A MAJOR North East political figure has quit the Liberal Democrats to join Labour.
Andrew Duffield, the Lib Dems’ candidate at Hexham in the 2010 and 2005 General Elections, says he has become “increasingly angered” at the Conservative-led coalition government’s financial policy failures.
Now he has run out of patience – and resigned to nail his flag to the Labour mast.
The move has come as a huge shock to the Lib Dems in Hexham, who say Mr Duffield has not discussed his concerns with party bosses.
The 50-year-old former Royal Navy officer, now living in Corbridge and a teacher in Haltwhistle, came second to Tory MP Guy Opperman with 13,007 votes in the 2010 election, swinging the Lib Dem vote by 4.2% from the 2005 election.
In 2005, he came third with 10,673 – 1,912 votes behind Labour candidate Kevin Graham, as Conservative MP Peter Atkinson held the safe Tory seat. But, five years later, beat Labour’s Antoine Tinnion into third place by 4,754 votes, finishing 5,788 behind Mr Opperman.
Mr Duffield, a former district and county councillor, said he took the decision to quit the party before last week’s county elections, in which the Lib Dems suffered major losses, “to avoid giving ammunition to the Tories”.
Explaining his decision, he said: “As a progressive politician, I have become increasingly angered by the Conservative-led Government’s attempts to re-float our country’s finances at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.
“The leeway I have allowed my former party to try and steer this government in a fair direction has reached its limit.
“The Tories continue subsidising the rich and sheltering them from the economic storm, while lashing the rest of us with ever deeper cuts.
“Labour has consistently advocated a more equitable fiscal course, making the wealthy and privileged pay their way, while charting Britain’s passage to sustainable prosperity.
“Tory policies are all at sea, drowning families in debt – but the political tide is turning.”
Continuing the nautical analogy, Mr Duffield mocked suggestions he was “jumping ship” and declared: “If anything, I’m re-deploying from frigate to destroyer.
“I urge all concerned at the wreckage of Conservative cuts – including disillusioned Lib Dems – to join me on board for the battle that lies ahead.”
Labour made substantial advances in the Northumberland county elections and Mr Duffield, a probable Labour General Election candidate for Hexham in 2015, added: “Labour is now best positioned to turn their guns on Tynedale’s Tories and sink them at the next General Election.
“I look forward to playing my part in achieving that aim – running the party of privilege on to the rocks and winning a fairer future for the progressive majority of voters, right across the Hexham constituency.”
Mr Duffield revealed that he cancelled his subscription to the Lib Dems as far back as December to join the Co-operative Party, affiliated to Labour. He is now a Labour Party member.
Hexham Constituency Lib Dems, whose long-serving county councillor Derek Kennedy lost the Hexham West seat to the Conservatives in last week’s local elections, admitted they were surprised by Mr Duffield’s move.
Peter Arnold, chair of the Hexham Constituency Association, said: “It is always sad when colleagues decide to join another political party, especially when they have played such a prominent role in the past.
“Andrew has not been in touch with us for some time, and has chosen not to speak to us about his concerns and why he has come to this decision.”