'It's the right move for me': Hemsworth councillor Ian Womersley joins Labour Party
Wakefield's only independent district councillor has joined the Labour party.
Retired police officer Ian Womersley was elected to serve Hemsworth in 2019, unseating a Labour member there in the process.
He'd previously been a councillor for the same area between 2008 and 2012, when he also sat as an independent.
But Councillor Womersley has now crossed the floor of the Town Hall to join Wakefield Council's ruling party.
Explaining his decision, he said the authority's leader Denise Jeffery had backed up her promises to invest in Hemsworth and the surrounding area.
The south-east of the district was given a £10m package by the council earlier this year, with roads and children's play areas specifically earmarked for upgrades.
Coun Womersley said: "Ward 7 (Hemsworth) has been neglected over many years. I’ve been very vocal about it and challenged this administration and the previous one about it.
"Being independent allowed me the freedom to ask the questions I needed to on behalf of my constituents, and being in a party I knew there'd be constraints with party whips.
"But we've got a leader who's prepared to listen, she's been very good for the district and I think the right move for me now is to come into Labour, because I'll get more support.
"I’m 100 per cent positive that being a Labour councillor will give me more scope to fulfil what I've always wanted, which is for Ward 7 to get the recognition it deserves."
Coun Womersley said there were personal reasons behind the switch too, as he praised Coun Jeffery's compassion when he was left traumatised by a vicious arson attack on his home last year.He explained: "When we had the fire Denise rang and contacted me and my wife virtually every week to ask if we were OK.
"I thought, 'She doesn’t have to do this'.
"But as the leader, she was checking on the welfare of one of her councillors and his family. That was brilliant for me."
A former kickboxer and weightlifter, Coun Womersley also has an MBE for community work.
He acknowledged some voters who elected him in 2019 at the expense of Labour "may be upset", but insisted he felt he could deliver more for Hemsworth from within the party.
He'd been critical of Coun Jeffery's first budget as leader, in March 2020, which he claimed then made "no mention whatsoever of the south-east".
But he suggested on Friday that he believed circumstances had changed and the town was starting to see the fruits of investment.
He added: "I’d never have thought in 2019 that Hemsworth would have got a share of a £10m sum.
"I’m doing it for the right reasons.
"It’s easy to be a lone wolf and voice your opinions, but at the end of the day you’ve got to get a result off the back of that.
"We’ve got a pot of money now that we can access and we are accessing it.
"I'm really, really pleased. I’ve always been a Labour lad and I’ve always voted Labour."
Councillor Jeffery said the former cop would be a "great addition" to her party.
She said: "I’ve known Ian a long time.
"His ward didn’t have a fair crack of the whip and that’s why we put that money aside for the south-east.
"The south-east has been totally neglected, and I said that to Ian last year and I said we’d do something about it.
"I'm so pleased to welcome him. I know he’s been Labour in his heart and he’ll be a real asset to us."
The switch nudges Labour's majority on the council up to 25.
They now hold 44 of the authority's 63 seats, with the Conservatives on 17 and Liberal Democrats on two.
Local Democracy Reporting Service