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Opinion: Why Has Lovelace Fallen Out Of Love With The Tories?

Published on: 28 Sep, 2014
Updated on: 28 Sep, 2014

ballot boxBy Martin Giles

What are we to make of the remarkable by-election result on Thursday (September 25) in the Lovelace ward that covers Ripley, Wisley and Ockham?

It was truly remarkable. Lovelace was one of the safest Conservative seats in the borough. Indeed it had always been Conservative since the council reorganisation in 1973. In the 2011 election, the Conservative candidate, the late John Garrett, with a similar 50% turnout, obtained 648 votes out of 913*.

Colin Cross, standing for the Lib Dems, almost completely reversed that result this time, attracting 555 votes out of the 875* cast. Even he was clearly shocked by the level of his majority.

Nationally at the moment, according to You Gov, the Lib Dems are languishing at 6% in an opinion poll, neck and neck with the Green Party; while a Sunday Times poll showed UKIP above them both at 15%, the Tories at 31% and Labour at 36%.

Unfortunately, despite the differences in function, issues and performance between local and national politics, the way we vote in local elections is, normally, heavily influenced by our current views of the national political parties. But not in Lovelace last week it seems – another remarkable aspect of the result.

Opinion Logo 2So what caused so many Lovelace voters to rebel, to change their political horse and buck the national trends?

Firstly, Colin Cross was universally acknowledged to be a good candidate. A local man who spoke his mind simply and clearly and was in tune with local disquiet over proposals in the Draft Local Plan, in particular the idea of developing a complete new settlement on the former Wisley airfield aite.

Secondly, the Tories were in disarray. Political constituency boundaries do not coincide with borough boundaries, so it was the responsibility of the Mole Valley Conservative Association to organise the selection of a by-election candidate.

The man they chose, Ben Paton, was one of the most vociferous and effective critics of Conservative led Guildford Borough Council. Indeed, council leader Stephen Mansbridge turned up, unwanted by some, at the selection meeting, exercising his right to do so as leader of the political group Mr Paton would be joining. He objected to Paton’s selection but was ignored or outvoted.

As a result, Guildford Conservatives disowned, in practical terms, the official Conservative candidate and could scarcely hide their desire for a Lib Dem victory. This despite the fact that Ben Paton was clearly reflecting the most frequently voiced concerns of the residents in the Lovelace ward.

Then there was the mid-campaign letter from Cllr Paul Spooner, a member of the GBC Executive, questioning Ben Paton’s allegiance and extracting, in a response, an admission that Paton might “cross the floor” at a later date if he felt it necessary. Meanwhile, Colin Cross muddied the water further by going on the record to tell Ben: “…your enemy’s enemy is your friend.”

So voters, if they intended to vote on the basis of their view of Local Plan proposals, were left with the choice between the party they traditionally supported, represented by someone local who was in tune with them but out of tune and out of favour with the local party leadership, albeit the same leadership responsible for the Draft Local Plan they hated, or a well known, respected and liked man, also local  – but more a salt of the earth type guy, who was equally unhappy with what the plan contained and whose differences in opinion over the Local Plan issues with his own political leadership were less apparent and said to be tolerable.

Both candidates had declared their support for, and membership of, the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) a group probably disliked by the Tory and Lib Dem leaders at Millmead, in equal measure.

In the end, it seems that Lovelace decided the Conservatives needed to be punished. They liked Colin Cross but they did not vote for the Lib Dems because they preferred its view, as a party, on the Local Plan: they simply had had enough of the Tories and were especially angry about them reneging on promises given in 2011 to protect the green belt.

The UKIP and Labour candidates hardly got a look in. The UKIP man from Merrow did manage to beat the local Labour candidate into fourth place, but their shares of the vote, 63 and 32 votes respectively, were so low not much can be deduced.

Time will tell if the voters of Lovelace have made the best choice to represent their views. Colin Cross might not find it is as easy to remain independent over the Local Plan and remain part of the Liberal Democrat group, as he imagines.

Meanwhile, Stephen Mansbridge and his Executive might be privately enjoying, in some masochistic way, the Lib Dem kicking they have received. But they would be wrong to imagine that most observers will feel that this exonerates or justifies their behaviour in the by-election. Just what kind of candidate did they want, one that meekly followed the party line, regardless of the mood of his constituents, prepared to give out more false promises?

Electorates do not like parties that break promises or who are obviously divided – and the divisions in the Tory group at Millmead become more apparent by the day. The signs are that they intend to park the Local Plan for a while and hope that other concerns might affect voter thinking between now and next May when there are likely to be GGG candidates on the ballot papers.

Perhaps a fall-back plan will be that if, next year, they do not win enough seats themselves they could take a leaf out of David Cameron’s book, find a rose garden, and form a coalition with the Lib Dems? The established parties could close ranks against the green belt upstarts. Where would that leave Colin Cross and, more importantly, where would that leave members of the Tory group who probably dislike elements of the Draft Local Plan as much as the GGG?

Interesting times indeed for local politics. Please keep watching – the future of your borough is at stake.

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

* Excluding invalid votes.

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Responses to Opinion: Why Has Lovelace Fallen Out Of Love With The Tories?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    The extent to which the GBC Tories went to to try sabotage Ben Paton’s selection, and election chances, simply beggar belief. They are both extraordinary and unprecedented.

    They will not be forgiven in a hurry for such underhand tactics.

    We need to know what else they have to hide.

  2. Susan Parker Reply

    September 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    The Guildford Borough Executive committee have decided to try to damage the democratic process even further. They intend to make it harder for members of the public to raise issues by petition.

    The plan is to raise the threshold for a petition to debate a topic to 2500 signatures. This proposal will not be subject to approval by the whole council. It is just being approved by the eight members of the Executive, all of whom were personally appointed by the leader of the council.

    It is on the Executive agenda this evening and it will not be subject to any wider approval. It will not be approved by a scrutiny committee, or by the full council – it is just being rammed through.

    This is a serious change in the democratic process within Guildford.

    There are a number of deeply concerning changes which have been approved by the Executive, without debate. It has also been proposed that only two members of the Executive, together with the council’s managing director, should approve very major capital purchases – with our money.

    This just shows why we need to ditch the undemocratic Executive system and allow wider consideration of issues by the full council.

    Those who wish to object can sign our Local Democracy petition to reinstate the committee system, so that all elected councillors get a voice and a vote on all council decisions.

    This isn’t party based, and it isn’t related to the green belt, it just means that the councillor elected by local voters can represent their views. At present, our councillors are almost as powerless as the rest of the community.

    We have to use a paper petition for this petition. We need 5% of the local electorate to sign in order to require this. Those who wish to can download a copy from the GGG website Instructions are on the front sheet.

    Susan Parker is the chairperson of The Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG)

    • Natasha Barnes Reply

      October 1, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      In response to Susan Parker’s comment.

      Having just read the report, the proposal was not to be approved by the Executive. The Executive were going to recommend the proposal to council who are considering the proposals at the its meeting next week. The Executive do not have the power to change the constitution – that power is reserved by full council.—Review-of-Constitution—Phase-2/pdf/Item_07_-_Review_of_Constitution_-_Phase_2.pdf

      The council report also makes clear that these proposals have already been considered by councillors at a consultation workshop, as well as last week’s Corporate Governance meeting.—7-October-2014?cur=2

      • Susan Parker Reply

        October 2, 2014 at 8:07 am

        I’m not quite clear what Natasha Barnes is saying.

        The documents she is quoting were not published nor were they publicly available before the Executive meeting or before I wrote the comment above.

        If the agenda item had not been picked up and commented upon by GGG members, and a GGG member had not spoken at the meeting, would the Executive have decided to leave the threshold where it is and withdraw the recommendation?

        I think there is a need for more open democracy.

        Susan Parker is Chair of the Guildford Greenbelt Group

        • Paul Spooner Reply

          October 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm

          Susan Parker’s statement is wrong and misleading. Thank you to Natasha Barnes for picking this up.

          Officers proposals were considered at a councillor workshop open to all parties, they were then considered by the Corporate Governance Committee with cross-party membership who made a recommendation for the current petition number of 500 to be maintained. The Executive committee then voted on Tuesday to recommend the status quo on petition numbers at full council where the decision will be made.

          A reader of The Guildford Dragon News when faced with the facts above and when comparing the facts with Mrs Parker’s misleading presentation for her own cause (to gather more petitioners for a change of system) would do well to note that if her submission here is so inaccurate, how accurate are your submissions in relation to other matters?

          Paul Spooner is a Conservative borough councillor for Ash South & Tongham

        • Natasha Barnes Reply

          October 3, 2014 at 10:11 am

          I’m not disputing that the public reaction to the proposal caused the Executive to withdraw it’s recommendation; I’m disputing Mrs Parker’s assertion that: “this proposal will not be subject to approval by the whole council. It is just being approved by the eight members of the Executive, all of whom were…It is on the Executive agenda this evening and it will not be subject to any wider approval. It will not be approved by a scrutiny committee, or by the full council – it is just being rammed through”

          The links I provided are publicly available – that’s how I provided links to them! And they clearly show that the proposals:
          a) were already considered by non-Executive Councillors last week;
          b) were considered by the Corporate Governance meeting last week;
          c) can only be approved by the full Council who meet next week.

          Council reports are routinely available about a week before the meetings. The Executive report is where, I presume, Mrs Parker saw the proposal, and where I saw that it is a [full] council – not an Executive – decision.

          Of course open democracy is welcome, but I feel this should also includes honest campaigning.

  3. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    October 1, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I thank Susan Parker for bringing this latest assault on our democracy to my attention. I wholeheartedly support this petition for a referendum and urge readers to search Google for ‘councils reinstate committee system’ to see that many other boroughs and councils have chosen to do exactly this when facing an outrageous power grab by a greedy few. In short, it works. What are we waiting for?

    The arrogance with which this drama is being played out is in fact fundamental to its downfall, the blatant moving of the goalposts doesn’t even pretend to be in anyone other than the current leadership’s interest. Does their arrogance know no bounds?

    The rules have made it difficult to bring the referendum about by requiring physical signatures on paper. This must not deter us. This is no longer a matter for signing the petition yourself and considering the job done.

    A concerted and organised approach must now be taken, it is our civic and democratic duty to bring this referendum about. Print five pages, take it to your neighbours, explain the issues. This needs fixing, and fast. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  4. Natasha Barnes Reply

    October 1, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I think the analysis of last week’s result is far simpler – campaigning.

    Colin Cross had a team behind him who knocked on doors. Ben Paton didn’t.

    As fine a newspaper as this is, not everyone reads The Dragon, otherwise people would have voted for Mr Paton knowing he was not prepared to toe the Tory party line.

    Quite extraordinary that his party didn’t support him, but just goes to show there’s no substitute for knocking on doors and talking to people face to face; that’s why the main parties, usually, devote considerable resources to this.

    Any aspiring independent candidates at future elections would do well to remember this.

    Sadly you are right, not everyone reads The Dragon but our readership figures were 85,000 page views last month (September) and 20,000 unique visitors – so not too shabby.

    I agree that the lack of support from Guildford Tories hobbled Ben Paton to a significant degree. Unfortunately, he did not wish to talk about it and give his opinion of how much of a handicap that was.

    But I remain of the opinion that many voters a. liked Colin Cross and his message and b. disliked what the Tories are proposing in the Local Plan, regardless of the candidate. Ed.

  5. Colin Cross Reply

    October 2, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Natasha Barnes is right, yes it [this kind of by-election] is won or lost on the doorsteps.

    But I know for a fact that the Tory canvassers received a hugely negative response in Ripley. They lost here by a ratio of five or six to one. It was a bloodbath.

    In such circumstances can you wonder they gave up and went home?

    But why the sea change? The draft plan is both impractical, unfair and wholly indefensible. Ben agreed of course but he flew the wrong flag.

    In the end people abandon party affiliations for the fundamentals.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace ward

  6. Mary Bedforth Reply

    October 2, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    The GBC antics seem to show little regard for democracy.

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