

“It is bestowing a status on people who are worthwhile and I did not know on this occasion that some of them are.

“It is nothing to do with what happened in May, these are people who are retiring from the council.”