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Lib Dems and Tories in disarray as defections leave Labour the largest party on Bedford Borough Council

Labour has become the largest party on Bedford Borough Council, following defections in the Conservative and Lib Dem ranks. The council's two right-wing parties find themselves chasing their tails less than two months before crucial parliamentary, mayoral, and local elections in Bedford.

Castle councillor Caroline Fensom has left the Conservative Party, announcing that she was unable to support Jas Parmar, who is standing as the Conservative mayoral candidate for Bedford Borough.

Conservative group leader Steve Moon admitted to the Bedfordshire on Sunday, 'We knew she wasn't in favour of who was chosen as our mayoral candidate'. Parmar previously stood in the 2012 Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner elections, losing to Labour candidate Olly Martins.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Goldington, Phil Merryman, has also quit his party, telling the Bedfordshire on Sunday that he was 'at odds' with his party on the council. He is the second Lib Dem councillor to have resigned from in the last twelve months. The other was his colleague Sallyanne Smith, who resigned and triggered a by-election last May.

The Bedford Borough Lib Dems faced further embarrassment last year when another councillor, Paul Prescod (Wootton) was suspended from the party for three months for 'breaches of discipline'.

These internal struggles come at a bad time for the Liberal Democrats, as they are desperately trying to save Liberal Mayor Dave Hodgson from losing his seat. Nationally, the Lib Dems have dropped to as low as 5% in the polls in recent weeks.

The Labour campaign, in contrast, seems more united than ever. Tim Douglas, Labour's candidate for mayor, has argued that 'Lib Dem Dave' has failed as mayor to provide an ambitious agenda for the city. Critics say Dave Hodgson has been more interested in self-promotion than making the borough an attractive place for more people to come live, work, and shop. 

Hundreds of hours have been spent by Labour activists talking to local residents on the doorstep, promoting a strong slate of candidates: Patrick Hall for MP for Bedford & Kempston, Tim Douglas for Mayor, and a team of community activists seeking election to the Borough Council.

These defections suggest a wider unease among the Lib Dems and Tories. These aren't just resignations from parties, but as Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England, wondered aloud, 'Are they resigned to losing to Bedford Labour'?

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Article by Richard Johnson, with quotes sourced from the Bedfordshire on Sunday's report 'The Truth Behind Councillors Merryman and Fensom's Resigations' (http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk/Phil-Merryman-Caroline-Fensome/story-26145572-detail/story.html)

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