Fringe Box



Opinion: County Council Elections Should Not Be An Opinion Poll

Published on: 27 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 29 Mar, 2017

By Martin Giles

How will you vote in the election in May? What factors will affect your decision?

If you are thinking, “What election?” I mean the Surrey County Council election on May 4.

But your question is understandable. Most of us don’t bother voting in local elections. Last time there was a county council election in Surrey there was only a 30% turnout. Hopefully, the fact that you are reading this makes it more likely that you might vote, so presuming you will, what will guide your choice?

The chances are that you will vote the same way you have voted in previous elections – because most voters don’t float. Most of us stick with a political party even if we disagree with significant parts of its manifesto. For instance, many Eurosceptic voters kept voting Conservative, Labour, and some even Lib Dem, for years although their party’s policy was to stay in the EU.

Our first past the post system means that voting for smaller parties rarely feels effective, so for those floating voters the main choice in the SCC Guildford Divisions is most likely to be between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Cllr David Goodwin, defending perhaps the most marginal seat in the Guildford divisions.

In some divisions it would take a political earthquake for the Conservative incumbent to lose, in others the Lib Dems are almost as secure. There appear to be very few marginals where it could go either way: although Guildford South West might be one. Last time Conservative Nils Christiansen (now a borough councillor) nearly toppled the Lib Dem incumbent David Goodwin. This time though any Brexit bounce for the Lib Dems will probably keep Cllr Goodwin safe.

Surprisingly perhaps, UKIP came second in four of the 10 Guildford divisions and actually won in Shalford although only, as victor George Johnson admitted, because the Tories cocked up their candidate’s nomination. It will be surprising if they maintain their 22% share of the popular vote.

The Conservative candidate this time is the ambitious Matt Furniss, borough councillor for Christchurch. His views on Guildford’s Local Plan and developing areas of the green belt might not chime with all voters in the Shalford Division, which extends westwards and encompasses Compton, Puttenham, Seale and Tongham, and George Johnson might have developed a personal following, regardless of his UKIP label.

Cllr Matt Furniss, not recapturing Shalford for the Conservatives would be a calamity.

Nonetheless, it would be an electoral calamity for the Tories not to reclaim this normally safe seat, especially as the anti-Tory vote is likely to be split between the Lib Dems, UKIP and the sole GGG candidate in the election, Nick Norton.  Cllr Furniss will, no doubt, be expecting to win and make his mark at County Hall in Kingston upon Thames as he has at Guildford where, despite being the youngest councillor, he is the deputy leader.

But back to the question: how will you vote? If current county council issues influence voters it could be the recent threat to hold a referendum on a proposal to raise council tax, the subsequent U-turn, and the remaining issue of how our social services are to be provided and paid for.

Other county council policies that you might consider could be relating to education, or road maintenance.

For Guildford voters strong feelings on a party’s stance on the Local Plan might decide your vote, even though it is a borough council issue.

…May 4th isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an opinion poll on the government, or Jeremy Corbyn or Brexit.

But if past experience is still a useful yardstick in these more electorally volatile times then it will be your overall impression of the different political parties, their policies and their performance nationally that will hold sway. Unusually, at the moment, the party in power is riding high in the mid-term polls.

To many, facing enough challenges in our seemingly ever busier lives, the simplistic colour coding of our politics is irresistible, and even though a county councillor cannot make an iota of difference to Brexit, national security, immigration or the national economic policy it will be on those issues that many will decide.

The current political breakdown at Surrey County Council

And if national politics are to be the main influence we might, in pro-Remain Surrey, see the Lib Dem share of the vote increase, from just 16%, now that the antipathy caused by backtracking on student fees and joining the coalition is yesterday’s news.

Disaffected, pro-EU or tactical Labour voters might also decide to vote Lib Dem, as many often do as an anti-Tory protest. Lib Dems will be hoping all this to translate into more SCC seats for them.

Meanwhile any UKIP supporters, disappointed with the party’s post-referendum performance, might support the Tories and Theresa May’s Brexit plan, however unclear it might be.

For a small number of voters it might be their view of how central government constrains local authorities, controlling policy by controlling purse strings, that is crucial. But who would they vote for, who is offering more devolution of local government funding?

Cllr Marsha Moseley – the self-proclaimed “Pothole Queen”.

Of the local issues, that we should consider, potholes and road maintenance might be the one that causes the strongest feelings. At the last election in 2013 the straight-talking Cllr Marsha Moseley (Con, Ash), because of the time spent on the subject, described herself as the “Pothole Queen” and Stoke GBC by-election victor, Labour’s James Walsh said that potholes was the issue most frequently raised on the doorstep when campaigning in May last year (2016).

For those of you mostly worried about green belt development there will be little chance to express that concern, unless you live in the Shalford division where GGG are standing. As for those mostly put out by Scottish nationalism, as some local voters were rumoured to be in 2015, well frankly I doubt you are reading this.

But despite the way it will be seen and commented upon, May 4th isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an opinion poll on the government, or Jeremy Corbyn or Brexit.

It is, in actual fact, about our county council and the services it provides. If, for instance, you have strong views on potholes, or perhaps you have elderly parents and you are worried about who will pay for their care, or you are a parent of younger children wondering if they will secure a place at the school you prefer, then you might wish to find out what the candidates in your division would do about those things, what their policies are.

You might also wish to weigh your candidates up as people and consider why they are standing. Are they really going to serve you and your community or are they hoping being elected as a county councillor will serve them?

We might all be forgiven for thinking the overall result is a forgone conclusion, perhaps it is, but one thing is for sure – if enough of us continue to think that, and don’t even bother to vote, then it is.

Which SCC division are you in? Click here for SCC map.

Results from the last, 2013, Surrey County County Council election (source Wikipedia)


And by Guildford division:

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