Fringe Box



Opinion: County Council Election – What Does it Mean?

Published on: 6 May, 2017
Updated on: 8 May, 2017

County Hall, Kingston upon Thames

By Martin Giles

What are we to make of the Surrey County Council election results?

Well the first obvious conclusion is that Guildford and Surrey remain overwhelmingly Tory. No real surprise there.

But apart from hoovering up the votes from UKIP, and its three seats, the Conservatives failed to make inroads into the other parties.

Here in Guildford the three Lib Dem seats, Guildford North, South-West and West, were easily defended, all with increased majorities. Elsewhere in the county the residents’ association candidates maintained their significant representation of nine seats, equal in number to the Lib Dems.

What might be surprising, given the normal views of Surrey politics, is that less than half, 47%, of those who voted, supported the Conservatives. But the first past the post system, which most of us preferred when given the choice in 2011, means that percentages even lower than 47% normally translate into a dominant majorities. It certainly has this time. The Conservatives will have 61 of the 81 SCC seats.

But just what were voters voting for? The national media and national politicians regard local elections as a massive opinion poll on the political parties nationally and most local politicians will admit that they are often straws in the political wind, indicating the way the wind is blowing but with little control over its direction.

Was Brexit a major factor in voters’ minds? Perhaps with some, but in a district that voted 56% to Remain there was no significant defection from the Tories to the Lib Dems that one might expect if it was. It could be that with a general election only a month away any impact of the government’s position on Brexit will have been postponed.

Or was it more a gut instinct. That at this time in history with the uncertainty Brexit represents and the undoubtedly challenging economic situation we face, as a country, the Conservatives were the safest bet, at a local level too.

The biggest issue affecting the whole of Surrey County Council’s programme is funding but, even though this could be laid at the door of a Conservative government, it seems not to have affected the results even with the publicity over Nickileaks.

In truth, there is only so much that county councillors can do about funding. Faced with a huge national debt, central government seems determined to maintain its squeeze even though the pips started squeaking some time ago. There exists an undeniable gap in the funding of adult social care and many of us remain very dissatisfied with the current level of road maintenance..

Keith Taylor, re-elected as the Conservative county councillor for Shere, admitted as much. He said: “I don’t think there’s a magic answer to the issues at SCC, but we will continue to push down on the costs of our front-line services. Although we have been doing this for so long now that it’s too hard to see what difference there is still to make.”

His colleague, Mark Brett-Warburton, re-elected in Guildford South-East agreed: “There are tough times ahead on the funding front. We will need to find innovative and smarter ways to address the funding issues and engage with the public over the choices to be made.”

Despite prior claims that unhappiness over the Local Plan in Guildford would affect support for the Conservatives this does not seem to have happened. Of course, the Local Plan is not a county council issue but Julie Iles felt it necessary to say “development must not impact on the villages” as part of her campaign to win The Horsleys.

Often in elections there are some individuals who buck the trend, but the general respect for UKIP’s George Johnson’s work over the last four years at County Hall, representing the Shalford division, was not enough to prevent his support dissolving and one of the normally safest of seats was reclaimed by Matt Furniss for the Tories, who notably, with Marsha Moseley (Con, Ash), refused to be interviewed by The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

Countywide the election, again, of nine residents’ association councillors is interesting. One might have expected their support to dissolve too if national politics was the main interest of voters. They seem to have established a loyal following and it would be interesting to discover why.

Farnham, just 10 miles to the west of Guildford, with similar politics, one might expect, elected two Farnham Residents candidates for the three Farnham town divisions and the third missed out by only 63 votes. Perhaps it is surprising that a similar group has not emerged in Guildford?

Meanwhile in Cranleigh, Andrew Povey was re-elected to Surrey County Council following his controversial selection as a Conservative candidate. How he will be re-accepted in the Tory fold at Kingston under the leadership of David Hodges, with whom he obviously fell out before his resignation in 2011, remains to be seen. And the question also remains as to why, given his track record, the Guildford Conservative Association was so keen to select him.

See also: Conservatives Maintain Their Grip of SCC – Shalford Alone Changes Hands in Guildford

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Responses to Opinion: County Council Election – What Does it Mean?

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    May 6, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    The saddest thing about the county council elections as far as I’m concerned is the apathy of the electorate. In my ward, Guildford North, barely a third, or one in three voters, could be bothered to get out of their armchairs and cast a vote.

    Who knows what the results might be if there was a full turnout?

  2. Stuart Barnes Reply

    May 7, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I am sorry to see that George Johnson did not hold on to his seat. However we must thank UKIP for their great efforts over the years which helped to bring the far left call me Dave (Cameron) faux Conservative party back to sanity and allowed us to escape from the EU.

    Even if UKIP now fade into a small irrelevant party, like the Liberals, they will still be remembered with thanks and affection for what they have achieved.

    Surely it is now time to give Nigel Farage his well deserved peerage?

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