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Uphill for the Conservatives in Friary and St Nicolas

Published on: 24 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 26 Apr, 2019

This is the last of The Guildford Dragon NEWS articles featuring the candidates and their thoughts and personal motivations as they put themselves up before the Guildford electorate on May 2 (see the previous articles for the Liberal Democrats, Guildford Greenbelt Group, R4GV and Labour).

by Hugh Coakley

Bill Stokoe canvassing in Friary and St Nicolas.

The weather has been generally very kind on the days that I had been invited to join the other candidates on their often, uphill marches through the streets.

Today’s meeting with Bill Stokoe, one of the three Conservative candidates for the Friary and St Nicolas ward, was no exception.

We met at the top of Mountside and chatted.

Bill is a charming chap, quietly spoken, persuasive and someone who is listening and looking for consensus. Those skills were very much needed on the doorsteps for the polite but largely negative reaction he received in the couple of hours I was with him.

I asked him why he was standing as a Conservative candidate. Bill laughed “My wife asks me the same thing.”

Bill, an ex-banker who retired in 2005, has had many roles in further education including being on the board of Guildford College, said; “I am always getting asked to do things. It’s the scourge of getting invited to cocktail parties.”

He charted his journey to being a candidate as starting when he was governor and chair at Abbot’s Hospital. “That got me involved in Guildford’s heritage,” he said and then into Guildford Vision Group (GVG) as one of its founding members.

Adding, “GVG changed the agenda in the town, particularly in the town centre.”

I asked whether GVG’s criticism of the Local Plan was a conflict for him as a Conservative politician. “I am part of a broad church of opinion in the Conservatives. I would like to see more social housing in preference to student houses and more focus on the town centre. More pedestrianisation would help in all sorts of ways, push the traffic out and open up the riverside.”

Bill said that the Local Plan and planning was the one thing that the council can influence. “I will be pushing for an ‘Area Action Plan’ or something similar to masterplan the town centre.”

Mountside is a steep road, effectively a cul-de-sac, and as we walked down one side and up the other. Bill, who is 72 said: “I think that I have been given all the hilly sections of the ward to canvass. It’s improving my stamina but sadly, I’m not losing any weight.”

Bill Stokoe at the top of hilly Mountside, campaigning in Friary and St Nicolas.

Bill has always voted Conservative “except possibly once during the Heath government”.

“But”, he added, “I’m new to politics. I don’t think that you need a fierce political commitment to be a local politician. You need management and governance skills.”

He was disappointed when no-one answered the doors on one side of the road. On the other though, Bill had five doorstep conversations which were not encouraging. “Not as good as the answers we have been getting in the other streets I have canvassed,” he said.

One resident reeled off a list of Solum, Brexit, rough sleepers and the Local Plan as reasons why they would vote for R4GV.

Bill, unfailingly pleasant, reminded them that they had three votes and there was only one R4GV candidate standing in the ward. He mentioned the Area Action Plan and that seemed to sway them a bit.

The resident explained: “I know it is a local election but I will indicate my feelings about the national situation with my local vote.”

Tunsgate Quarter also came in for criticism in a couple of households. “Tunsgate Quarter is a complete disaster. It’s dark and dingy. We need to make the town centre alive again.”

On the other parties standing, Bill said: “The Lib Dems haven’t made a good showing and Labour’s written literature has been good. R4GV has a lot of mixed agendas.”

About the Conservatives: “Our morale is very upbeat.” Bill said. “We are well marshalled by Angela Richardson, the local Conservative Deputy Chairman Political. Each ward has its WhatsApp group and we have a general one for the borough as well.”

I could see him thinking about the reactions he had just had from residents. There were many factors affecting the vote on May 2 including Brexit, Bill thought: “I’m having to straddle a bit and to button my lip but the key is to get elected and then to influence.

“What happens on Thursday night (April 25, 2019), at the council EGM vote for the Local Plan, will influence things as well.”

A final thought from Bill as we parted, me to go home and Bill to tackle another hill.

“I would hope that we retain our seat here in Friary and St Nicolas.”

The other candidates for Friary and St Nicolas are: Brian Creese (Lab), Fiona Davidson (R4GV), John de Wit (Con), Angela Goodwin (Lib Dem), Tom Hunt (Lib Dem), Elizabeth Mpyisi (Lab), Vaibhav Pant (Con), Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem) and Matthew Smith (Lab).

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