A HUSBAND and wife team of councillors is facing a shock political split.

Liberal Democrats Ian and Christine James have served together on Weymouth and Portland Borough Council since 2004 representing different wards in Westham where they live.

But Mr James announced today he was crossing the floor to join the Conservatives. He cites changes in the Lib Dem group and feels that the Tories have stronger leadership'.

Mr James praised his wife for the work she does on the council and said the move should have no bearing on her position.

"She's her own person and contrary to what people may think we don't agree on everything," he said.

Mrs James said: "Of course I'm still talking to him. He has to do what he has to do."

She hinted that she was also considering her position in the party.

The Conservatives strengthened their position as the biggest party on the council at the May elections.

Mr James's move means they will boost their number to 17 although they will need another two members to take control of the council.

Veteran Lib Dem councillor Brian Ellis did not stand at the elections because he has become a church minister.

The party also lost David Harris, the former mayor, who did not stand due to ill health.

Mr James said in a statement: "The last election saw many changes in the Lib Dem group including the loss of two senior members.

"I'm not in the business of slating anybody least of all the Lib Dems - they have been good to me over the last few years and I wish them well.

"The council has some difficult decisions to make over the coming months that will require strong leadership and I believe the Conservatives have that leadership quality which is why I am crossing the floor.

"I still have two years of my term of election to run and my decision will have no effect on the people who elected me.

"I will continue to work hard for Westham East and I will continue to work with Howard Legg, the other ward member.

"At the end of the day I'm here to serve the borough and I will continue to do that to the best of my ability."

Mr James, 48, added today: "Christine and I have not always voted the same way on many issues.

"The way I see it, it will have no effect on the way we do business. Christine is quite happy and that's her choice.

"A lot of people think we're joined at the hip - and yes we are husband and wife - but that's not to say we don't agree on things."

Mrs James, 49, said: "I know Ian and I are married but we do talk. So no, this hasn't come as a complete shock to me.

"I now must think about what I'm going to be doing in the near distant future although I have to consider my position as a member of the Management Committee. I also want to carry on my role as transport briefholder.

"My loyalty is to the people that elected me, then to my party."

Leader of the Lib Dems Ian Roebuck said: "It's Ian's personal decision.

"He's saying he's been unhappy with the election of the group for some time which is a little surprising seeing that it's only been two months that he put himself forward as leader of the group.

"I'm not aware of any policy issues that have prompted him to go."

Leader of the Conservatives Mike Goodman said: "Ian is a man of great personal integrity and it is acknowledged that he has had to struggle with conflicting convictions and loyalties to come to this major decision.

"I know that his first concern has been to the people of Westham East. However, he cannot do so effectively as long as he is constrained by party politics from working in collaboration with other councillors and parties."

Coun Goodman said all the parties have learned to work together but suggested that recently there had been a noticeable shift in the atmosphere away from consensus and towards confrontation.'