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Lib Dems Win Lovelace Ward in a By-Election Landslide from Fractured Tories

Published on: 26 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 28 Sep, 2014
Winning candidate Chris

Winning candidate Colin Cross (centre) surrounded by Lib Dem campaign supporters including, next to him, Caroline Reeves the Lib Dem group leader at Millmead.

The Liberal Democrats wiped the floor with the Conservatives last night (September 25) to overturn a massive 55% majority and take the Lovelace ward, normally one of the safest Tory seats at Guildford Borough Council (GBC), with a 330 vote majority. A total of 878 votes were cast.

It is the first time since the re-organisation of Guildford Borough in 1974 that the seat, which covers Ripley, Ockham and Wisley in the north-east corner of the borough, has not been held by the Conservatives.

Colin Cross makes his victory speech

Colin Cross makes his victory speech

The full by-election result was: Colin Cross, Lib Dem 555; Ben Paton, Conservative 225; David Sheppard UKIP 63; Robin Woof Labour 32.

The scale of the victory surprised even the winning candidate, Colin Cross, who was standing for the first time. He said: “I am elated, I did think that it would be much tighter than that. It means that the people have rejected the Tories in any colour or form because they see them as not to be trusted.”

The turnout, whilst not of Scottish referendum proportions was, at 48%, higher than usual for a council by-election. Lovelace is one of the smallest wards in Guildford Borough, in terms of population,  comprising around 1,800 registered voters. It returns a single councillor.

Strong local feelings over the Local Plan did not materialise into votes for the Conservative candidate Ben Paton, despite his vociferous commentary and very strong criticism of the Conservative led council over recent months. Looking glum, apparently aware of the likely outcome even as he entered the count venue, Ripley Village Hall, he cut a rather disconsolate and lonely figure.

In his victory speech Colin Cross, addressing an audience who were overwhelmingly Lib Dem Supporters, said: “Team Ripley I cannot thank you enough.

“I would like to thank Ben and wish him well and the other candidates. It has been a very fair fight and I am glad to say that I think the vote proved the best man won.”

Only one Conservative from Millmead was present, Cllr Paul Spooner, (Ash South and Tongham) who seemed to be very happy with the result. He had publicly questioned Mr Paton’s true political allegiance in a letter to the Guildford Dragon NEWS and was seen to chat cheerfully with the many Lib Dems present, even hugging one as the result became apparent. He hardly seemed to speak with his own party’s candidate.

Ben Paton’s selection, under the auspices of the Mole Valley Conservative Association, had been opposed by council leader and Conservative group leader, Stephen Mansbridge. There had been precious little, if any, sign of any support from the Guildford Tory election machine during the campaign.

Asked, while the count was taken place, if he had received any campaign support from the Guildford Conservatives, Mr Paton, who, in common with the Lib Dem candidate, openly supported the Guildford Greenbelt Group, would only give a determined: “No comment.”

The Lib Dem victor speaking exclusively to The Guildford Dragon NEWS said: “It is normally the Tories that have the strong campaign team but this time around I was very fortunate. The team members were primarily Guildford people and a few from Mole Valley and some local support from the parish.”

Asked whether, as a Guildford Greenbelt Group supporter, he might find it difficult to reconcile his views over the troubled Local Plan with those of the rest of the Lib Dem Group at Millmead, Mr Cross said: “Fortunately the Lib Dems talk in terms of every ward councillor having his own voice, so I am going to have to square that away as I go along.”

Map showing the three parishes of Wisley, Ockham and Ripley, in the north east of Guildford Borough, that make up Lovelace Ward.

Map showing the three parishes of Wisley, Ockham and Ripley, in the north east of Guildford Borough, that make up Lovelace Ward.

The result has little impact on the balance of power at Millmead. The number of Lib Dem seats increases to 13 while the Conservatives number is reduced to 33. The Labour group remain with two seats. The seat will be re-contested next May as part of the borough council local election.

Caroline Reeves leader of the Lib Dem Group at GBC said: “I am delighted to have a new member in the Guildford Lib Dem group. The resounding success of Colin’s campaign shows how  well we work in our wards, and I am sure the residents of Lovelace will once again benefit from having a hard working, well-known and well-liked councillor.”

An interested onlooker of the count was Susan Parker, chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group. She said: “Many congratulations to Colin, who will be a superb councillor.

“I’m delighted that such a strong GGG supporter has won this by-election. Through the campaign Colin has made it clear that he has always fought to protect the green belt and I’m sure that will continue inside the council chamber. We look forward to supporting him – and all councillors who endorse GGG’s values – in that battle.

“Colin commands enormous personal support and loyalty in Ripley.

“I think we should not ignore the fact that many historic Conservative voters have refused to vote Tory because of the local plan and its impact.  There is a lesson there that other councillors, and MPs, might like to heed. We therefore need a change in policy, at both local and also government level. I expect that there will be other GGG supporters elected as councillors next year.”

UKIP candidate David Sheppard said: “My congratulations to Colin cross on his win for the Liberal Democrats. However the uncertain future for the residents of the Lovelace ward still looms large.

“Green belt encroachment nationally has been unprecedented over the last five years, and we wait with baited breath to see the final outcome of this unhappy saga, ‘The Guildford Plan.'”

The official comment from the Conservative group spokesman, Cllr Matt Furniss (Christchurch), was: “Whilst disappointed at the result we would like to congratulate Colin Cross on his success in the Lovelace by-election and look forward to working with him on Guildford Borough Council.”

Conservative councillor Paul Spooner (Ash South & Tongham) said: “I was present at the count and whilst disappointed for local Conservatives I believe that the Lib Dems fielded a very strong and popular candidate and that was recognised at the ballot box. I congratulate Cllr Cross on his success.”

The by-election was called following the death of Cllr John Garrett in July.

Any further comment will be added as received.

Please have your say too. What do you make of this unusual result? Please use the “Leave a Reply” feature below.

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Responses to Lib Dems Win Lovelace Ward in a By-Election Landslide from Fractured Tories

  1. Neville Bryan Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 10:34 am

    A gentleman has been elected. And somebody who will help correct the glaring errors in the Local Plan.

    Congratulations Colin, and well done the people of Lovelace for reminding everybody the purpose of democracy.

    Role on May 2015.

  2. Michael Bruton Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I am an instinctive Conservative but I congratulate Colin Cross on his election victory.

    Commiserations are due to Ben Paton who lost – not because of real Conservative policies but because of the policies of Cllr Mansbridge and the Guildford Tories generally.

    Ben is a great guy with a sharp intellect who has filleted the Draft Local Plan. I hope that he will stand again in May 2015 within the borough, with his dedication to achieve reasonable housing numbers in the Local Plan and the protection of the green belt.

    Guildford’s Tories have merely paused – but briefly – over the Local Plan because of the opposition of thousands of residents. But I do not underestimate their political cunning.

    Is their tactic really to appear reasonable and in listening mode until after the borough council elections in May 2015 – and then hopefully to squeak home. If so, then to carry on unimpeded as they carpet Guildford Borough with excessive numbers of new homes? Developers must surely hope for such an electoral outcome.

    A couple of weeks ago Cllr Mansbridge announced that he had set his ‘trajectory’ and that Guildford Borough was well ahead of other boroughs with its Local Plan. Now we have this sudden change of heart?

    The botched handling of the Local Plan by the Tories, the waste of money to date – now requiring yet another £500k of our money? The closure of yet another so called consultation today is just the ‘end of the beginning’ to protect Guildford Town and its countryside from the bulldozer and the concrete mixer.

    Michael Bruton is a Guildford Greenbelt Group campaigner.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I am afraid that Ben Paton was the subject of a protest vote against the Tory Executive.

    I am sure that it would have been better if he had stood as an independent candidate. An independent with just one objective – to save our cherished way of life.

    This result will make it difficult if he stands at the next election in only seven months time.

    I also find it difficult to believe, as reported, that his fellow conservative, the Tory councillor from Ash, should have shown him no support whatsoever. Indeed the opposite seems to have been the case.

    The Liberal Democrats must be delighted over this division within the Tory party which can only lead to humiliation in the polls next year.

    Needless to say Guildford is a marginal constituency.

    I am sure the new councillor, Colin Cross, will take up our challenge but will his new colleagues give him any help in this herculean task?

  4. George Potter Reply

    September 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    I was proud to be one of the Liberal Democrats out on the doorsteps in Lovelace yesterday and if the number of Lib Dem councillors who came out to campaign for Colin Cross is any indication then he’s going to continue to receive lots of help for them in standing up for Ripley, Ockham and Wisley against the Tory Local Plan.

    George Potter is the secretary of the Guildford Liberal Democrats

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Cllr. Mansbridge said “be careful what you wish for”. The wish of he and his cabal appears to have been ‘anyone but Ben’ as they sought to undermine his selection and election.

    Well, now they have their wish. However, I am sure that Colin Cross will be an equally effective thorn in their sides.

  6. Ian Shaw Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Colin Cross and his team deserved to win this election. A sustained calibrated campaign in print media, online and on the doorstep proved to be a winner.

    As a local resident my hopes are now invested in him to fight this corrosive GBC Plan tooth and nail. Well done Colin. Ripley, Ockham, Wisley and Send expects…

  7. Colin Cross Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Next May’s borough election campaign was kick-started in Ripley on Thursday night.

    A brief glance at the numbers is enough to make every Tory councillor’s blood run cold. A 48% swing is enough to unseat every single one of them.

    As Lovelace has shown, the voters are in no mood to show any mercy to this GBC cabal after they have totally reneged on their primary election promises of 2011.

    There will be no hiding place for any of them come their day of reckoning.

    Colin Cross is the newly elected Lib Dem councillor for Lovelace ward

  8. Jim Allen Reply

    September 27, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    While Mr Cross may be crowing about his win in the by election, and with no disrespect to him personally, I saw no support for the urban areas when his party supported, en bloc, the Aldi application, dumping an oversize retail store on an undersized site (on one of the busiest junctions at the entrance to Guildford) and removing the last possible site in Burpham to provide the much needed community facilities when the additional urban expansion takes place.

    I hear no objection to the removal of the tree protection orders in Burpham from the Liberals who aided the building of high density housing in Burpham’s back gardens: none stood up and shouted.

    So Lovelace, be careful of strangers bearing gifts. They may not be what you want.

  9. Colin Cross Reply

    September 28, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I will have to disappoint Mr Allen: I am not addressing individual ward planning concerns, much as I realise they matter, of course.

    I am saying that this record-breaking swing came about only because people of all political shades made common cause with the basic need we have to preserve our villages, the green belt and our way of life – Aldi or no Aldi.

    Colin Cross is the newly elected Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace ward.

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