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Breakaway party crippled by double defection blow.

Byline: DEBORAH JAMES

THE future of a ``get out of Merseyside'' single issue party looked uncertain last night after its chairman and founder defected to the Tories.

The group, which wants Southport to be part of Lancashire not Merseyside, stormed on to the political scene two years ago.

The Southport Party defeated the then leader of Sefton Council in the 2002 elections and won three seats in the town hall. But yesterday it was revealed the party's chairman Russ Watson and founder activist George Halsall have resigned to join the Conservatives.

The defections have rocked the Southport Party, which is still regrouping after last month's electoral defeat in which the group lost all three seats on June 10.

Leader David Cobham and two colleagues were ousted by the Tories in the Cambridge ward, and by the Lib Dems in Kew and Meols.

It was a massive disappointment for the party, which has campaigned on its single issue since 2002.

The party caused an upset when James Grundy defeated Sefton's then Liberal Democrat leader Dave Bamber, to become the borough's youngest ever councillor at age 23.

In 2003 none of the three seats were up for renewal, but this year not a single one of 14 candidates -- excluding Mr Grundy, who stepped down to pursue a career outside politics -- won a seat Last night Mr Cobham said he was disappointed at Mr Halsall and Mr Watson's resignation, less than six months after he took over as party chairman.

He told the Daily Post the 150-member party now hopes to broaden its appeal by campaigning on a wider range of issues.

He said: ``This is not the end. We will continue to act as a watchdog and pressure group, fighting for better roads, health and education in the town, in addition to our main campaign of getting Southport out of Sefton. It is still a very strong and relevant issue.

Southport people feel they are part of Lancashire, not Merseyside or Liverpool.

The SP's problem, according to Colin Dow, leader of the Wirral Independent Party, was to focus too heavily on one central issue although his own party has never won a seat since forming two years ago.

Mr Watson, who has pledged his allegiance to Southport's prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Mark Bigley, said: ``I don't believe the Southport Party have a problem.

``In politics there is always going to be a need for anindependent. They achieved change and it made the national parties stand back and testify for their actions. ''

Immediately after this year's election defeat, Mr Watson pledged to continue campaigning with the SP.

Last night he admitted: ``That was then and this is now.

``I have now had the time to re-digest and take into consideration the future for Southport that I see. ''

But the resort's Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh said: ``Ultimately, Southport judges its politicians by their efforts, beliefs and results, not by labels. ''
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 15, 2004
Words:487
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