The Conservative councillor tipped to take over the leadership of the Northampton group in May is set to stand in a different ward in May’s borough council elections.
Current cabinet member for housing Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Obelisk) will seek re-election to the authority in the Tory stronghold Park ward, in Weston Favell, which in 2011 was won by Councillor Norman Duncan by more than 1,000 votes.
There was only one Liberal Democrat challenger four years ago.
Sam Shaw will stand in Councillor Markham’s place in Obelisk, north of Kingsthorpe, at the May election and Councillor Duncan will step down from his current Park Ward seat.
However, Councillor Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dem, Kingsthorpe) believes the cabinet member has been moved to ensure an easier passage on to the council in May.
She said: “I think when you have stood in a ward and you have worked in that ward, you should have the courage and conviction to stay there.
“If you have done a good job, people will vote for you again.”
Councillor Markham, who received praise across the chamber for her work as cabinet member for housing at the last full council meeting in March, ran for the Kingsthorpe North seat in the 2013 county council elections.
But she was narrowly pipped to the county seat by UKIP councillor, Michael Brown.
A Conservative source said Councillor Markham was the frontrunner to take the leadership of the town’s Conservative group and to become the new borough council leader if the party wins May’s elections.
Councillor David Mackintosh, the group’s current leader, is to stand down in May as he bids to win the Northampton South parliamentary seat.
Labour group leader, Councillor Les Marriott (Lab, Semilong) said the decision to move Councillor Markham to a different ward could be “through fear of the UKIP vote”.
He said: “I think it sends a signal out there to the public that they are worried.”
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “We are delighted to have Sam Shaw standing in Obelisk in May. He is a fantastic candidate who will work hard to help local residents with their issues and problems.
“Mary has done a great job as deputy leader of the borough council and has made huge improvements to housing, and we hope she is re-elected to the council in May.”