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Feature: Does 2019 Tory Defeat Now Threaten Party’s Long Grip On the County?

Published on: 11 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 7 May, 2021

By Martin Giles

In a month, the results will be known, the political control of our county council decided for the next four years.

How many of us care? Perhaps more than usual, if the borough council elections two years ago have signalled an awakened interest in our welfare.

But still not most of us. Since 1980, turnouts have averaged less than 40% at local elections.

See also: Surrey County Council Elections – Debate On What Could Affect The Outcome

Why do local elections not normally excite more attention? Is it because we are a small country and most of our attention is usurped by the national news and the national government?

After all, driven by years of centralisation, that is where most of the power lies.

Only in 1993 did the Conservatives lose control of the county council in recent times.

Surrey County Council used to be responsible for all our local state schools but many are now “academies”, free of the council’s control. Policing, too, was overseen by SCC but is now under an elected Police and Crime Commissioner.

Where Surrey County Council spends our money?

But the county council has an annual budget approaching £1 billion and is still responsible for providing services that perhaps many of us take for granted, until we need them, such as adult and children’s social care, two of the largest items in the council’s budget (see above).

And they are still responsible for our roads. Pothole repair is a subject councillors will tell you is often brought up on the doorstep.

Unfortunately, local elections are seen by the national media as nothing but an opinion poll on the standing of the national parties and the popularity of the government and those views are certainly influential.

Councillors have been heard to say party fortunes in this county council election might be affected by the views on how the pandemic has been managed.

This map of the 2017 SCC election result shows the clear domination of the Conservatives.

In the last borough council election (May 2019), a “domestic” issue, the Guildford Local Plan, broke through the normal pattern and caused a political earthquake.

How else can the election of 15 Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) and additional Guildford Greenbelt Group councillor and one from the Green Party all of them in seats formerly Conservative, be explained?

And there was the attempt by the Tories to spring a single Unitary Authority on Surrey, spending an estimated £500,000 in taxpayer cash on consultants without discussion with borough and district councils.

Will the disaffection with the Tories these issues caused continue? Who knows? In fact, who could say with any certainty how this election will pan out?

We have more parties standing, so the old two-party Conservative/Lib Dem dominance might be challenged. It already has been in some parts of the county where “independents” have made ground.

But with more parties, there could be more split votes. Perhaps this could favour Conservatives, if their normally dependable core supporters can make up a mere 35% in any division. That could easily be enough, under first-past-the-post.

So, having said how unpredictable this whole election is this is, my best guess at where the battlelines might be drawn in the 10 Guildford Divisions (there are 81 at SCC in total).

The Guildford Surrey County Council divisions. The Guildford divisions are represented by the initial of their geographic suffix.

Ash

The Conservative incumbent Marsha Moseley has made way for her partner, Nigel Manning, to stand. How the Conservative candidate selection was made is unknown. Ash is not part of the Guildford parliamentary constituency and so comes under the Surrey Heath Conservative Association.

But the bid by former GBC leader Paul Spooner to become the Conservative candidate for Ash is understood to have been one of the reasons there was a major schism within the GBC Tories. Feelings are still likely to be sore. Will that affect Conservative support or election effort? Probably not.

Other issues are views on the exclusively Conservative Ash Parish Council and the campaign to regain, access to Ash Ranges. Mr Manning has now got involved and if he could influence government direction on the issue, through his political ally Michael Gove MP, a cabinet minister, that could be a vote winner.

The Lib Dem candidate, Carla Morson, despite an exemplary record of community work during the pandemic, was rejected by Mr Manning and his colleagues when she stood to be co-opted as a parish councillor following the resignation by Mr Spooner.

Now, she is likely to put up a strong showing especially as R4GV have decided not to stand (not because of any anti-Tory election game-playing, of course not 😉 ).

A Lib-Dem victory would signal a seismic shift in the party politics of Ash but they have a mountain to climb. Definitely, one to watch.

Peter Kimber, the  Labour candidate, is not likely to get much of a look-in.

2017 SCC election result

Guildford East

The track record of the previous Conservative incumbent, Graham Ellwood, might make it easy for the aspiring Lib Dem borough councillor George Potter to take this seat and become a “double hatter”, a county and borough councillor.

Mr Ellwood had his own cul-de-sac resurfaced by the county council and then, after his defeat as a borough councillor in May 2019, seemed to lose interest, failing to attend council meetings, held online, for an entire six months, thus getting himself disqualified.

The new Conservative candidate, Philip Brooker, has been taking the Lib Dems to task on their promise to build thousands of council houses. “Where are they?” he asks? Will this be enough to counter any post-Ellwood disaffection?

Perhaps, but a stronger hope might be that the non-Tory vote will be split by R4GV’s Liz Hyland, a risk that is present in nearly all the Guildford divisions. First-past-the-post, which worked against the Conservatives in the borough elections, might work in their favour this time.

But this must be one of the Lib Dem’s best hopes for a gain, especially as there is no Green candidate.

Labour’s Sue Hackman, is standing here too.

2017 SCC election result

Guildford North

This should be a straightforward Lib Dem v Conservative contest, with the Lib Dems favourite to retain the seat despite a switch in candidates. Previously held by Angela Goodwin, the Lib Dem candidate this time is Julia McShane recently appointed the leader of the Lib Dem Group at Millmead.

Chris O’Keffe is the Conservative candidate and does not have too much ground to make up, 300 votes. Labour’s likeable and doughty campaigner Anne Rouse is putting up here again but R4GV have left the field clear for the Lib Dems.

2017 SCC election result

Guildford South East

Conservative Mark Brett-Warburton is as near as you can be to being independent without actually being one. He is proud of putting his constituents’ interests before those of his party.

Will this and any personal following stand him in good stead to fight off the challenges from senior representatives of the local Lib Dem and R4GV parties who field Jan Harwood and Fiona Davidson, respectively? And there is a Labour candidate too Joe Dewar.

The area this division covers was a happy hunting ground for R4GV in the borough elections. If the contest is three-way, 40% of the vote might be enough.

2017 SCC election result

Guildford South West

Ostensibly, one might think that Guildford South West should be Tory territory but it reflects the mix of the borough’s Friary & St Nicolas ward. The town centre areas of the ward probably contain a majority of the population and the more residential/ suburban Guildown/St Catherine’s the minority.

In any case, the division has been reliably Lib Dem in recent SCC elections and a R4GV vote for Lucy Connor is more likely to take away from Conservative support. Yet the Guildford Conservative Association’s chair Sallie Barker is looking to buck the trend.

Labour’s affable Jacob Allen might struggle to do better than his predecessor Matthew Smith.

Anything other than a Lib Dem victory for Angela Goodwin, who has been representing Guildford North and would be taking over from her husband David, would be a surprise.

2017 SCC election result

Guildford West

Guildford West used to be Labour oriented but those days seem to have gone. Despite the temporary blip in 2015 when Westborough returned two Conservative “paper” candidates the area seems to be once again dependably Lib Dem, with no R4 candidate, leaving the Labour and Conservative candidates, Brian Creese and Dorothy Chalkling respectively to fight over second place. John Hugh Morris, the veteran Peace Party – Non-violence, Justice, Environment candidate, is also standing here, once again.

2017 SCC election result

The Horsleys

The Horsleys could be one to watch. Anyone familiar with East and West Horsley might imagine it to be the truest of the bluest of the Surrey divisions and in normal times it is.

But there is considerable and continuing disquiet over Guildford’s Local Plan which, although not a SCC issue, could still affect voters’ decisions.

The Tory incumbent Julie Iles has consistently spoken against the Plan but will that be enough to defend her 700-vote majority? One might think so but then her opponent Colin Cross, now of the R4GV party, caused a huge upset when he took Lovelace, the safest ward in Guildford borough for the Lib Dems in 2016 before crossing the floor.

If he takes Lib Dem votes he could leave the way open for the Conservatives but if he takes Conservatives votes it could be an opportunity for the Lib Dems. Of course, if he takes enough he will win himself. But what effect will disaffection with R4GV in the Villages have following their failure to review the Local Plan?

Peter Horitz is the Labour candidate.

2017 SCC election result

Shalford

Shalford is another division where an upset is possible. Con Matt Furniss had a very comfortable cushion of nearly 1,600 votes in 2017 but will his support for the Local Plan be an albatross around his neck?

It is hardly going to be a feather in his cap. His recent endorsement of a call for a review of the Plan is also unlikely to win many over. But how much awareness of individual candidates or of the Plan is there in Shalford?

Judging by the 2019 borough election result, a lot. Both Conservative candidates, one an incumbent, were unceremoniously dumped. R4GV’s Cecilia Taylor is sure to be raising Mr Furniss’s track record on the doorstep and there is no GGG candidate to split her vote.

As well as Guildford’s Plan, Mr Furniss is also responsible for Surrey’s roads. If potholes remain a major complaint he might suffer, fairly or not, some of the road-users’ ire.

Although there is no formal electoral agreement between the Lib Dems and R4GV, some give a wink and say they will not be contesting this division too aggressively, making it easier for R4GV. But will Lib Dem voters recognise the signal?

Labour is fielding Susannah Patrick who, again, is unlikely to elbow her party into the fight.

2017 SCC election result

Shere

Bob Hughes, the Guildford Conservative Association president and former government minister, Hughes must be relieved to see both GGG (Julia Osbourn) and the Green party (Sam Peters) are contesting this seat.

With their vote split and the Conservative majority of 1,500 secured by Keith Taylor in 2017 (Cllr Taylor is now completing his deserved retirement from local politics) victory for Mr Hughes must seem the most likely outcome.

Everyone was surprised by the Green Party’s victory in Tillingbourne ward in the 2019 borough election, including the candidate Diana Jones, who was so sure of defeat she did not even attend the count. But if disaffection with the Local Plan runs very deep in the villages perhaps lightning could strike twice in the same place.

As part of a deal with the Green Party, the Lib Dems are not standing here this time and there is no R4GV either. So if GGG were not standing the Green Party candidate would have a much better chance. Given the situation, John Marsh, Labour, might see even the small Labour vote squeezed.

2017 SCC election result

Worplesdon

Conservative Keith Witham has the biggest majority in any of Guildford’s 10 SCC divisions, more than 2,000 and he has been an active councillor for Worplesdon.

But this counted for nothing when he stood as a borough council candidate in the 2019 borough election. R4GV swept the board in Worplesdon.

So the question is, can Gina Redpath repeat history and become the third Redpath councillor? (Husband John and daughter Maddy are both borough councillors for Holy Trinity.)

Any anti-Tory vote will have to be shared with the Lib Dems (Philippa Dolan) and Labour (Amanda Creese) but as in Shalford, how hard will these parties campaign if they feel it will improve the chances of the Tories retaining this seat?

The Labour candidate is Amanda Creese.

2017 SCC election result

 

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test 4 Responses to Feature: Does 2019 Tory Defeat Now Threaten Party’s Long Grip On the County?

  1. Ramsey Nagaty Reply

    April 11, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    If the Green candidate was not standing GGG will have a better chance. Where is the impartial political neutrality of the Dragon?

    The Greens as stated on their website often deliberately put up non-target paper candidates to split the vote.

    The Green Party had agreed not to contest the GBC Send by-election following the sad death of Patrick Sheard GGG borough councillor.

    Ramsey Nagaty is the leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group at Guildford Borough Council.

    [Apologies. The article has been slightly amended to show that if either GGG or the Green party stood aside it would enhance the chances of the other. Ed]

    • Sam Peters Reply

      April 12, 2021 at 9:47 am

      The idea that the Green Party put up paper candidates to split the vote is nonsense. The Green Party stand to win councillors who will work hard for local people, as demonstrated by the eight councillors (some “double-hatters”) elected in Guildford and Waverley in 2019, our long-standing county councillor Jonathan Essex, and their dedicated efforts for real change since being elected.

      In fact, in several divisions and wards in the upcoming elections we have stood down candidates not as part of any arrangement with other parties, but specifically to avoid splitting the vote, with no benefit to the Green Party. Rather than parachuting in candidates to stand anywhere and everywhere, we believe that giving residents the best possible chance to elect a progressive candidate is vital given our hugely unrepresentative electoral system and the clear desire of local people for an end to the disastrous Conservative rule at SCC.

      In others, such as Shalford, Guildford South West, and Friary & St Nicolas, I would note that it is more accurate to say that the Green Party is standing down candidates as part of reciprocal arrangements with other parties, rather than that there is no Green candidate. A subtle distinction, but an important one.

      Sam Peters is the Green Party candidate for Shere in the forthcoming SCC elections.

  2. Roshan Bailey Reply

    April 11, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    In local elections, I think many voters are far less interested in party politics than in what the candidates say they will do for us and their track record on relevant local issues, either as existing councillors or as concerned local residents.

    We are also likely to take account of the way in which previously elected councillors keep in touch with us both to check our views and to inform us about what they are doing.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 12, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    Given how badly we have been let down by the Tories on the environment and the Local Plan by both GBC and SCC, they deserve to be handed their P45 at both levels.

    It’s all very well now calling for a review of the Local Plan on the eve of the next election, but it is their creation. To quote The Who, “We won’t be fooled again”.

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