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Friday 29th April, 2005
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Serial defector quits to return to Labour

Lib Dems dismiss loss of councillor as ‘silly distraction’

From left: Glenda Jackson, London Mayor Ken Livingstone,Patricia Hewitt and Jonathan Simpson

TWO-TIME defector Jonathan Simpson has defended his decision to quit the Liberal Democrats for the Labour Party less than two weeks before the general election, adding: “A vote for the Lib Dems is a waste of time.”
The Fortune Green councillor’s shock switch was confirmed on Monday night when he appeared alongside his new Labour colleagues at the party’s private annual meeting.
His appearance – a surprise to the majority of Labour councillors who were not made aware of secret negotiations between Cllr Simpson and the party’s leadership until the last possible moment – followed a stormy phone call to Lib Dem leader Councillor Flick Rea in which Cllr Simpson revealed his decision.
He said on Tuesday: “The election is a straight race between Labour and the Tories. I would urge voters who might be tempted to vote for another party to think again. It would be a wasted vote and the danger is that they will end up with the Conservatives.”
Last year Cllr Simpson stood for the Lib Dems in London Assembly elections and, just six months ago, was due to stand as the party’s candidate against Labour’s Hampstead and Highgate MP Glenda Jackson at the general election.
He mysteriously gave up the candidacy in October last year, complaining that he was overloaded with private work.
Labour are now playing up the defection as a hammer blow to Lib Dems’ hopes of making inroads into the 8,000-vote majority held by Ms Jackson.
They also hope the defection could influence voters in neighbouring Brent East, where Labour is trying to wrest power back from the surging Lib Dems.
Press chiefs hauled in figureheads Patricia Hewitt, the Trade Secretary who lives in Camden Town, and London Mayor Ken Livingstone as Cllr Simpson was paraded to journalists and photographers at Kilburn Grange Priory on Tuesday morning. Cllr Simpson, 31, who first contacted the Labour Party two weeks ago to open talks over his defection, said the forthcoming election had “crystallised” his desire to cross the floor.
It is the second time Cllr Simpson has defected, having left Labour in 1994 to join the Lib Dems.
He was elected to the council in 2002 in the Lib Dem stronghold of Fortune Green, scooping 1,111 votes. But he has withdrawn from council business in recent weeks and did not attend last Monday’s full council meeting.
He said: “I have been increasingly disillusioned with the Lib Dems for some time and that has become more evident since I was elected as a councillor.
“There are many areas where the Lib Dems are floundering. Their stance on crime and anti-social behaviour is weak, and on the economy I was very disappointed with their opposition to the minimum wage.”
Now a Labour councillor, Cllr Simpson faces the tricky prospect of forging a civil working relationship out of his newly-strained relations with Cllr Rea, who also represents Fortune Green.
He said he had not been offered a safe Labour council seat in next year’s Town Hall elections, although party organisers did not rule out a switch to a different ward.
Cllr Simpson said: “The first step is joining the party. I think I was elected as a good local candidate. It is a political decision. It is not personal.
“I am still very fond of the Liberal Democrat councillors. I know I have caused them upset but I think time will be a great healer.”
The Lib Dems were this week trying to put a brave face on the defection, the second in Camden since Labour came to power nationally. They lost ex-councillor John Dickie to the Labour Party in the 1990s.
Members said that in recent months Cllr Simpson had become “flaky” and that his decision to give up the Hampstead and Highgate candidacy was mutual.
Cllr Rea said: “It is not grown-up behaviour. Jonathan says that it isn’t personal but the timing in the heat of the election suggests otherwise. It is so tiring and an irritant.
“It is a silly distraction which goes against the trend. People are leaving Labour to join the Liberal Democrats but perversely Jonathan has decided to go the other way. I don’t think he has thought it through.”
She added: “Defectors are never popular. I think he will regret it. He was out delivering leaflets and writing envelopes with me 10 days ago.”
To soften the blow, Ed Fordham, who was drafted in by head office to replace Cllr Simpson in the fight against Ms Jackson, pointed to Hackney MP Brian Sedgemore’s defection from Labour to the Lib Dems.
Town Hall Conservative group leader Councillor Piers Wauchope, who is also contesting next Thursday’s poll, said: “The Liberal Democrats have lost one of their two heavyweights on the council.”