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UPDATED: Jabba Riaz quits the Tories and joins Labour
A LEADING Worcester Tory councillor has sensationally quit the party to join Labour - claiming David Cameron’s “disastrous” policies are behind his defection.
Coun Jabba Riaz, who represents the Cathedral ward on the city council, has stunned the Conservatives by tendering his resignation and swapping sides.
But the politician’s motives were questioned today after details emerged showing how he tried - and failed - to swap to a safer council seat ahead of next year’s elections.
In July he told the party’s leadership he did not want to defend his Cathedral seat in 2014, and instead put himself forward to contest Battenhall.
Seven days ago he was informed the Conservatives had selected Steve Mackay, a former policeman, to fight it instead, leaving him out on a limb.
But Coun Riaz insisted he would have quit anyway if he secured the seat, and insists he had been thinking of leaving for a year.
He said “places like Cathedral Ward are bearing the brunt of David Cameron's disastrous policies” and told your Worcester News the Tories are causing “devastation” nationwide.
“For a long time now I have been uncomfortable with the direction of the Conservative party,” he said.
“It is clear to me that places like Cathedral are bearing the brunt of David Cameron's disastrous policies as living standards are plummeting and our city is getting poorer.
“It has become clear to me that my views are at odds with the Conservatives on a national level.”
He said he was involved in a foodbank project with St Paul’s Hostel and over the last year, the number of people needing help has increased by over 50 per cent each month.
He said the spare room subsidy - more commonly known as the bedroom tax - was a policy he particularly disliked.
He also insisted that he wanted to leave Cathedral for “a fresh challenge”.
“The Labour administration locally and the Labour party nationally understand that tough decisions have to be made, but I believe they will make those decisions fairly and with compassion,” he said.
“I’ve served on the council for over three years and I care passionately about the people I represent.
“This isn't a decision I have taken lightly. I’m councillor who has always put the needs of Cathedral ward first, but it is clear Conservative policies are now harming those I represent.”
Coun Riaz, first elected in 2010, is a former Conservative cabinet member for safer and stronger communities.
He now wants to contest the Cathedral seat for Labour next year, but the selection process is yet to start, meaning that is far from guaranteed.
His Tory majority in Cathedral is 506 votes, but it is seen as one of Worcester’s key marginals, and one of the ward’s three seats was won by Labour last year.
Battenhall has two seats, both with strong Conservative backing - Coun David Tibbutt, who is stepping down next year held it in 2010 with a majority of 791.
It means Labour now has 16 city councillors, with the Conservatives on 16, Lib Dems on two and the Greens on one.
WORCESTER CONSERVATIVES ATTACK COUN RIAZ
WORCESTER Conservative Association has put out a statement saying it is “sad and extremely surprised” by the shock defection.
From chairman Coun David Tibbutt, it said: “The association is sad and extremely surprised to hear the news that Coun Jabba Riaz has defected to Labour.
"We are particularly surprised as Jabba was a candidate only seven days ago in the contest to select a Conservative candidate in Battenhall Ward for next year’s council elections.
“Jabba formally applied to be a candidate for next year’s election as recently as September 11 and was interviewed by a panel and placed on the approved local candidates’ list on September 16.
“As part of the process he was asked in writing, and in person by the panel whether he had any concerns regarding Conservative policies locally or nationally.
“In writing, and at the interview, he confirmed he had no problem with Conservative policies and even stated on his application form that during the next four years he hoped to ‘take on a more prominent role in the party and help the Conservatives back into power’.
“We, therefore, believe that statements regarding differences over policy lack any credibility at all.
“At no time did Jabba approach either myself (Coun Tibbutt) or Coun Geraghty (Simon Geraghty, Tory group leader) with any concerns regarding policy.
“He did, however, write to both Simon and myself in July stating he did not wish to be considered for the candidacy in his home ward of Cathedral and wanted to switch to another ward which, we can only believe, be considered safer.
“Having failed to win the nomination in Battenhall in an open and democratic process that involved local party members selecting from a field of four candidates, Jabba has put his own personal advancement ahead of loyalty to his colleagues, constituents or the party which has supported him from the outset.”
It has been rubbished by Labour, who say Coun Riaz was “fed up” of the Government’s austerity drive.
Coun Joy Squires, Worcester’s parliamentary candidate, said: “Coun Riaz has recognised what many in Worcester have known for a long time, that David Cameron and his Tory-led Government are out of touch with local peoples’ priorities.”
Coun Riaz was formally welcomed into the Labour group at the Guildhall this morning.
Shadow education minister Steve McCabe was also sent along by Labour's regional HQ to meet him in person.
He said he expects "more Jabbas" to occur over the coming months, suggesting lots of current serving politicians are considering swapping sides.
"There is a lot of frustration out there, people aren't getting what they were promised three years ago," he said.
Worcester MP Robin Walker said he was "very sad" about the defection and insisted Coun Riaz has put himself "in an impossible situation" by leaving after years of Tory campaigning.
"It's very clear to us that he's got no sympathy with the Labour Party," he said.
Coun Riaz said if he was selected for Battenhall, he would "probably have resigned".
A Labour spokesperson said: "The Tories are running scared, with frankly desperate accusations.
"However the Tories try and spin it, this is a very bad day for Worcester Conservative Party and a good day for Labour."
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