Fringe Box



Comment: Surrey County Elections to Go Ahead As Reorganisation Doubts Remain

Published on: 24 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 26 Sep, 2020

By Martin Giles

Surrey County Council elections are to go ahead next May, the pandemic allowing.

Doubt had been created by county council leader Tim Oliver’s proposal to rush through a transition to a single unitary authority in order to restructure Surrey’s local government. Now whether any reorganisation will take place and if it does, when, is uncertain.

See: SCC Leader’s Bid For One Unitary Authority Torpedoed By Shock Government U-Turn

But even before the leaked email from Tory councillor Oliver emerged, in which he expressed frustration that his plan for a unitary authority seemed to have been torpedoed by the Government, it was clear that the party political preparations for a county council election had commenced.

Following their disastrous Guildford Borough Council campaign of 2019 and the acrimonious split of the eight councillors remaining at Millmead, the Conservatives will be hoping to steady the ship and protect the seven Guildford area county council seats they hold. The remaining three are held by Liberal Democrats.

Their candidate selection process is under way but many selection meetings have not been quorate (ie there have been too few members present to legitimise their choice) so those selections can be called in by the relevant local Conservative association for reconsideration.

One selection choice worth monitoring is that of Guildford South East. Incumbent Mark Brett-Warburton, who in various comments has shown a willingness to think independently, is being challenged by Geoff Davis, who lost his Holy Trinity borough council seat in May 2019.

Mr Davis’s main home is in Sussex but he has an address in Guildford too. He is a chartered surveyor who has extensive experience of property dealing in Guildford and beyond. When a lead councillor at Guildford Borough Council he was behind the council acquisition of Wey House, a large office block in Farnham Road. [insert M B-W & GD pic]

Cllr Mark Brett-Warburton and Geoff Davis

Of the forthcoming challenge to Cllr Brett-Warburton, Mr Davis said: “The situation on SCC selection is that I am competing with Mark Brett-Warburton for the Conservative nomination for Guildford South East.

“Of course, Mark is the sitting councillor, but a competitive process must be healthy. I make no comment on Mark’s time as a councillor, but I am offering myself because I believe I could do a competent job, if selected by the party and then elected. The interview process is on Monday, October 5.”

Cllr Marsha Moseley

Another interesting selection will be in Ash where the troubled politics of the parish council form a background (see: Ash Residents Angry After Tory Parish Council Co-Opts Political Ally). The incumbent, Marsha Moseley, is also a borough and parish councillor alongside her partner, parish council chairman Nigel Manning.

A challenge for the nomination earlier in the year from former “official” Conservative Paul Spooner, a borough councillor, now leader of the breakaway “Conservative ‘independents'” [sic] was seen off before the acrimonious split. According to Cllr Spooner, his challenge was one of the reasons for the fall-out.

In Guildford East it is understood that Graham Ellwood, another casualty in the May 2019 borough election, will be stepping down as a county councillor, with Philip Brooker selected as the Conservative candidate. Mr Brooker also lost his Merrow borough council seat last year. Cllr Ellwood, somewhat surprisingly, threw his hat in the ring when a leadership contest was held at County Hall in the wake of David Hodge’s resignation in 2018. He garnered little support.

Cllr Matt Furniss

And yet another losing Conservative borough council candidate, Matt Furniss, now in the cabinet at Kingston with the Transport portfolio, is likely to face a fight from other parties who successfully replaced the Tories at borough level in Shalford. His result might be a talisman on Tory fortunes.

The same could be true for county councillor Keith Witham at Worplesdon. He was one of three unsuccessful Conservative candidates in May 2019 when Residents 4 Guildford and Villages (R4GV) swept the board, a result that sealed their success.

Conservative Julie Iles, another cabinet member, who represents The Horsleys division, might be safer. She has consistently criticised aspects of Guildford’s Local Plan, especially the inclusion of the former Wisley Airfield as a strategic housing site.

Cllr Keith Taylor

It is yet to be seen if Keith Taylor will be standing as a candidate for the Shere Division. He resigned from Guildford Borough Council as a member for Send in 2015. If he does stand, he will be mindful of the demise of fellow Tory David Wright as a borough councillor for Tillingbourne, where Guildford’s current Mayor Richard Billington hung on as a Conservative, with only a slim majority.

Given the current political climate, the Lib Dems should be safe in their three local seats: Guildford North, West and South West, although Labour will be targeting Guildford West and North as their best prospects. Given the current Lib Dem/R4GV “partnership” at Millmead, one might have expected some sort of electoral pact to increase their chances in divisions like Ash and Shalford, but for the moment at least, they are both saying that they intend to field candidates in every Guildford division. We’ll see.

Incumbent Lib Dem county councillors: Angela Goodwin, Guildford North, David Goodwin, Guildford South West and Fiona White, Guildford West

One question does seem to have been cleared up though. The breakaway Conservative ‘independent’ group does not intend to put up candidates – for the time being. Cllr Paul Spooner said: “Our position is clear. Whilst we remain members of the Conservative Party, we will not stand against Conservative candidates, so we would only stand if selected by the Conservative party.

“Should our membership status change then we would consider all options.” With rumours circulating that the four councillors in the breakaway group might be ejected from the Tory fold, perhaps there is a thinly veiled threat there. But it is probably doubtful that they could significantly split the Conservative vote.

We contacted the various party chairs and asked the following:

1. Do you intend to field a candidate in every Guildford Division? If not, why not?

2. How do you rate your chances of increasing the number of Guildford seats you have? Please give reasons why.

3. How far on are you with the selection process? When do you expect it to be completed?

4. At this stage, what do you expect to be your main manifesto commitments?

This is what they said:

Sallie Barker, Conservative Party

Surrey County Council is seen as a national leader in many areas and noticeably it is recognised as a beacon for its handling of the pandemic crisis. We will put this track record, as well as our plans for the future of Surrey, to the people in every part of Guildford.

We have excellent and experienced candidates in place in most divisions and our full team will be in place within the next few weeks.

The work of our councillors is currently focused on meeting the demands presented by Covid-19, and going forward we will be adapting to the challenges that may bring as well as continuing to build on our services to residents in our community.

Catherine Houston, Liberal Democrats:

1. We have always stood a county council candidate in every division within Guildford borough and expect to continue to do so.

2. If the last few years have proven anything it’s that it is unwise and impossible to predict the outcome of an election nine months in advance, and nor do we wish to prejudge the views of the electorate. However, the local in May 2019 demonstrated the vast level of disenchantment with the Conservatives in Surrey and saw a substantial swing towards the Liberal Democrats. If this trend continues into May next year then we would be quietly confident of increasing our representation.

3. Guildford Liberal Democrats do not select candidates for all divisions at once and therefore our overall selection process is ongoing. However, we have already identified candidates for key divisions for next year’s elections.

4. For county council elections Liberal Democrats stand on a joint manifesto across the whole of Surrey and this joint manifesto will be announced closer to the election. However, in Guildford our top priority is to remove the incompetent Conservative administration at County Hall in order to stop the grotesque waste of taxpayers’ money, to stop the neglect of key public services (ranging from the fire service to road repairs to children’s services and libraries) and to end SCC obstruction of the infrastructure improvements needed to make our borough a cleaner, greener and truly sustainable place to live.

Fiona Davidson, Residents 4 Guildford and Villages

1. We will be fielding candidates in every Guildford division.

2. Well, as we don’t currently have any, we think we have a good chance of increasing our county seats. Surrey County Council’s proposals for a single unitary authority will rob Guildford borough residents of the opportunity to decide how and by whom they want their borough to be run. SCC has failed the borough, from flood defences to traffic congestion to potholes to resolving issues with the A3, so we don’t believe the current administration warrants the trust of residents. Guildford has a strong balance sheet and healthy reserves and we don’t want residents’ money squandered. We have lots of plans to improve our borough. Who would champion these in a huge unitary authority?

3. Our selection process is under way. We have identified candidates, but we’re still open to meeting candidates who share our vision and values.

4. It’s over seven months until the elections, so we haven’t finalised our manifesto yet. But we’ll be focusing on fighting SCC’s single unitary authority plans because we believe these will be disastrous for our borough. A core pledge will be a council that listens and that prioritises openness and transparency. We will also campaign for a reverse to the unsafe cuts to the fire service, and an end to SCC’s history of reckless property speculation in retail, all outside the county.

Brian Creese, Labour:

1. We will be fielding candidates in every Guildford division.

2. We know many traditional Labour voters supported the Lib Dems to “stop Brexit” last year, but having seen that this simply resulted in the incompetent and extreme pro-Brexit Johnson Government, we will be inviting them to vote this time for an effective political party. So we are very hopeful of winning at least one of the Guildford divisions next year.

3. We have candidates in place for all divisions and are holding members’ meetings online to confirm those selections by the end of the month.

4. Clearly with life being so unpredictable at present, it is not clear what the main issues may be by next year. We will continue to propose a three-way unitary authority which will reinforce local democracy. We will look to develop a greener agenda for the county across the board, and specifically a smarter approach to waste and recycling. We will not support developments without sufficient infrastructure and will look to create better opportunities for young people starting out.

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