POLITICAL heavyweights will walk away from life at County Hall in Oxford this year after decades of service between them.

Among the county councillors standing down ahead of the election in May are former leader Keith Mitchell, fellow Tories Charles Shouler and Ray Jelf and Labour stalwart Roy Darke.

Mr Mitchell said: “Serving as leader of the council for ten-and-a-half years was the pinnacle and the best job I have ever had – so far.

“I provided the council with something it had lacked as a hung council – leadership.

“Like me or loathe me, I changed Oxfordshire County Council fundamentally and, I believe, for the better. I stood down as leader because I thought a decade was about the right time. Many leaders stay too long. “I am standing down as a county councillor because a quarter century is enough and, after the big job, it is less fun.

“In any case, I engineered the dismemberment of my county division when I persuaded the council to reduce the number of elected members as a financial saving.” He added: “I have another big job inside me if one comes along. I would like to continue a political career. I am too old, in my party’s view, to be an MP so would have to look elsewhere.

“In the meantime, I will see if I can increase my blogging activity and take on some of the lefties who are trying to persuade us that you can trust Blair and Brown’s party with the economy.

“After all, I have always enjoyed a good joke.” Mr Shouler said: “I was in the cabinet from 2005, when the Conservatives got an overall majority, until 2009 when I got ill. Then I got ill again last year, so it’s really dogged my last few years. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the council. I was council chairman for two years from 2001 to 2003, and going out in a civic sense and meeting and greeting the people of Oxfordshire was a great job.”

He said he had contracted lymphoma in 2005, and the disease went into remission, but it returned last year. Mr Jelf said: “I’ve had a wonderful time and have built up a fantastic relationship with the 10 parish councils in my area.” He refused to say why he was standing down.

Roy Darke said he was making way for younger blood, in the form of fellow city councillor Mark Lygo, who will stand for Labour.

Grandfather Mr Darke, 72, said: “For me it’s about being retired and wanting some younger blood who can be a bit more active.

“Mark expressed an interest so I stood aside for him. I want to be able to spend more time with my family and concentrate on my city council work.” Several other councillors are expected to step down, but none of the parties have published their full candidate lists for the election on May 2.