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Comment: Will a Tillingbourne By-election Tell Us How the Political Land Lies?

Published on: 31 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 3 Aug, 2022

By Martin Giles

It is only nine months until the next borough council election and we might get some idea of how the local political winds are blowing when a by-election in Tillingbourne ward is held.

The vacancy has been created by the much-mourned death of Cllr Richard Billington in May.

See: Town Pays Tribute to Former Mayor Richard Billington

GBC Election 2019 result map with Tillngbourne Ward labelled. Image Wikipedia

It might be that the Conservative party would be happy to let the seat remain vacant until next May and avoid a contest, if that is permissible. But even if that were the case, opposition parties will certainly act to ensure that the required number of electors sign a request to force the issue. So we can expect a by-election to be held in the autumn.

If this entry on the GBC website for the last borough council by-election, held in Send, is an appropriate example, only two electors need to make a request for a by-election to be triggered.

At the borough election count in 2019, Richard Billington, faced with the collapse in Conservative vote across the borough, told me, while the count was still underway, that he thought he might have lost. He was concerned not just at the prospect of losing his seat but because he had had to make all the necessary preparations for his forthcoming year as Mayor of Guildford, due to commence a few weeks later.

In the event, unlike his Conservative ward colleague David Wright, he did hang on but with a reduced share of the vote; down to 50 per cent from 67 per cent in 2015.

The 2019 GBC election result for Tillingbourne ward. Image Wikipedia

There will certainly be a Conservative candidate put forward in the by-election and almost certainly a Lib Dem but what will the other parties do?

Guildford Labour is unlikely to prefer any other party so their decision on whether to field a candidate is not likely to be tactical.

But the other parties at GBC do face a choice. If the Green Party, Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), or Residents for Guildford and Villages Group (R4GV) wish to maximise the chance of a victory for any one of them, then they will surely need to minimise the effect of the vote being split between them, which would only increase the chances of victory for the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

A recent example of this occurred in the same territory, during the Surrey County Council Election in May 2021. The non-Conservative vote was split between Julia Osborn (GGG) and Sam Peters (Green) allowing the Conservative Bob Hughes to win by just 78 votes, and only 37 per cent of the total.

SCC Election 2021 Shere result. Image Wikipedia

But there must also be a question of whether there will be a bounce back in the support for the Conservatives in what is normally Tory heartland. Some of the SCC results last year showed that this could happen, for example in Shalford Matt Furniss increased his majority and Worplesdon  Keith Witham easily saw off the R4GV challenge by securing 60 per cent of the votes cast.

Cllr Richard Billington

The GBC wards of Shalford and Worplesdon, albeit with different boundaries to the SCC divisions with the same name, had completely rejected the Conservatives in 2019.

And any “bounce” might be enhanced by feelings of sympathy for the former incumbent Richard Billington whose undoubted popularity was probably based on his personal qualities as much as his party allegiance.

 

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