Thursday was an exceptionally good night for the Conservatives (much better than 2016). We held the five seats we were defending (Billericay East, Billericay West, Burstead, Crouch and Wickford North) and, in addition, won five more (Laindon Park, two seats in Pitsea South-East, Wickford Castledon and Wickford Park). UKIP, who were the second largest party on the Council, lost all the seats they were defending (Fryerns, Laindon Park, Langdon Hills, Lee Chapel North and Pitsea South-East) and had a pretty disastrous night all round. Their group has now been halved to just five remaining councillors. Labour gained three seats (Fryerns, Lee Chapel North and Pitsea North-West) and are now, once again, the second largest party on 12 seats.
The two ‘Independence from the EU’ councillors (Kerry Smith and Imelda Clancy) remain but the two Wickford Independents (David Harrison and Alan Ball) lost their seats, bringing an end to their presence on Basildon Council.
The new composition of the Council is 23 Conservatives, 12 Labour, 5 UKIP and 2 Independence from the EU. This puts the Conservatives over the magic number and means we are back in administration at Basildon Council. The Lab/UKIP/Independent alliance has been defeated. The detailed breakdown of results is as follows.
BILLERICAY EAST – Con HOLD
Andrew SCHRADER – 2,584 (78%) *Elected
Thomas SCANLAN – 555 (17%)
Susan McCAFFERY – 186 (6%)
I was delighted to be re-elected by the good burghers of Billericay East – my very noble and approved good masters – whom in their wisdom and generosity, have seen fit to return me as their representative for another four years with a gratifyingly stonking majority and a 78% share of the vote. That’s an 18-point swing to the Conservatives from last time and a 27-point swing from what I achieved when I was last re-elected in 2014. Tom Scanlan and his magnificent beard came a respectable second, albeit a point down on Pat Reid’s result last time. Miss McCaffery was a distant third and saw a 16-point drop in UKIP’s share of the vote.
BILLERICAY WEST – Con HOLD
Anthony HEDLEY – 2,677 (81%) *Elected
Malcolm REID – 528 (16%)
Philip GIBBS – 120 (4%)
My dear friend and ward neighbour, Tony Hedley, was successfully returned with another huge majority of 2,149 votes ahead of runner-up Mr Reid – 15 points up on the 2016 result (23 points on Tony’s last re-election in 2014). Labour’s share of the vote was down 3 points but, again, it was a disastrous showing for UKIP, who were down 12 points. As I predicted in my ‘Runners and Riders’ blog last month, Dr Gibbs’ curious decision to stand in Billericay West rather than Langdon Hills did not pay off and his candidacy sank like a stone.
BURSTEAD – Con HOLD
Andrew BAGGOTT – 2,881 (83%) *Elected
Santa BENNETT – 476 (14%)
David HOUGHTON – 114 (3%)
The avuncular Andy Baggott secured re-election in Burstead with a massively increased majority of 2,405 votes (the largest single majority) and a 21-point swing to the Conservatives since last time on what was the highest turnout of the night (40%). Hardly surprising given the effect of the highly unpopular Lab/UKIP Local Plan in Burstead Ward. Labour’s vote was more or less steady, with Mrs Bennett dropping a single point on what David Kirkman achieved last time. Once again, UKIP took a drubbing here, dropping an eye-watering 20 points. Ouch.
CROUCH – Con HOLD
Terri SARGENT – 1,474 (74%) *Elected
Sally MUYLDERS – 372 (19%)
Kevin PIPER – 141 (7%)
Terri Sargent retained her Crouch seat with a majority of 1,102 and a 74% share of the vote – a 20-point swing to the Conservatives. Unlike the Billericay seats, Mrs Muylders managed to marginally increase the Labour vote share by a single point but, as elsewhere, the UKIP has almost completely collapsed, with Mr Piper suffering another 20-point drop in the UKIP vote compared to Richard Petchey’s result in 2016.
FRYERNS – Lab GAIN from UKIP
David KIRKMAN – 1,016 (49%) *Elected
Christopher ALLEN – 704 (34%)
David SHEPPARD – 370 (18%)
Interesting result in Fryerns Ward, which was a predictable Labour gain from UKIP, having always been a safe Labour seat prior to 2014, which Labour have won back every year since. Basildon Labour’s ‘Red Prince’, David Kirkman (son of former Labour council leader Paul Kirkman), won the seat with a 312-vote majority over the runner-up, Tory Chris Allen. Sitting UKIP councillor David Sheppard came an embarrassing third, dropping a whopping 25 points since his win in 2014. This result represents a relatively modest 5-point swing to Labour since the 2016 result. Chris put in a very strong showing, however, with a 13-point swing to the Tories in this usually safe Labour seat. Frankly, I think this puts Fryerns in contention as a future target seat, if we can keep narrowing that gap.
LAINDON PARK – Con GAIN from UKIP
Jeff HENRY – 1,013 (44%) *Elected
Clarence ZWENGUNDE – 857 (37%)
Mark CONROY 448 (19%)
We achieved a brilliant result in Laindon Park, in what was the first Conservative gain of the evening. Jeff Henry, who also won the Laindon Park & Fryerns county division last year, won the borough seat this year with a majority of 156 votes over Labour’s Clarence Zwengunde. This was a particularly gratifying victory after the kick in the teeth we received there in 2016, when our then candidate Gary Maylin came a distant second behind UKIP’s Hazel Green. Jeff has enjoyed a 16-point swing to the Conservatives. UKIP, who were nominally defending the seat, saw their share of the vote collapse by 19 points and Mark Conroy, nominally defending the seat of the outgoing former UKIP Councillor for Laindon Park, Mark Ellis, was beaten into third place. But Labour will be bitterly disappointed to have missed out on this seat yet again. At the county elections last year, Labour’s Allan Davies won one of the two seats (Jeff won the other) but they have not won the Laindon Park borough seat since 2012. This will be a key seat for us to retain in 2019, when Cllr Andy Barnes is up for re-election. So one to watch.
LANGDON HILLS – Ind GAIN from UKIP
Imelda CLANCY – 1,349 (53%) *Elected
Kevin WINGFIELD – 721 (28%)
Alexander HARRISON – 356 (14%)
Norma SAGGERS – 139 (5%)
In what was the most bitterly disappointing result of the night, ‘Independence from the EU’ councillor Imelda Clancy won the seat with an astonishing 628-vote majority over Conservative candidate Kevin Wingfield. It was a deeply frustrating result, partly because Councillor Clancy is a Pitsea resident, who has been a councillor for Pitsea North-East and is not standing for re-election there for the very good reason that she has done next to nothing for Pitsea over the past four years, but mainly because Kev is a good mate, who absolutely worked his socks off in the campaign and would have made a blinding councillor. Councillor Clancy has ridden in on the coattails of her son, Kerry Smith, who is the popular local county councillor. Unfortunately, the electors of Langdon Hills were unable to see that Imelda is not Kerry and, consequently, have deprived themselves of someone who would have worked exceptionally hard for them, in favour of someone who will just leave it all to her son. The result will be that Langdon Hills is shortchanged. But, as I said in my previous blog, there is no room for naval-gazing. The residents have spoken and we as a Conservative Party do now need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves how a seat we were winning with pluralities of votes and large majorities a decade ago, has now become a seat we lost in 2014, only hung on to by two votes in 2016, and lost by a large margin this year. We have lost the confidence of Langdon Hills residents and must now work to rebuild that. Mr Harrison came third again, scoring almost exactly the same result as he achieved when he stood here in 2016. But, once again, the big losers were UKIP, who came within two votes of taking Langdon Hills in 2016 but saw a catastrophic 34-point drop in their share of the vote. Considering Miss Saggers was defending the seat of the outgoing UKIP leader and self-styled heroine, Linda Allport-Hodge, that is quite a staggering defeat.
LEE CHAPEL NORTH – Lab GAIN from UKIP
Elaine McDONALD – 1,160 (56%) *Elected
Spencer WARNER – 369 (18%)
Frank FERGUSON – 369 (18%)
Another eminently predictable Labour gain came in Lee Chapel North, where Elaine McDonald took the seat back from incumbent UKIP councillor Frank Ferguson. Mr Ferguson took the seat in 2014 with a 41% share of the vote but on Thursday he lost the seat, coming a humiliating third behind Conservative first-time candidate, Spencer Warner. This follows a trend since 2014, whereby Labour’s Alan Bennett regained the seat in 2015 with 37% of the vote and Andrew Gordon won his seat in 2016 with 45%. The election of Councillor McDonald now means Labour are back in charge of all three Lee Chapel North seats. Young Spencer put in a very admirable showing, seeing a 2-point swing in our favour in this traditionally very safe Labour seat. Councillor McDonald has an impressive majority of 791.
NETHERMAYNE – Ind HOLD
Kerry SMITH – 2,542 (77%) *Elected
Naomi WALLACE – 433 (13%)
Sandeed SANDHU – 228 (7%)
Simon BREEDON – 84 (3%)
Well, as I predicted, ‘St Kerry of the Blessed Rock Salt’ has ascended unto glory. Kerry Smith, who won Nethermayne as UKIP in 2014, with 43% of the vote, has been re-elected as an Independent with a stonking, borderline ridiculous majority of 2,109 (the fact that this is higher than my majority in Billericay East is an irritating factoid that has already been pointed out to me by several friends, who always know how to bring a guy crashing down to earth). Councillor Smith’s share of the vote was the highest outside Billericay. This follows his staggering success in regaining the Westley Heights county division last year, with 61% of the vote. Pauline Kettle, who stood in Nethermayne in 2016 as a Smith-backed Independent, secured only a 15% vote share, so this is effectively a 62-point swing, which is incredible. Labour’s Miss Wallace came second but all the mainstream parties suffered humiliating drops in their share of the vote from 2016. Labour are down 8 points. The Conservative candidate, Sandeep Sandhu, who fought a very strong campaign and worked incredibly hard, came a very disappointing third and saw the Conservative vote share drop by 9 points. But, in their single most disastrous showing of the night, UKIP’s Simon Breedon saw the UKIP vote collapse by 24 points, scoring less than 100 votes, in what was a highly controversial campaign, during which Mr Breedon’s leaflets received negative press coverage for wrongly claiming that Councillor Smith had forced a Council meeting to move to the Sporting Village at a cost of £500,000 (the actual cost was only around £20,000). This poor result is shocking, considering UKIP won the seat in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and consequently hold the other two seats. At one point, we were calling Nethermayne the ‘first UKIP safe seat in Basildon’. That would appear to be well and truly over. But we shall have to wait until next year to know for sure. Stephen Hodge, husband of outgoing UKIP leader Linda Allport-Hodge, will be up for re-election in 2019. It remains to be seen if this was a personal vote for Councillor Smith or if he can copy his success in Langdon Hills and successfully get a candidate elected with his endorsement. Let’s just hope he’s run out of relatives to pitch at the electorate!
PITSEA NORTH-WEST – Lab GAIN from UKIP
Jack FERGUSON – 956 (47%) *Elected
Yetunde ADESHILE – 655 (32%)
Loren HANNON – 342 (17%)
Steve HARVEY – 74 (4%)
In what was a hard-fought race, Jack Ferguson regained Pitsea North-West for Labour with a majority of 301 votes over Conservative candidate Yetunde Adeshile. Nevertheless, Councillor Ferguson saw a 12-point drop in Labour’s share of the vote from 2016, when Labour leader Gavin Callaghan retained his seat. Yetunde, meanwhile, presided over a 10-point bump in the Conservative vote. Once again, it was an ignominious defeat for UKIP, with first-time candidate Miss Hannon pushed into third place, with a 16-point drop in the UKIP vote. Meanwhile, Mr Harvey of the Democrats and Veterans Party, failed to make any impact, achieving just 74 votes. The Conservatives have not won in Pitsea North-West since 2010 and we lost our last seat there in 2014. We are re-building trust with Pitsea residents there and Yetunde has made great inroads. She is a resident of the ward and a tireless community activist, so I very much hope she will stand there for us again.
PITSEA SOUTH-EAST (x2 seats) – Con GAIN from UKIP / Con HOLD
Luke MACKENZIE – 1,165 (24%) *Elected
Craig RIMMER – 1,132 (23%) *Elected
Andrew ANSELL – 1,008 (21%)
Olukayode ADENIRAN – 952 (19%)
Richard MORRIS – 283 (6%)
Lorna RICHES – 243 (5%)
John EACERSALL – 101 (2%)
Undoubtedly the most exciting result of the night, in what had become the key battleground of the election campaign, were the two seats up for grabs in Pitsea South-East. One seat was held by UKIP’s outgoing Deputy Mayor, Stephen Ward, and the other was caused by the sad resignation of former Conservative councillor Amanda Arnold. In what must have been a blow to UKIP, Mr Ward chose to publicly endorse Democrats and Veterans candidate Mr Eacersall, who polled only 2% of the vote. UKIP, who won the seat in 2016, saw their vote collapse by 25 points. This was a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour. All three Pitsea South-East seats were Conservative up until 2012, when Labour’s Aidan McGurran unseated the Tory’s Ann Blake. In 2014, Tory incumbent David Abrahall lost his seat to Mr Ward. And, although Mrs Arnold held the seat for us in 2015 when former Tory Mayor Mo Larkin stood down, UKIP won the seat again in 2016. We knew the UKIP vote was likely to collapse but we did not know where those votes would go; back to us or back to Labour. Labour’s leader, Gavin Callaghan, was clearly confident of taking both seats, putting up two high profile Labour activists, Andrew Ansell and Kayode Adeniran. Likewise, on our side we put up Craig Rimmer, a very formidable political operator, and Luke Mackenzie, a former Conservative councillor for the neighbouring ward of Vange. It was the last result of the evening to be called and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. This was where our fate would be decided. At that point, we were on 21 seats. We needed to win at least one of the seats in Pitsea South-East to take back administration. I was right at the back of the scrum, straining to hear the result, but the look on Councillor Callaghan’s face told me the result long before it finally trickled back to me. We had one BOTH seats, taking us across the line and back to a Conservative-controlled council. Luke was returned with a majority of 157 (“Mac is back!”) over his nearest Labour rival, Mr Ansell, whilst Craig was 124 votes ahead. As Craig received the smaller number of votes, he is deemed to have won the by-election and will therefore have to see re-election next year, when Amanda’s term would have ended.
Collectively, Cllrs Mackenzie and Rimmer secured 47% of the vote – an 18-point swing to us since 2016. Labour were 5 points up but not enough to carry them across the line. This result has also, subsequently, sealed the fate of Labour leader and Pitsea councillor Gavin Callaghan, who has since resigned as Leader of the Labour Group.
WICKFORD CASTLEDON – Con GAIN from W’ford Ind
Malcolm BUCKLEY – 1,191 (59%) *Elected
Alan BALL – 566 (28%)
Louise CATLING – 278 (14%)
Alan Ball won Wickford Castledon in 2014 as UKIP but, after breaking with the rest of the UKIP Group, has sat as a ‘Wickford Independent’ since 2015. Now the man he beat, long-serving Conservative councillor Malcolm Buckley, has taken the seat back, overturning Mr Ball’s 209-vote majority. The Tory share of the vote is up 10 points since Cllr Don Morris won the other Wickford Castledon seat back in 2015. This is the first time the ‘Windies’ have fought an election in Wickford Castledon and, even in the absence of a UKIP candidate, they have failed to make the electoral breakthrough that would have enabled Mr Ball to retain his seat. The Labour share of the vote remains almost completely unchanged since the 2015 election. They are a point down. Malcolm enjoys a majority of 625 and it great to have his breadth of experience, as a former Leader of Basildon Council, back in Group.
WICKFORD NORTH – Con HOLD
Peter HOLLIMAN – 1,682 (57%) *Elected
Eunice BROCKMAN – 1,256 (43%)
Sitting Conservative councillor Peter Holliman faced a tough challenge in Peter Holliman, due to having only one opponent, the Wickford Independents’ Mrs Brockman. We never did work out why there was no Labour candidate. It meant that Peter had to win over 51% of the vote to win and, in the event, he did it easily. Wickford North was the only seat where a Windy candidate had been tested before, as Mrs Brockman stood there in 2016 as well. While the absence of a Labour or Lib Dem candidate saw her vote share increase by 4 points, in what had been an impressive result last time round, when she was only 74 votes behind Cllr Carole Morris, it was not enough to win this time and Peter enjoys a comfortable majority of 426. This must have been a bitter pill for the Windies (evidently, given their raucous and unsportsmanlike behaviour at the count), as Peter was originally elected as UKIP, like the rest of them, but he had the good sense to see the light and come over to the Conservatives. As it stands, Peter can continue to serve his residents for a further four years, whilst the endless politicking of the Windies has got them – and the residents of Wickford – nowhere.
WICKFORD PARK – Con GAIN from W’ford Ind
George JEFFERY – 941 (48%) *Elected
David HARRISON – 750 (38%)
Patricia REID – 270 (14%)
The fate of the Wickford Independents was sealed in Wickford Park by none other than 21-year-old first-time Conservative candidate George Jeffery, who beat their leader – and the incumbent Mayor of Basildon – David Harrison with a comfortable 191-vote majority. The last time this seat was contested in 2015, Conservative incumbent Chris Jackman held the seat with 52% and a majority of 881. It has never been contested by a Windy before but, that year, the UKIP candidate, Derek Harrison (no relation, as far as I know) achieved 32%. So it is evident that Mayor Harrison’s move from UKIP to create the Windies has had a more or less negligible political impact. Labour’s share was slightly down by 2 points.
Although he lost his seat, Mayor Harrison will still chair the Annual Meeting on 24th May and remains Mayor of Basildon until a new mayor is elected by the Council at that meeting.
So, it was a night of high drama. The result is a stunning victory for the Conservative Party, who have taken back control of Basildon Council after four years in No Overall Control. It is also a personal victory for Phil Turner, our outgoing leader, who advised the Group earlier in the day that, regardless of the result, he had decided not to seek re-election as Leader of the Conservative Group, due to his belief that whomever goes forward as de facto Leader of Basildon Council will need to be able to devote much more time to the role than he is able. Phil is still a relatively young man, has a busy and demanding full-time job, and a family. The Conservative Group are enormously indebted to him for his leadership – though a difficult and fractious period – over the past four years. He led us through three years of minority administration and latterly in opposition; very difficult and demanding circumstances. We wish him well as he takes a breather on the backbenches but hopefully that he will not stay there very long and that his talents will return to a frontbench role in the not too distant future. He delivered a Conservative majority, so nobody can claim that he was ‘scalped’. Phil has retired by his own choice and on his own terms and he has my respect and admiration.
The same, of course, cannot be said for our esteemed former Chairman of the Policy & Resources Committee and self-styled ‘Leader of the Council’, Cllr Gavin Callaghan, who has gone from being de facto to defunct and slunk back off to the backbenches in ignominious defeat, having resigned as Leader of the Labour Group the day after the result. He is already busying himself on Twitter, blaming Jeremy Corbyn for his failure. While Mr Corbyn’s dismal leadership, the thuggery of his Momentum goons, and ongoing problems with rampant anti-Semitism throughout the Labour Party were all very possibly factors in Labour’s disappointing performance across the country – despite being eight years into a Conservative Government – I do not think that Councillor Callaghan can entirely absolve himself of all blame. He was confidently predicting on the BBC, just hours before the results came in, that Labour were going to have their best night in Basildon for years. He clearly thought they would pick up all the seats in Laindon and Pitsea and that he would be keeping his coalition with a now severely weakened UKIP Group, making them even more the junior partners in the alliance, and continuing his reign of terror at Basildon Council. But he is as much a victim of his own arrogance and hubris as he is the fact that Mr Corbyn is making his party fundamentally unelectable. Even in his own backyard of Pitsea, the ballot boxes coming out of Bowers Gifford told a story all of their own – of local residents’ anger at his aloof intransigence and decision to ignore their neighbourhood plan. He took his voters for granted, assuming if he just bashed Billericay enough, they would not notice his bullying approach to their own patch. He was wrong and has now paid a high political price.
Astonishingly, Cllr Kerry Smith and his mother scored a bigger share of the vote across the borough (10%) than UKIP. Overall, their vote dropped by 20% and they lost half their seats. Two more electoral cycles and they will be gone.
This election marks the end of the Wickford Independents as a presence on Basildon Council, though I dare say they shall stick around in Wickford as a minor irritant. David Harrison has been involved in Basildon politics since before I was born, so I can’t see him going anywhere. I personally doubt we shall see him back as a councillor any time soon though.
The next step now will be for the Conservative Group to hold their AGM and elect a new Leader and select our candidate for Mayor. The Conservatives secured 51% of the vote across the borough and now have a clear mandate to deliver the platform on which we were elected – to sort out the finances, deliver good services whilst keeping the Council Tax as low as possible, resist inappropriate developments in the Green Belt, crack down on enforcement, and carry on with our ambitious programme of investment, urban regeneration and economic development. The hard work starts here. But, first and foremost, a big thank you to everyone who voted for us for the faith you have placed in the Conservative Party. We won’t let you down.