Former Aylesbury mayor quits Conservative Party over Syria conflict

Cllr Tom Hunter-Watts
Cllr Tom Hunter-Watts

Former Mayor of Aylesbury Tom Hunter-Watts has resigned from the Conservative Party – with the ‘final straw’ being the air strikes in Syria.

Mr Hunter-Watts announced his decision this morning, telling this newspaper that the final straw was Wednesday’s Commons vote on whether to go to war.

But the former-Tory, who served as mayor in Aylesbury last year and represents Bedgrove on Aylesbury Vale District Council, says that issues including junior doctor working hours, and selling off housing association properties swayed his decision too.

He said: “It’s cumulative, I’ve been concerned about a lot of issues.

“With right to buy I saw how housing associations, which are great charitable organisations are affected, and my concern is that people in need with struggle to get a home as a result.

“I also work in the NHS, and when you see how junior doctors were treated with such disrespect by the secretary of state for health, it is very difficult for me for a local councillor who represents the Conservative Party to promote this to my colleagues in the NHS.

“It struck me that the junior doctors’ case was a good one and that they really had been treated with great disrespect; and for a Conservative government to end up in a situation where junior doctors were going to go ahead with strike action was unacceptable to me.”

He added: “The war in Syria for me was the final straw, it filled me with distress.

“We can’t see what victory looks like, it’s an enormously complex situation that we are inserting ourselves into and it could put British lives at risk right here at home.

“Of course I know that ISIS wants to attack us anyway and nothing we do or can change or promise them would in any way change that.

“But behind each of these terrorists are hundreds of people, they could be friends, wives or people of the fringes. And our security services rely on these people to waiver in their loyalty.

“This type of thing makes it less likely that someone whose conscience is troubling them will pick up the phone.

“I can’t stand alongside a Conservative leadership that would do that.”

But Mr Hunter-Watts, who also sits on Aylesbury Town Council, was keen to stress that his decision was nothing to do with his local party, even though he will now sit as an independent.

He said: “As an independent I will still work closely with all councillors that represent Bedgrove. I understand that people voted Conservative, but there is no shortage of Conservatives at Aylesbury Vale District Council.

“What it boils down to, is that sometimes in politics you think ‘I don’t know if I’m right or wrong’ but in the case of Syria it would be immoral for me to feel like that, because it is such an important issue.”

Fellow Tory councillor Steve Bowles said: “I know his reasons for doing it and I am saddended that he has resigned.

“But I completely understand, his reasons, Tom has always been a very principled person and his integrity is without question.

“That said, I will miss him as a valued member of our group, but I am sure he will continue to work very hard for the people of Bedgrove.”