The Hounslow, Heston and Whitton Chronicle reports that three Conservative councillors in that borough have defected to UKIP. It names Cllrs Rebecca Stewart, Beverley Williams and Colin Botterill. Looking at the Council website a fourth is listed Cllr Gillian Hutchison.
So good news for Labour as they seek to retain control of the Council in next year's election. The Conservative woes sound rather similar to Merton.
The Chronicle report talks about the motivation for the departures being "infighting" and "lack of support." The issues seem to be as much to do with the Feltham and Heston Conservative Association as with the Conservative Group on the council. There is a suggestion that Cllr Botterill is to some extent concerned with national issues while his new colleagues were not really. Indeed Cllr Stewart says her problems were "not with the Party itself."
So it is perfectly possible that these councillors would have resigned the whip even if UKIP didn't exist – it is simply a home for the disaffected regardles of their particular grievance.
Generally when Conservative councillors talk about wanting "more support" from the Conservative Party or suggesting the Party should communicate this or that message in their ward I feel they are missing the point.
In the sense that Margaret Thatcher talked about there being "no such thing as society" the Conservative Party does not exist as an abstraction. In those terms there is no such thing as the Conservative Party.
In the Feltham West Ward it was Cllr Botterill and his small group of colleagues. Now he has quit it is for them to manage without him. Canvassing for votes, recruiting members, pushing leaflets through letter boxes and handing them out at stations, manning street stalls, hosting fund raising events in their homes, holding meetings to talk about who their candidates should be, which issues they should tackle, who could be approached to become a school governor. On it all goes. In Feltham West Ward this group of a dozen or a couple of dozen people are the Conservative Party.
We all try and rub along as best we can and help each other out as much as possible. But for local members to ask for "more support" from the Party is to misunderstand the nature of things.
To continue to paraphrase Lady Thatcher: There is no such thing as the Conservative Party – there are individual members and there are branches. Instead of "casting their problem on the Party" the ward members "must look to themselves." The gang of four in Hounslow seem to have "the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations."
Still the upshot of this spat is likely to be that UKIP fielding more candidates in Hounslow than they would otherwise have done. Given the local circumstances they will surely take more votes from the Conservatives more than Labour.
Yet who will UKIP be gunning for? Cllr Robert Oulds? He is my neighbouring councillor across the borough boundary in the Chiswick Homefields Ward, and is the Director of the Bruges Group. Or Cllr Adrian Lee in the next ward along? Cllr Lee is an old friend whose Eurosceptic credentials are equally impeccable. Or Cllr Peter Thomson, who when council leader froze the Council Tax years before this became fashionable?
A frustrating development. I hope Cllr Thomson and his colleagues will come through it.