The former MP of Burnley and other leading councillors have been accused of political bullying by husband and wife councillors who have quit the Liberal Democrat group in the town.
Margaret and Bill Brindle, who represented Coal Clough with Deerplay on Burnley Borough Council, accused Lib Dem leader Gordon Birtwistle of a campaign of “bullying and intimidation” over the last 12 months.
The couple, who will now sit as independents, said the dispute came to a head at a recent Burnley Council budget meeting when Coun. Birtwistle accused them of “betraying” the party when they voted against a Lib Dem motion about the 2017-18 budget and council tax.
Margaret, also a county councillor, has been de-selected by the party from that post and will not be able to defend her Burnley Rural seat in May.
She said: “It is with regret that I have reached this decision, following a year of bullying, intimidation and threats from senior members of the Burnley Lib Dem Group, led by and orchestrated by former MP Gordon Birtwistle, with the support of some so-called Lib Dems in the local party.
“The purpose of this totally unacceptable behaviour originated in February 2016, when Coun. Birtwistle attempted to coerce me as the chairman of the county council at the time, to vote in the Full Council Budget meeting in accordance with his wishes for political campaigning purposes.
“I was threatened with de-selection as a county councillor as early as February 2016, and the threat was extended to Coun. Bill Brindle, who was also threatened with de-selection at Burnley Borough Council, if I did not ‘toe’ Gordon’s line.
“This intimidation and bullying combined with a relentless campaign of rude, unprofessional and offensive e-mails has continued to the present, culminating in overt bullying by Coun. Birtwistle in the Burnley Council Chamber on Wednesday February 22nd this year.”
Coun. Brindle said she did not vote for the Lib Dem motion, which would have brought a discussion on the budget back to the table, because it had been voted democratically on last September. She also said the Burnley Lib Dem group was “misleading” the public in its campaigns.
She added: “The Lib Dems are misleading people in their campaigns to save services, knowing full well that the funding is unavailable. On principle, I would not support the disingenuous approach that Gordon Birtwistle as leader takes.”
Coun. Brindle has reported several Burnley Lib Dems, including current Mayor of Burnley Coun. Jeff Sumner, to the ruling national party.
In response, Coun. Birtwistle said that Coun. Brindle had “jumped before she was pushed”.
He accused Coun. Brindle of not supporting the people who voted for her and highlighted an issue in Worsthorne when Lancashire County Council wanted to remove the only bus service to the village.
The former MP said: “We wanted Margaret to vote against removing this bus service. She insisted that she wasn’t going to object, and eventually abstained. Any accusations of bullying are absolute nonsense. The fact is that Coun. Brindle has been an independent for the last 12 months. We can never get her to vote with us.
“She jumped into bed with Labour on the county council in 2010. As for Burnley Council, we wanted to discuss the budget again because we were unhappy about funding being cut for PCSOs and green waste collection charges being introduced.
“Margaret and Bill Brindle should now stand down because the people of Coal Clough and Deerplay did not vote for two independents.”
Coun. Sumner said: “Coun. Brindle has neglected the people she was supposed to be representing in her ward and forgotten that she’s a Liberal Democrat.”