SADDLEWORTH PARISH Council’s Independent vice chair Nikki Kirkham has announced a surprise move to join the Labour Party.
Cllr Kirkham, 43, believed to be the first female Independent elected to Oldham Council, announced in December that she was changing her allegiances.
She was elected a borough councillor for Saddleworth North in May 2015 and also sits on the Saddleworth Parish Council, currently holding the position of vice chair.
She cited issues with Cllr Mike Buckley, who was found guilty last year of downloading indecent images of young boys, as influencing her decision to leave the Independents.
Cllr Kirkham, who was born in Denshaw but lives in Delph, explained: “I have been thinking of joining Labour for a long time. It’s massive weight off my shoulders now.
“I stood as an Independent for the Parish Council and then for Saddleworth North at borough level because I thought at the time this would be the best way to help my community.
“It has become clear working as an Independent on Oldham Council does not help me do the best for my community.
“This has been made worse by the controversy surrounding Independent Parish Councillor Mike Buckley and his refusal to do the decent thing and resign from the Parish Council.”
Cllr Kirkham, who will join Labour councillors Steve Hewitt and Paul Fryer at Parish Council meetings, is one of a handful of councillors who have walked out of meetings due to Buckley’s attendance.
She went on: “So far in my time on Oldham Council I have seen how the labour Group is working hard to make Oldham a better place to live for everyone.
“This includes the fantastic regeneration of the Old Town Hall in Oldham Town Centre.
“Despite me being elected as an independent councillor, I feel I can get more done as an Labour councillor in Saddleworth North.
“My main priority is to support the residents of Saddleworth North and do the best job I can for them.
“Oldham Council’s Labour Group have been very supportive of the work I carry out in my ward and I feel being part of the Labour group will be beneficial.”
However, councillors and locals have expressed their disappointment at Cllr Kirkham’s move to Labour after being elected as an Independent.
Conservative Councillor John Hudson said: “Local people put their vote and trust in an Independent voice on Oldham Council, that is now lost by Cllr Kirkham’s defection.
“It begs the question; just how many years has she been thinking of becoming a member of the Labour Party?”
And in a separate letter to the Saddleworth Independent, a Dobcross resident wrote: “So Saddleworth independent councillor Nikki Kirkham has joined the Labour party. Part of her decision is the controversy surrounding Independent parish councillor Mike Buckley.
“This is a bit late as she campaigned to get him elected when he had been up for charges of child sex abuse. He is a parish councillor in part because of her. Hopefully she feels guilty about this.
“She got elected mainly on an issue to stop the new secondary school being built in Diggle. She is now joining the Labour party, the party that is in charge of making the school move to Diggle. This lets the people who voted for her down.
“Finally she stood as an independent because party politics is damaging, so now joins a political party. With changes like this no wonder people don’t trust politicians. When’s the by-election?”
And a Delph resident wrote to the paper: “I had a lot of time for Nikki Kirkham but I am now disappointed.
“We all know Nikki and the Independent’s main campaign was to stop Saddleworth school being built in Diggle. I did not agree with this stance as it is going to jeopardise kids education.
“Nikki moving to the Labour party is so hypocritical as they are the party which have made the decision to build a school in Diggle. You should stick to your principles and switching lets down those who backed you.
“I also think it’s a bit rich suggesting Mike Buckley is a reason for switching – she helped him get elected when he was up for child sex charges.”