The leader of Merton Conservatives has stepped down to launch a shock leadership election just six weeks after taking the helm.

Councillor Richard Hilton, ward member for Lower Morden, only took the position in late March after his predecessor Coun Debbie Shears resigned from the post.

Explaining the decision, Coun Hilton pointed to the gains by the UK Independence Party in last week’s local elections across the UK as evidence the party needs to be united under one banner.

He said: “I have decided to call a leadership election within the Conservative Group.

"I was elected unopposed 6 weeks ago, as were both our previous leaders.

"But following the local election results last week, which saw the Conservatives take a hammering while UKIP raced up the polls, I want to offer our group a chance to vote me in again on a truly Conservative agenda I intend to push until our elections in 2014.”

The election is due on Monday, May 13.

In a jab at his predecessor Coun Hilton blamed Labour’s victory in the 2010 elections on “wishy-washy, Labour-lite policies that cost Merton Conservatives”.

He said: “We have just a year left to get a strong message out and turn our failing political fortunes around by showing we are in touch with our voters, understand their aspirations and their needs on crime, low-tax, housing and cleaning up our neighbourhoods.

“Now is not the time for half-hearted measures, U-turns or waffle. UKIP know this and we have to wake up to it too.

“It isn't complicated and we need to start putting out simple messages that resonate. But I want to be sure the group are behind me on this change, hence my decision to call a fresh leadership election.”