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‘I never planned to be leader for so long but the bug bites you’: Andrew Carter on retiring as Tory group leader

By David Spereall, local democracy reporter

Leeds’ retiring Conservative group leader has admitted he never intended to do the job for 40 years, after stepping down as party chief this week.

Councillor Andrew Carter has led the local Tories on the city council since 1983 and said he wouldn’t change his last four decades in frontline politics “for anything”.

In his first interview since his departure as leader was confirmed this week, Councillor Carter insisted “it’s not a wrench” to give up the job up, and that he’d plotted his retirement for some time.

He will continue to serve as a ward councillor for the Calverley and Farsley area, until at least his current term expires in 2026.

Councillor Carter said: “It’s been a pleasure. It’s been a privilege and I owe my constituents a huge debt of gratitude, which I’ll always try to repay, but it’s so great I don’t think I ever will.

“I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I didn’t plan to be leader for so long. There was always something coming up that needed to be tackled and I thought, ‘I can’t go just yet’. The bug bites you.

“You’ve got to like people and the advice I give to aspiring candidates is if you don’t like people and you’re not prepared to sit and listen to their issues and problems, don’t go for it. Because you’ll be miserable, or you won’t serve the people who elected you properly.”

As the city council’s most experienced member and with a CV that includes a spell as joint council leader between 2004 and 2010, Councillor Carter is widely respected across the political spectrum in Leeds.

Among the achievements he holds most dear are the completion of stage six and seven of the city’s inner ring road and the construction of the Aire Valley Link Road, both of which occured during his time in office as part of a ruling coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

But it’s the building of Leeds Arena, which opened 2013, which his political allies, and some opponents, believe may be his most enduring legacy.

The sale of Leeds Bradford Airport in the 2000s helped raise the cash needed for the arena, but multiple hurdles still had to be cleared for the scheme to go ahead. Objections from Sheffield over the potential impact on their own arts scene were chief among them.

“I did drive it, but all sides of the coalition were behind it,” Councillor Carter, who’s kept old Yorkshire Evening Post cuttings of the saga, said.

“Labour were lukewarm on it, because they’d never been able to do it (when in office before 2004).

“It was the sale of the airport that gave us the biggest part of the capital required. People tried to block it at every stage, particularly Sheffield.

“As far as I can tell it’s had no effect on Sheffield at all. Why should people from Leeds do a round trip of 80 miles to get to to an arena?”

From Margaret Thatcher through to Rishi Sunak, the Conservative Party has had 10 different Westminster leader since Councillor Carter took the reins locally in 1983. Sunak himself was a toddler at the time.

Asked which of all of them he felt his politics were closest to, Councillor Carter said it was “difficult” to choose, but that David Cameron was “very much my cup of tea”.

“I was very fond of David Cameron,” he said.

“When he was elected I thought he was a breath of fresh air, though I thought the way he handled the Brexit referendum was very poor.

“I have to say I have a great deal of time for the current Prime Minister. I think he’s a very bright guy and probably the brightest Prime Minister we’ve had for a long time, and I include Blair and Brown in that.

“I think if Rishi gets the chance, he will be an excellent long-term PM.”

Councillor Carter’s successor, elected unanimously by the 18-strong Conservative group is Wetherby councillor Alan Lamb.

Asked if he’d given his political heir any advice, Councillor Carter replied: “Always be straight with people. Tell them what you mean. Listen to advice and even if you don’t want to acknowledge it, listen to it anyway.”

Although stepping down as leader will mean more time for his beloved gardening and horse racing, Councillor Carter jovially dismissed suggestions he was finished with politics.

He compared questions on the subject to the John Wayne film ‘Big Jake’, in which the title character is repeatedly asked, ‘I thought you were dead?’ When asked for a final time at the movie’s climax, Wayne responds ‘Not hardly’.

“I’m not giving up from the council,” Councillor Carter smiled. “I wish people would stop saying ‘I thought you’d retired’. Not hardly!

“I’ve still got three years on my term to go as councillor for Calverley and Farsley, and then I’ll make a decision on whether or not to carry on in two years time maybe.

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