LABOUR councillor Denis Knowles has tonight dramatically quit the Wirral party to join the arch-rival Conservatives.
In a scathing speech before he "crossed" the council chamber at Wallasey Town Hall this evening, he blamed his decision on the ruling Labour/Lib Dem administration's dogged support of the controversial strategic asset review (SAR), which among other cuts is recommending the closure of 11 of Wirral's 24 libraries.
Cllr Knowles, one of three councillors representing Seacombe ward in Wallasey, said that "mistakes have been made by the Labour group and its leadership" and that he was now "ashamed of Labour".
He said the party's responsibility was "to unite and not divide - and Labour are not doing this".
On the SAR, he said: "Labour could and should have respected public opinion."
Instead, said Cllr Knowles, it had "undermined local democracy and created bitterness".
Decision to close libraries 'has undermined local democracy and created bitterness'Defecting Cllr Denis Knowles
"I am ashamed of the Labour group and their lack of consultation on this issue," he declared.
"It is a badly thought out policy. Too much of the policy of the council is being dictated from the centre. It is not accountable."
Accusing council leader Steve Foulkes of "moving towards a presidential system", he said Labour should be having decentralisation "and respecting people in public service".
In a last cutting swipe, he said be believed that "Steve Foulkes is obsessed with his own place in history".
In response, the beleaguered Labour group leader expressed his regret at events, telling the council chamber: "It's sad when a friend stabs you in the back - very sad."
It is understood Cllr Knowles reached the end of his tether when he was dumped from the board of Merseytravel at the recent Labour group annual general meeting.
He told the Globe tonight: "It was with a heavy heart that I made this decision. It was not an easy one to make.
"I've had a lot of support from my constituents and I was left with no alternative to resign the whip."
Click on the "related link" below to read how the Globe broke this story last week.
Conservative group leader Cllr Jeff Green told the Globe: "Labour has lost any credibility.
"Cllr Knowles has exposed the way policy is dictated within the Labour Group, oblivious to public opinion.
"We welcome any member who want to join us in fighting to retain our libraries, leisure centres and much-loved community facilities."
Leah Fraser, prospective Conservative MP for Wallasey, said: "Wallasey Labour Party is falling apart.
"A key aide to Angela Eagle and one of her five remaining councillors has decided he's had enough and has called time on Labour's rule in Wirral.
"The Conservative Party has changed and tonight is further proof of that change.
"There are thousands of people, like Denis, who have been lifelong Labour supporters but who are now at the end of their tether.
"I urge them to now switch to the only party that can beat Gordon Brown and New Labour here in Wallasey.”