CONSERVATIVE councillor David Mason sent political shockwaves through Hyndburn Council when he resigned from the party to become an Independent.
His shock announcement, made at Tuesday’s full council meeting, leaves the council on a knife edge once again after the Tories had strengthened their grip by winning a Labour seat in the recent elections.
The council now comprises 18 Tories, 13 Labour members and four Independents, three of whom were not elected as such but defected from their original parties.
Councillor Mason, who represents Great Harwood Overton ward, said: "In my opinion the council is lacking openness, transparency and accountability.
"It is dictatorial rather than democratic – and this must change.
"Every meaningful committee is guarded by a Cabinet member and this could lead to maladministration.
"I am therefore removing the party shackles so I can make better representations for Great Harwood and Hyndburn as a whole.
"I now class myself as an Independent with Conserv-ative tendencies."
Council leader Peter Britcliffe said Councillor Mason had been involved in a long-running dispute with the council over the ownership of a piece of land in Great Harwood.
He said: "The constitution of this council is the same as 99 per cent of all the other councils throughout the country. It’s nonsense to think Cabinet members guard the committees.
"Councillor Mason sent me a letter of resignation but I told him it wouldn’t matter whether he was inside or outside of the leading group."
But he added: "He started as a Conservative and was supported by Conservative voters. I think he should stand for re-election in his own right."
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Clare Pritchard, deputy leader of the Labour group, said: "It is clear that the Conservative group is in turmoil.
"Dave Mason has been a fiercely loyal, staunchly Conservative member of the council. This is becoming a repeated message.
"In 2005 another Great Harwood Conservative councillor, Win Frankland, resigned with the same message, which is that the leader’s dictatorial style of leadership is impossible to work with.
"Contributions from members outside the Cabinet are not welcomed and it is effectively a closed shop."