THE seeds of the Andover Alliance were sown in July of last year, when future leader Richard Rowles called a meeting outside the Guildhall to rally support for ‘a new dawn in Andover’.

The idea for a party with a focus on local issues then bloomed during meetings at the Queen Charlotte pub, owned by one of the group’s members.

And in May, following the local parish and borough elections, the party and its affairs were uprooted and given centre stage when the Andover Alliance secured 15 of the 16 seats on Andover Town Council. Seven members also took spots on Test Valley Borough Council.

It was a rapid rise for the party, which was only formally registered with the Electoral Commission on March 22 – less than six weeks before the May 2 election.

So rapid that many residents were left wondering who the people behind this newfound group were.

The party’s membership comprises figures from various walks of life, including a number with a background in local politics, plus a handful of local business owners as well as those completely new to the political game.

Party leader Richard Rowles had been the leader of the Test Valley Liberal Democrats until his resignation on July 4, 2018.

Five days later he held a meeting outside the Guildhall, attended by 14 people, to rally support for what would eventually become the foundation of the Andover Alliance.

Councillor Rowles had been a part of the previous town council administration, as had Christopher Ecclestone, who stood as an independent in the 2015 election but was also a member of the Liberal Democrats.

So too was Michael James a town councillor, but in June 2016 he handed in his notice, citing “tension” and a negative atmosphere in the authority.

David and Joanne Coole also have brief histories of their own in local politics. Both had affiliations with the Liberal Democrats, and David has served as a parish councillor for Upper Clatford.

And Lauren Banville was elected vice chair of Andover and North West Hampshire Labour in April 2018. However she was removed from her role two months later after she defended the English Defence League (EDL) co-founder Tommy Robinson on social media.

Other members of the Andover Alliance trace their roots back to the world of local business rather than politics, including Kevin Farrer, owner of International Furniture, and Victoria Harber, landlady at the Queen Charlotte.

Graeme Davis, meanwhile, is the vice chair of environmental group The Anton River Conservation Association and a fundraiser at the Macular Society.

Despite their differing backgrounds, the party’s members were united by their common goal of providing Andover with a party that put ‘local people before national politics’.

That was the mantra, along with their 24-page manifesto, that won them sufficient local support to claim seven of the 43 seats on the borough council and 15 of the 16 on the town council.

However, in the months that followed the party began to show signs of wilting in the summer heat.

Just a week after being elected – at the first borough council meeting since the elections – councillors David Coole and Christopher Ecclestone formed a ‘notified group’ within the authority, with the other five Andover Alliance councillor opting not to follow suit, instead remaining in a non-notified group.

Party bosses insisted there was no split, but to add to the confusion Councillor Rebecca Meyer then “crossed the floor,” leaving the group of five and joining the ‘notified group’ of two.

The following month, the newly assembled trio were suspended from the Andover Alliance amidst allegations of “conduct which has brought the party into disrepute”.

Shortly after the party announced that the three members had been expelled.

The issues then made their way to social media, where councillors bickered via various Facebook pages.

The behaviour was the subject of intense scrutiny during the full town council meeting of July 19, during which members of the public branded the conduct “unprofessional and unbecoming of a councillor or mayor,” before calling for certain councillors to resign.

Attendance is another issue that has plagued the party. Councillors Dorothy Day and Peter Scott are yet to attend a single meeting since being elected in May.

Council policy dictates that any councillor who goes six months without attending a meeting loses his or her place on the authority. Next week marks six months since the election.

And earlier this month, the party was plunged into further disarray when Lauren Banville, deputy mayor of Andover town council, announced she was quitting the party.

The news coincided with the revelation that Banville and Rowles had in fact been having a relationship, which the latter would describe as “a case of misplaced faith” on his part.

After promising a new dawn for Andover at that town centre rally in July 2018, the Andover Alliance appeared to deliver on its word at the 2019 local elections.

But since then the party has suffered a number of high-profile departures, four of whom sit on the town council and two on the borough.

The party’s leader has also told the Advertiser he has had to “walk back” up to four other councillors who were at one time or another considering handing in resignations of their own.

And with town councillors Day and Scott in danger of clocking up six months without attending a single meeting, the party’s stronghold on the town council could be weakened further.

In May the party held 15 of the town council’s 16 seats. In just a couple of weeks that number could be in single figures.

Although the party remains in power, the Andover Alliance is starting to look progressively less and less allied.