Havering Tory group appoints new leader

Havering’s new Conservative group leader says his priority is improving the Tories’ “performance” at scrutinising council decision-making.

Last week the party’s 20 borough councillors decided Keith Prince should take over from Damian White as opposition leader at Havering Town Hall.

Cllr Prince admitted the group had not been “the happiest of bunnies” since losing power to a coalition of Havering Residents Association (HRA) and Labour councillors after the 2022 local election.

The new Tory leader – who is also a London Assembly member – said one of his key objectives is to bring the divided group back together.

He said: “It’s difficult going from being the party of governance to the opposition – Damian felt that challenge as well – it’s a difficult transition to make, especially as leader.”

Divisions in the Conservative group emerged soon after last year’s election, with Cllr White narrowly defeating a leadership challenge from colleague Robert Benham in May 2022.

In September, three newly-elected Conservative councillors for Rainham and Wennington defected to the HRA group.

During the last year, Cllr White has been noticeably absent from key meetings and newly-elected Tory Cllr David Taylor has taken the lead in several debates.

Cllr White told the LDRS he is “immensely proud” of his time as leader, but is now focusing on training as a social worker specialising in mental health.

Cllr Prince said the Conservative group needs to make sure the new administration does “what’s best for residents of Havering”.

He said: “We need to keep a careful eye, we have an important role to play in scrutiny and we need to do that.

“I’m happy to work with the administration if it’s for the benefit of Havering, but equally, we’re going to ensure that we keep them on their toes.

“They’re not bad people but they are inexperienced, I’m hoping colleagues who have a lot of experience will use that to make sure people see we are there for residents and are going to make sure we hold them to account.”

Cllr Prince said he feels encouraged because a “good mix of councillors” from his group went for a “convivial drink” after electing him.

Despite some councillors in the group having years of experience as cabinet members under Cllr White, their new leader has appointed the less-experienced Dilip Patel as deputy leader.

He said: “I want a mix of old and new, this is an opportunity to blood some new talent.

“Dilip is a very successful businessman. Those are the skills we need to bring to the town hall.”

Cllr Prince, who represents Havering and Redbridge at City Hall, has decades of experience in local and regional politics. The 64-year-old served as leader of Redbridge Council from 2009 to 2014 and was previously a Havering councillor from 1990 to 1994.

He is also “set to be” the official running mate for Samuel Kasumu, one of several Conservatives hoping to be their party’s candidate in 2024’s London mayoral election.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter