HALESOWEN North councillor Karen Shakespeare, who quit the Tory group amid in-fighting, has returned to the fold to bolster it following the rise of UKIP.

Cllr Shakespeare and her husband, former Dudley Council leader Cllr Les Jones both switched to the independent benches on Dudley Council a year ago.

But after UKIP mania swept through the borough at last month’s local elections, they both decided the "time was right" to return.

After eight years as a councillor Tory Jeff Hill lost his seat in Halesowen North to UKIP’s Stuart Henley on May 22, leaving independent Conservative Cllr Shakespeare as the party’s only representation in the ward Cllr Hilary Bills was the first to break the Conservative dominance on Halesowen North, winning for Labour in 2012.

Embittered Cllr Shakespeare followed her politician-husband in resigning the Tory whip after the group’s leader Cllr Patrick Harley urged Cllr Jones to resign his seat for quitting the group and force a by-election.

Cllr Jones said a lot of the “internal issues” which had led him to become an independent Conservative have been resolved.

He said: "A lot of those issues have been resolved and the effect UKIP had on the local election made me realise now more than ever, it was important to have a strong local opposition to the Labour administration of Dudley Council.

"I expected them to get votes but not quite so many seats - the upsurge of UKIP is counterproductive locally. It is a party founded on a limited range of issues.

“The stronger the Conservative opposition is the better.”

Cllr Jones said he would not be seeking a shadow cabinet position at the moment and added: "I have a stronger knowledge than some of the newer cabinet members so I will help them to reach their potential and move forward. I am happy where I am as a backbencher.

"I believe I am fairly good at debating in the chamber and have a broad knowledge of all portfolio areas - it seems to be my bag to take on lots of information and store it."

Cllr Harley said he was "over the moon" about the pair returning.

He added: "It is long overdue. Each and every member was happy to welcome them both back, they are great assets to the group."

Cllr Harley said he was not surprised by the decision: "If you listen to the last two full council debates, it is obvious Les was on message with the rest of the Conservative group.

“He has always been a Conservative. He had a few disagreements, which caused a fall-out but now he feels the time is right to come back and we welcome him with open arms."