Tory councillor defects to the Lib Dems with message for Boris Johnson

Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA.

Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

A Conservative councillor has defected to the Liberal Democrats - and criticised the new prime minister for being "totally unsuitable for high office".

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Councillor Mark McGeever, who represents Scotland's Hamilton West & Earnock ward, announced he was quitting the Tories on Johnson's first full day in office, arguing the party had "abandoned" the political centre ground and was looking for populist answers.

He becomes one of more than 6,000 members elected since Jo Swinson became leader of the party earlier in the week.

The former Scottish Conservative general election candidate in the 2017 campaign explained that his decision came after "months of soul searching", but that the election of Johnson "was the proverbial straw" which prompted his defection.

The 34-year-old said that Johnson becoming prime minister "was an open declaration the party now has little regard for centrist views" and that "his use of racist, Islamophobic, misogynistic and homophobic language is deeply concerning".

McGeever has been councillor for Hamilton West & Earnock since May 2017 and contested the East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow seat for the Scottish Conservatives at the last general election.

Explaining his decision, McGeever said: "The Conservative Party has changed significantly in recent years; it's no longer recognisable as the party that I joined, never mind stood for.

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"I'm not interested in being part of that, I don't think it's the right answer for any issues facing our country or my community.

"Brexit is absolutely a massive issue. Of course that's at the forefront of my mind, but it's not uniquely the only issue here.

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"On social issues, we've seen the Conservatives row back from what was a commitment to be in the centre ground of British politics."

Commenting on the election of Johnson by Conservative Party members, he added: "It's a very worrying moment for the country.

"Boris Johnson, for me, is a person who is totally unsuitable for high office. He should never be in a position to lead a party, let alone the United Kingdom.

"That said, this is not an impulsive decision, it follows many months of soul searching and thinking about issues.

"This may well be the proverbial straw, but it's by no means the only issue.

"The Conservatives are travelling in totally the wrong direction. They are looking to the right and looking to populist solutions.

"They've now elected a populist leader that is the antithesis of what liberalism, progressiveness, and centrism is all about."

Tory voters and members disillusioned with the Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party "can find a comfortable home with the Liberal Democrats", the Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said following the defection.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Rennie said: "If they want to have a modern, centrist, liberal international outlook to their politics then they are very welcome with us."

He added that the party had gained 6,000 members since the new leader Jo Swinson had been elected.

The council's only other Liberal Democrat councillor Robert Brown claimed that McGeever's defection was representative of the feeling of people in Scotland and said: "We're coming across people who have been Conservative, have been Labour, who are either soured with politics or are looking for a new home."

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: "Mark leaves with no hard feelings from us, and we wish him all the best for the future."

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