IN DEPTH: Alan Dobbie the changing man

MAN and boy Labour party member of 27 years Alan Dobbie is facing his toughest political challenge yet – convincing people to vote for him as a Conservative. Cllr Dobbie, who represents the Noel Park ward, crossed the floor from the party

Rhiannon Evans

"MAN and boy Labour party member" of 27 years Alan Dobbie is facing his toughest political challenge yet - convincing people to vote for him as a Conservative.

Cllr Dobbie, who represents the Noel Park ward, crossed the floor from the party he had been a member of since the age of 15 last year to become the only Tory councillor on Haringey Council.

"It was probably the hardest political decision I have ever taken - anyone who has been in a marriage and got divorced, it was like that - but I don't regret it," says the 43-year-old medical secretary.

Now, just as he switched sides, he is battling to convince his constituents - and the rest of the borough - that they should elect Tory councillors in the May elections.

An experienced councillor and former Mayor, the de facto leader of the one-man Tory party was first elected to Haringey Council in 1990, when he became the youngest member at age 23.

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He served until 1998, when he stepped down, before coming back again in 2002, meaning he has 16 years experience on the authority over a span of 20 years.

So why, after such dedication and experience did he make the most radical of political moves?

"It was a number of things over time to do with issues locally and nationally. I just felt Labour was losing touch with what was going on here in Haringey and nationally," he says.

"Nationally you could tell Labour had just run out of steam, there were too many people worrying about what positions they were holding and how much they were getting for it.

"The expenses thing really angered me. Locally it felt like Labour had taken their eye off the ball and was not listening to local people, there was never really any consultation.

"The Conservatives have changed in the same way Labour had to change in 1997. It has to be about listening to people and not doing away with everything they have always stood for. There have been a number of similar defections across the country."

The move poses a difficult question for voters in Cllr Dobbie's constituency about whether they continue to vote for the party they have traditionally backed or to back their representative of 16 years, regardless of his political affiliations.

"Obviously I hope if people vote for me they are voting for the Conservative party because it seems a bit big headed to say they are voting for one individual," he says. "I know there are some residents who have said to me, 'I want to vote for you but I'm not sure I can bring myself to vote Conservative.' Others have said, 'Now you've left the Labour party we can vote for you'."

Having grown up in Noel Park and unable to drive and therefore walking everywhere, Cllr Dobbie says he has been a constant presence in the community.

"There's good reaction on the doorstep, far better than I would have thought, because people are so fed up with Labour and they feel the Lib Dems are saying one thing and doing another," he said.

He also says his experience could be invaluable in the ward with his two fellow ward members stepping down at the next election.

"Noel Park needs stability and whatever happens there will be at least two new councillors there so I hope I can offer some form of stability while helping those other two candidates, who I hope will be Conservatives," he adds.

After several months as a one-man-band it is hardly surprising Cllr Dobbie is hoping to have some Tory colleagues joining him after the elections.

He says so far the experience has been a difficult one. "What has been great is having the guys in the gallery coming along to meetings to give me support," he said. "But it's a really weird sensation at council meetings.

"What's very interesting is some of the things I would have had access to in the Labour Party I no longer have access to. It was my decision to change parties, but I would never have thought that's how other councillors would be treated - every councillor should be treated equally."

He says that should he be voted in for another term he would work to make sure all councillors are allowed access to similar resources, regardless of their party.

Aside from this pledge, Cllr Dobbie says the group - who will stand a councillor in every seat in the borough - have been spreading their word around Haringey of their core policies - "six to fix" - should they come to power.

They include saving health services - "I think London actually needs more A&Es" - fighting for fairer funding for schools and safeguarding children by holding a third-party independent review of children's services.

The Tories also promise to hold a full, borough-wide consultation of Controlled Parking Zones, with each one up for review and to cut the PR budget to reinvest into communities and increase the number of area assemblies.

Finally they are pledging to reduce council tax by �100 by the end of a four-year term and cutting the council allowances budget from �4.5million to �2million over that period.

That's all very well, but does he really believe they can make such a dramatic change in the borough's political balance and persuade people to vote for Tory councillors?

"It's down to people - if they want to have change, we think Haringey needs better, we love Haringey, we don't love Labour," he says. "I think a lot of people are so fed up with Labour I certainly am, and it's just asking people to lend us there vote and in return we will make Haringey a better place we can all feel proud of.