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Comment: The Conservative Label, For Me, Was Fatal

Published on: 10 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 11 Jun, 2021

Cllr Julie Iles

By Julie Iles

The former Conservative county councillor for The Horsleys is to write occasional articles for The Dragon based on her extensive experience in local politics and party political organisation at national level.

As I left my local coffee shop in Horsley, a resident stopped me and said: “I’ve voted Conservative all my life but I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for them this time. If you’d stood as an Independent you would have got in.”

Further discussion made it clear that he didn’t see me as one of “them” and it belies the old saying that you could pin a blue rosette on a donkey in The Horsleys and it would get elected.

Now it seems to be: “Anything But Conservative”. The donkey would get shot.

Whether people vote for the individual or a political party is an old issue but this conversation reflects a sea change in this area.

Other letters and comments inThe Dragon document the continuing backlash to Guildford’s Local Plan. It’s undeniable that it has resulted in there no longer being any Conservative representation at either borough or county level in this division because all Tories have been held accountable for the increase in house building in the area.

It’s understandable that people don’t distinguish between the different responsibilities of borough and county councils but it leads me to wonder whether this will affect future general elections in this patch.

The local Plan, by common consent, was an issue in the SCC elections.

The Local Plan is, of course, a matter for the borough council but the planning framework and policies are decided at national level. At county council level the responsibility is to mitigate the impact of development on infrastructure such as drainage, highways, traffic, school places and so on.

So, although Surrey County Council is simply a statutory consultee on these related subjects, the local voter went against returning a Conservative councillor. In this case me.

Will they have the same view when it comes to parliamentary representation?

Under the proposed boundary changes cited in The Dragon article: Guildford ‘Will Be More Marginal’ Under Proposed Changes to Surrey’s Constituency Boundaries,  Clandon & the Horsleys, together with its Tory antipathy, are shunted out of Mole Valley and across to Guildford. With a smaller majority, Guildford may not return a Conservative MP.

The proposed new Guildford parliamentary constituency would include areas to the east of the borough where Conservatives are now unpopular.

I don’t know what expectation people have when they vote for resident groups. Their various representatives at Surrey County Council are now the largest opposition group (if they all band together) but the Conservative group still have control of the administration.

Party politics does at least bring that cohesive view in setting the priorities of the county council as the strategic authority and surely we need consistency across county-wide services such as adult social care, children’s services, and highways?

Now it seems to be: “Anything But Conservative”

There isn’t a single sitting MP who has been elected as an Independent although some now sit as such because they’ve lost their party whip. At county level, we have 20 per cent or thereabouts of the elected members voted in for resident groups. At borough level, it’s higher, at around 40 per cent.

It might make sense at local level, where the issues are consistent, but I don’t see what those voting for “Farnham Residents” have in common with, say, supporters of the “Epsom and Ewell Group of Residents Associations”, and so on, much less how their elected councillors will agree on what measures to vote through.

Another resident, this time from Ripley, said they didn’t usually vote Conservative but because I’d worked hard for local people, and as it was still likely to be a Conservative majority, their cross would go against my name. They felt that vote would deliver more as I was on the team that had control of the council. But that takes us back full circle. Should we vote for the individual or the party?

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Responses to Comment: The Conservative Label, For Me, Was Fatal

  1. Alex Crawford Reply

    June 10, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    As the only Labour Party gain in the recent Hampshire County Council elections, I found Julie Iles’s comment provided food for thought.

    At first, I found it difficult to explain my surprise win in Aldershot North against an incumbent Conservative Councillor of eight years’ standing, who had just completed a year as Mayor of Rushmoor and who had previously served as Chairman of Hampshire County Council.

    As it was, my vote was 60 per cent greater than that for the Labour Party candidate in the 2017 county council election. But the incumbent’s vote was still 30 per cent greater.

    Factors seem to have been greater interest among a larger electorate, which saw a 28 per cent increase in the number of voters and an increase in turn-out from 28.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent.

    These factors may have come into play because my 10-week campaign focused on reaching out to potential voters on topics that interested them personally: the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on our local communities, it’s failure to fund and to support care homes and carers to meet the demands on them, the underfunding of services provided by local councils, the Police and the Fire & Rescue Service, and huge government cut-backs in funding for road repairs.

    In the end, the margin between winner and loser came down to 55 votes – less than 0.5 per cent of the electorate – not so much due to party politics but to the disconnect between this Conservative government and the Conservative councillors trying to run the councils they control without the funding to do it to meet the real needs of their residents.

    Alex Crawford is a Labour borough councillor for Aldershot North on Rushmoor Borough Council

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    June 10, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    The Conservative brand has been poisoned in Guildford by disastrous leadership from Mr Mansbridge, Mr Spooner, and a clique of councillors from around Ash and Tongham. Their Local Plan, forced through just before an election, has been a betrayal of local residents.

    The Conservatives were in power when the whitewash investigation into Monika Juneja found “no wrongdoing”.

    The architects of these disasters, like Mr Spooner, still evade responsibility and are still running the party. Until they all go the party is unelectable.

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