Outcome to Local Elections By Geoffory Lean
Conservatives around England were rejoicing early last month (May). In a rare achievement their sitting government had won stunning election victories, including gaining control of 13 councils, retaining the mayoralties of Teeside and the West Midlands, and resoundingly winning the Hartlepool by-election.
In Tandridge, however, it was a totally different story. Here the Tories lost their position as the biggest party on the local council for the first time in over two decades – to an alliance of insurgent councillors that scarcely existed just a few years ago.
As in the last local elections, in 2019, the candidates representing the Independents and Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group (ORLG) Alliance received nearly twice as many votes in the wards in which they stood than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. The overwhelming reason was the same as in the previous two elections – enormous opposition to the deeply flawed Local Plan, promoted by both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties on the council, which includes a new town the size of Oxted in pristine Green Belt countryside at South Godstone.
Three Conservative seats fell. In the Burstow, Horne and Outwood ward, independent Mick Gillman narrowly ousted sitting councillor Harry Fitzgerald by just 24 votes out of 1697 cast.
In Oxted South, ORLG candidate beat Tory Liz Parker by 1048 votes to 709, and in Godstone independent Mike Crane beat Conservative Eileen Blake-Thomas by 1104 to 451.
But the biggest landslide of all was scored by OLRG’s Jackie Wren, who five years ago was first Alliance councillor to be elected, retaining her seat in Oxted North and Tandridge by a staggering 1779 votes (over 77 per cent of the total) with her nearest rival amassing just 324.
To round it off, Chris Farr, a leading independent member of the district council, won the county council seat of Godstone, by a convincing margin.
There was some consolation for the Conservatives, who won two seats from the Liberal Democrats. Taylor O’Driscoll narrowly won in Westway by 15 votes, while Matthew Groves achieved a somewhat larger margin in Queens Park.
The net result is that the Independent and ORLG Alliance now has 16 seats on the council, the Conservatives have 14, and the Liberal Democrats nine – and there are two independents not affiliated with the Alliance.
The Felbridge seat remained vacant, with the election postponed to this month (June), due to the death of one of the candidates during the campaign.
Tandridge is now split into two. North of the M25 the seats are shared evenly between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, apart from those held by the two unaffiliated independents. South of the motorway presents a very different picture. Only a few years ago, it was a solid sea of blue. Now just one ward – Bletchingly and Nutfield – remains as it was, with three Tory councillors.
Elsewhere only two Conservatives remain amid the 16 seats the Independents and ORLG Alliance have taken off their party in the last few years. Even those are vulnerable in future elections. However, the Alliance will need to break into new areas if it is to achieve a majority.
In the meantime the council is in crisis. The local plan is in the gravest danger. As reported in these pages in April, the official government inspector appointed to scrutinise it has given councillors a brief time to rescue it, but warned that he may decide that this “is not possible”. The South Godstone “garden community” is in particular peril
The council is about to get its fourth boss in just two years. He will inherit what one of his predecessors called “a culture of mistrust and fear”. And, as Coun Catherine Sayer, the leader of the Alliance, says, it is in “a sorry financial position”.
Three and a half years ago the Tandridge Lane Action Group wrote to the then Conservative council leadership warning that the garden community proposal would both wreck the local plan and lead to their electoral defeat. It was ignored – but its prediction now come to pass.