By Mark Dunford
Tory rising star councillor Helena Croft is set to replace UKIP defector Roger Arthur as deputy leader at Horsham District Council, the County Times can reveal.
The Conservatives want to move quickly and as one to replace Mr Arthur to demonstrate tht the party remains united despite the loss of such a big hitter.
This week, Mr Arthur - who was deputy council leader, deputy group leader, and the cabinet member for finance - shocked colleagues when he announced he was quitting the Conservative Association to join UKIP. He will remain as a councillor.
He said the party nationally was no longer in touch with the grass roots - and UKIP was the real Conservative Party.
The news has already provoked dismay from some colleagues.
Council vice chair and chairman elect Philip Circus - himself a strong critic of the party nationally - said: “I was sorry to hear Roger’s decision to leave the Conservative Party and join UKIP but in doing so he echoes the rift which has developed between the party leadership and the grass roots.
“He has been a loyal fellow ward councillor and he is a great loss to the Conservative Party and to the Cabinet which will be much the poorer for his decision.”
But the Conservative group is keen to demonstrate that they are moving forward.
The intention is that Helena Croft will be helicoptered into the deputy leader role at the first opportunity.
She was only elected to the council less than two years’ ago but is already Cabinet Member for Communication, Horsham Town and Special Projects as well as being on the Development Control (North) Committee, the Licensing Committee and the Personnel Committee.
Mrs Croft has never expressed any political ambition making it clear that she only wants to serve the people of Roffey North in particular and the Horsham District in general to the very best of her ability.
But she already has many supporters.
One commented to the County Times: “She is enormously talented and an extremely able communicator. For all the right and proper reasons, the cabinet and the leader already rely on her hugely. They depend on her.
She is the natural choice to take on the deputy role - indeed some in the party think Roger’s departure was a golden opportunity to achieve this.”
The source said she was keen to modernise communications - making better use of social media and had been instrumental in testing the use of IPads for councillors.
“There is no doubt she will make a great deputy leader and is also a strong candidate not only to be the council’s leader when Ray [Dawe] is ready to hand over the reins but to succeed Francis Maude as the next Conservative MP for Horsham.”
The source said that Mr Maude was ‘damaged goods’ in many local Tory eyes - too closely associated with the failed modernisation of the Conservative Party under David Cameron and attracting too many negative headlines nationally, not least over his jerry can quip last year.
“Mr Maude put his Dial Post house on the market last year. He says he intends to continue as our MP - but there are some who think Helena could do a better job.”
The source accepted that not all Tory backbenchers would welcome Mrs Croft as deputy but added: “We need to pull together. Frankly, if they don’t like it they can go and join Roger Arthur in the UKIP wilderness. I doubt they will find that prospect very attractive.”
Councillor Jim Rae - who is also standing as a Conservative in the forthcoming county council elections - is being tipped by some to take on Mr Arthur’s cabinet finance portfolio.
Helena is one of the Leaders at Kingdom Faith Church Horsham, and the Founder and Project Director of “Streetlight” combating Sex Trafficking and Prostitution.
On the Kingdom Faith website, it states that Helena is “committed to being a Voice for the Voiceless. Helena carries God’s heart to champion women from all walks of life. She speaks with compassion and practical insight into real life issues that enable women to step into a new place of confidence and success!”
Writing about ‘She 2013: She Stands Out!’ event on 26-27 April at the church, Helena says on the website: “Have you ever felt invisible or that life’s challenges and circumstances somehow dull the light and God given treasures in your heart? That the pressures and demands without and the insecurities within, test your faith sometimes to the limit, in letting who you truly are be seen?
“Well the truth is girls … you were born to Stand Out! God has a plan to lift us into a new place with Him, where who we truly are can be seen by the world. Whatever race you are running, whatever mountain you are scaling, whatever walls you are leaping over … we are cheering you on and shouting unashamedly You can do it!”
This weekend, as her own supporters prepare to make her deputy leader, they are also shouting: You can do it!