BASILDON LOCAL ELECTIONS 2019
The dust has settled on Thursday night and there is no getting away from the fact that it was not a great night for the Conservatives. Nationally, the Tories have lost over 1,300 councillors. Labour also lost seats nationally and, although they lost less than 100, they have little to crow about given that they have been in opposition now for nine years and ought to be doing far better. The big winners, however, seem to have been the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Independents. You do not have to be a student of current affairs to know that this is the mainstream parties – and the Tory Party in particular – taking an arguably well-deserved pasting because of the dismal failure of politicians in Westminster to deliver Brexit as promised on the 29th March and the continued failure to make progress. The decision by the Prime Minister to enter into negotiations on a compromise deal with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Brexit voters. Sadly, it is hard-working local Conservatives that have paid the price and on an issue that they can do absolutely nothing about (and many of them are just as cross as their voters).
The Conservatives have lost control of Basildon Council, which has slipped back into No Overall Control. This was despite what we felt was a good story locally of a Conservative Administration investing in policing, street cleaning, enforcement, highways and public realm improvements, as well as ambitious plans for leisure provision and town centre regeneration. But the sense of frustration with the political process among both Tory and, actually, Labour voters was palpable on the doorstep. It is just a sad irony that the main beneficiaries of what I dubbed in my earlier blog ‘Brexit distress’, are parties that are dedicated to stopping Brexit altogether.
In Basildon, the Conservatives were also, to an extent, the victims of our own success back in 2015. That year delivered a bumper cohort of new Tory councillors, who were consequently defending their seats this year, meaning we had more to lose than the other parties. We were defending nine out of the fourteen seats up for grabs, whereas Labour were only defending four and there was one Nethermayne Independent up for re-election. Although we comfortably retained our seats in Billericay East, Billericay West, Burstead, Pitsea South-East and Wickford Castledon, we failed to hold Laindon Park and Pitsea North-West, which both went to Labour, and we lost Wickford North and Wickford Park to the Wickford Independents. Labour held their other seats (Fryerns, Lee Chapel North, St Martin’s and Vange), whilst Nethermayne exchanged one Independent for another (the Kerry Smith-backed candidate emerging as the unsurprising victor).
The Conservatives remain the largest party on the Council with 20 seats and Labour are in second place on 15. We now have three Kerry Smith Independents (Indies), two Wickford Independents (Windies), one remaining Nethermayne Independent (Nindy) and the last of the UKIP councillors. Unfortunately, that means no one party has overall control, so some kind of coalition is now inevitable.
This year I have included the turnout in my analysis and also the number of rejected ballot papers. Given the number of people declaring they would deliberately ‘spoil their ballot’, it seemed reasonable to note this. I have recorded any change from last year, plus or minus, in parenthesis afterwards. The detailed breakdown of results is as follows:
BILLERICAY EAST – Con HOLD
DADDS, David – 1,881 (64%) *Elected
READ, Sarah – 589 (20%)
MANTERFIELD, Karen – 236 (8%)
PALMER, Gillian – 230 (8%)
Turnout: 32% (-4) 42 rejected ballots (+24)
I was delighted to see my ward colleague Mayor Dadds (pictured) returned in Billericay East with a majority of 1,292. Although David has increased his share of the vote from 2015 by 3 points it is 14 points down on last year and his majority has been slashed by nearly 2,000. The Green candidate, Miss Read, put in a very respectable showing, particularly as she was the only Green standing in the whole borough and seems to have been the prime beneficiary of the protest votes in Billericay East. The Liberal Democrat, Miss Manterfield, made less of an impact (it is the first time they have fielded a candidate here for some years), while Miss Palmer came in nearly 10 points down on Labour’s vote share last year.
BILLERICAY WEST – Con HOLD
LAWRENCE, Daniel – 1,692 (53%) *Elected
SAINSBURY, Edward – 1,270 (39%)
HILTON, Tracey – 260 (8%)
Turnout: 35% (no change) 52 rejected ballots (+24)
My friend and ward neighbour Danny Lawrence (pictured) was returned in Billericay West but there is no denying that the Lib Dems gave us a fright. Danny has a majority of just 422; exceptionally low for a Billericay seat, which is normally a bastion of reliable Toryism. The Liberal candidate, Mr Sainsbury, who is a scion of a well-established and respected local family, fought hard and ran an impressive campaign. I do not think I will be talking out of school if I confess to you, dear reader, that – whilst elected Tory councillors work VERY hard indeed for Billericay (and Danny not least of all) – we have become ‘sluggish’ as a campaigning force at election times, tending to commit our increasingly limited resources to target seats in other areas. The result is a majority that has been slashed by nearly 3,000 votes! Our share of the vote is 28 points down on last year. Well, we hear you loud and clear, Billericay. Must do better. Labour, again, were negligible in this election, 8 points down on last year.
BURSTEAD – Con HOLD
BLAKE, Kevin – 2,278 (83%) *Elected
BUXTON, Andrew – 471 (17%)
Turnout: 33% (-7) 109 rejected ballots (+89)
Deputy Conservative Leader Kevin Blake (pictured) was re-elected in Burstead with a majority of 1,807. Although this is down on 2015, Kevin’s share of the vote was about the same as last year. Mr Buxton seems to have hoovered up the meager UKIP vote from last year, increasing Labour’s share of the vote by 3 points. There was no Liberal candidate in Burstead, however. Had there been, the result might have been quite different. The number of ‘rejected’ ballots here is particularly suggestive. The highest number of spoilt ballots in the borough was in the seat where the only candidates were representatives of the two main parties. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
FRYERNS – Lab HOLD
DAVIES, Allan- 1,021 (55%) *Elected
TAYLOR, Perry – 552 (30%)
HOWARD, Vivien – 274 (15%)
Turnout: 19% (-1) 93 rejected ballots (+89)
A predictable return for long-serving Labour councillor Allan Davies in the traditionally staunch Labour seat of Fryerns. Councillor Davies enjoys a majority of 469 (a comfortable increase on 2015) over our plucky candidate, Perry Taylor. The Liberals seemed to have less impact here than elsewhere, essentially making a straight swap with the UKIP candidate in a result that more or less mirrored the result in Fryerns last year.
LAINDON PARK – Lab GAIN from Con
SCAROLA, John – 810 (36%) *Elected
ALLEN, Christopher – 754 (33%)
LOW, Tony – 717 (31%)
Turnout: 23% (-1) 38 rejected ballots (+28)
In what was undoubtedly one of the most maddening results of the evening, our candidate Chris Allen failed to hold the Laindon Park seat vacated by outgoing incumbent Tory councillor Andy Barnes. The seat was won for Labour by former Laindon Park councillor John Scarola, overturning Andy’s 203-vote majority from 2015. Given that this seat was comfortably retained last year by our candidate Jeff Henry, to lose to Labour this time by only a little over 50 votes is spirit-crushing. Given the absence of a Liberal candidate, it is impossible not to reach the conclusion that disgruntled ex-Tory member Mr Low handed this seat to Labour. Mr Low’s showing was very high, in line with what we would see later in the evening in other wards, where Independents did well, hoovering up the votes of disaffected voters. But, as I feared, it was not enough to win the seat for himself but just enough to deny it to us. Laindon was a key battleground for us and its loss, quite early in the evening, was a bitter indication of what was to come. It is a tragedy for Chris, who worked very hard but at very late notice, due to the suddenness of Andy’s promotion at work, which made it impossible for him to seek re-election. Chris turned a campaign around on a pinhead and, but for the Independent, I am confident would have won the seat and would have been an excellent councillor for Laindon Park.
Councillor Scarola enjoys a majority of just 56 and his share of the vote is actually a point down from what the Labour candidate achieved last year. The last remaining UKIP councillor on Basildon Council holds the third seat in this three-member ward and she will be up for re-election next year. So Laindon Park is, as always, a seat to watch. 2020 wil be interesting. I very much hope that Chris fights it again.
LEE CHAPEL NORTH – Lab HOLD
ADENIRAN, Kayode – 870 (53%) *Elected
ADESHILE, Yetunde – 437 (26%)
CHANDLER, Michael – 348 (21%)
Turnout: 17% (-4) 97 ballots rejects (+87)
There were no big surprises in this impeccably safe Labour seat, where Kayode Adeniran was comfortably returned with a slightly increased majority of 433. Although his majority is up, however, his share of the vote was down 4 points and his majority is still significantly less than what Elaine McDonald achieved for Labour in Lee Chapel North last year. But, hey, when you’ve got over half the vote, why quibble? Our candidate, the dogged Yetunde Adeshile (pictured), stood for us in Lee Chapel North at very short notice as part of the rejig of candidates that took place when Andy Barnes discovered he was unable to seek re-election in Laindon Park. When I saw Yetunde at the count, she shot me a smile and said “It’s OK. No tears this time. I didn’t expect to win this one.” I am more determined than ever to find Yetunde a seat she can win because she’s an absolute warrior and would make an amazing councillor.
The Lib Dem candidate, Mr Chandler, was less than 100 votes behind Yetunde. So nipping at our heels but not really touching Labour’s majority here.
NETHERMAYNE – Ind GAIN from NInd
KETTLE, Pauline – 2,149 (73%) *Elected
GODDARD, David – 349 (12%)
SANDHU, Sandeep – 210 (7%)
HODGE, Stephen – 138 (5%)
NICE, Stephen – 96 (3%)
Turnout: 30% (-4) 14 ballots rejected (+7)
Another fascinating result in Nethermayne, where an Independent candidate won the seat from a different kind of Independent, with the established parties barely getting a look in. Four years of incumbency apparently counts for nothing, as poor old sitting Nethermayne Independent councillor Stephen Hodge came a very dismal fourth and lost his seat, despite being a reasonably dilligent and hardworking councillor. Unfortunately, it is all for nought in Nethermayne, where Cllr Kerry Smith takes credit for everything that gets done, regardless of whether or not he had anything to do with it, and does so with such ruthless efficiency that now the average punter in Nethermayne and Langdon Hills ascribes everything to him without him even needing to take the credit any more. You have to hand it to the guy (because, if you don’t, he’ll take it anyway), Smith is a machine at winning elections. It is as if he is a cyborg sent from the future to crush it at elections and get his chosen ciphers elected. Councillor Kettle is one such cipher. With Councillor Smith’s backing, she has won a stunning victory in Nethermayne, with a stonking majority of 1,800 (the second largest majority of the night) over the hapless Mr Goddard for Labour. Her own performance is only marginally down on Smith’s own result last year. She left all others in her wake, including our candidate, Sandeep Sandhu.
I do feel bad for Deep because I know how hard he works the ward and how earnestly he wants to represent the area where he lives. Sadly, he did not get a look in, which is a shame. His result has hardly budged an inch since last year. Mr Nice for the Lib Dems could not even muster 100 votes.
PITSEA NORTH-WEST – Lab GAIN from Con
REID, Patricia – 885 (48%) *Elected
CANHAM, Gary – 696 (38%)
HOWARD, Martin – 246 (13%)
Turnout: 20% (-2) 99 ballots rejected (+90)
Sadly, incumbent councillor, Gary Canham (pictured), was unable to hold this seat for the Conservatives. We had not won the seat for nine years but my hopes were high for Gary, as he has been a really good councillor for Pitsea North-West but, sadly, the seat has reverted again to Labour, following the pattern of recent years. Sitting Essex county councillor for Pitsea, Cllr Pat Reid, won the borough ward with a majority of 189. That is a much slimmer majority than Labour managed last year. The Liberals were pretty nominal here on 13% of the vote.
PITSEA SOUTH-EAST – Con HOLD
RIMMER, Craig – 1,190 (52%) *Elected
HARRISON, Alexander – 900 (39%)
NICE, Clare -199 (9%)
Turnout: 26% (-2) 96 ballots rejected (+94)
The result in Pitsea South-East was a shaft of light in an otherwise dreary sky. Tory incumbent Craig Rimmer (pictured) was elected to Basildon Council last year at the Pitsea South-East bye-election and has endured a year of being heckled with cries of “Labour gain!” from Cllr Gavin Callaghan (Lab, Pitsea North-West) whenever he has stood up to speak at Council.
Well, the smug grin was (sadly, only momentarily) wiped from Councillor Callaghan’s chops when Craig was stunningly re-elected with a plurality of votes and a bumper majority of 290 (a majority he has more than doubled). This is a testament to Craig’s hard work and dedication over the last year. It is very difficult seeking re-election after only a year in post, when you necessarily have limited achievements under your belt to point to as reasons to re-elect you. But Craig has worked like a Trojan for the residents of Pitsea and Bowers Gifford and I was delighted to see him returned. Mr Harrison is one of Labour’s ‘bright young things’ and they will have been gutted not to get him in place. Mrs Nice made little impact for the Lib Dems.
ST MARTIN’S – Lab HOLD
YAQUB, Maryam – 611 (47%) *Elected
HILLIER, Sandra – 448 (35%)
JENKINS, Philip – 231 (18%)
Turnout: 21% (N/A) 60 ballots rejected (N/A)
Again, there were no big surprises in this traditionally safe Labour ward, where Maryam Yaqub was elected with a majority of 163 over our candidate, Sandra Hillier, in a result that more or less replicated the results for St Martin’s the last time it was contested back in 2016, as least in terms of the share of the vote.
That said, Sandra fought a plucky campaign and Labour’s majority was 238 in 2016. I stood in St Martin’s myself way back in 2011 in my first ever election campaign and have always maintained that with a bit of work and elbow grease, a Tory could win it. Sandra has started applying that elbow grease.
Mr Jenkins and the Lib Dems put in a nominal showing.
VANGE – Lab HOLD
McGEORGE, Melissa – 575 (44%) *Elected
BIDDLE, Mark – 428 (33%)
BREEDON, Simon – 309 (24%)
Turnout: 19% (N/A) 15 ballots rejected (N/A)
Labour incumbent Melissa McGeorge was returned in Vange with a majority of 147 over Tory candidate Mark Biddle. This will have been a relief to Labour, who came within 30 votes of losing the seat at last month’s bye-election.
Mark put on a first-class showing in Vange and one cannot help wondering if things might have panned out a little differently were it not for Mr Breedon, the ‘Independent’ (ex-UKIP) candidate. If Mr Breedon’s 309 votes had gone to Mark, then Mark would have won the seat with a majority of 162! One thing is for certain, however, and that is that Vange is no longer a ‘safe’ Labour seat and the Tories are very much in contention here. Aidan McGurran will be defending his bye-election win here next year. Could 2020 be the first time in over a decade a Tory wins in Vange? Watch this space.
WICKFORD CASTLEDON – Con HOLD
MORRIS, Don – 1,060 (54%) *Elected
BALL, Alan – 665 (34%)
CATLING, Louise – 238 (12%)
Turnout: 31% (-1) 21 ballots rejected (+18)
In what was, sadly, not a typical Wickford result, Don Morris (pictured), was comfortably re-elected with a majority of 395. Don saw off the challenge from the ‘Windy’, Mr Ball, but there is no escaping the fact that Don’s majority is down (and nearly half what Malcolm Buckley achieved last year), as is the Tory share of the vote.
Mr Ball’s vote was up on last time, when he stood against Malcolm, but not quite enough to dislodge the Don. Mrs Catling, who stood for Labour in Wickford Castledon last year as well, saw her vote down 2 points.
WICKFORD NORTH – WInd GAIN from Con
BROCKMAN, Eunice – 1,247 (45%) *Elected
MOWE, Michael – 1,182 (43%)
TOWLER, Peter – 347 (13%)
Turnout: 27% (-2) 25 ballots rejected (-8)
We now come to easily the most devastating loss of the night. Mike Mowe (pictured), who had represented Wickford North for nearly 20 years, lost his battle for re-election to the Windy candidate, Eunice Brockman, who is also a Shotgate parish councillor. Councillor Brockman overturned Mike’s 843-vote majority in what was, indisputably, a stunning victory for her but a heart-rending loss for the Conservative Group. Mike was a much-loved member of the Group, quiet but hard-working and loyal. This was an especially disappointing result following the 2018 elections, when there was no Labour candidate and the incumbent Tory, Peter Holliman, kept his seat with a 57% share of the vote and a majority of 426.
WICKFORD PARK – WInd GAIN from Con
HARRISON, David – 1,349 (71%) *Elected
HEDLEY-BARNES, Stephanie – 548 (29%)
Turnout: 27% (no change) 35 rejected ballots (+31)
This was probably the most personally spirit-crushing result of the night, as Steph Hedley-Barnes is a close personal friend. She is an eminently first class candidate and would have been a fantastic councillor for Wickford Park. Sadly, in a disappointingly parochial campaign, and in the absence of a Labour candidate, the Windy former Mayor, David Harrison (also a Shotgate parish councillor), romped home with a stonking majority of 801.
The great sadness of this is that I do not believe the residents of Wickford want a Labour-run council but by voting for the Windies, that is what they may well get if Councillor Harrison, who was a Labour councillor back in the ’70s and his old mate Councillor Callaghan decide to ‘put the band back together’ and resume the former Labour-led coalition, now that Basildon has fallen into No Overall Control. To be perfectly honest, I have actually always quite liked David on a personal level. I’ve never really had any cross words with him and we needle each other in a waspish but reasonably playful manner. Although I suspect his political sympathies still lie to the left, I have never really had him pegged as a Corbynite, nor really as a flashy Blairite like Callaghan. So you never know.
So, all in all, not a great night for the Conservatives but then also not entirely unanticipated and we have probably done better than some other areas of the country, where the Tories have been decimated. The Conservative Group remains the largest group on Basildon Borough Council, albeit no longer with a working majority. Constitutionally, the Conservatives are still the Administration as we approach the Council AGM later this month, where we will present an ‘Order Paper’ (establishing the Administration for the 2019/20 municipal year. It will be up to the Opposition to submit an ‘amendment’ to the Order Paper, establishing an administration of their own. But, with the Council now back in No Overall Control, this inevitably means there is some horse-trading to be done with the smaller parties (one of the things I hate about hung councils/parliaments is the inordinate influence they hand to peripheral parties, who effectively become the ‘kingmakers’ in such scenarios).
Labour leader Councillor Callaghan has already been in the press crowing about his ‘victory’ on Thursday and readying himself to return to the helm as Leader of the Council. One might marvel at the sheer hubris of asserting an untrammeled right to take over the administration of Basildon Council in an election where Labour received just 24% of the vote. The conduct of the so-called ‘Independent’, Cllr Kerry Smith (Ind, Nethermayne), is also indicative of the problem with independent candidates who present themselves to the electorate as politically neutral but are anything but. As the press article makes clear, Cllrs Callaghan and Smith have been in cahoots for at least six months, plotting the re-establishment of what they are calling the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ in the event of a NOC council. I wonder if Pauline Kettle put that on her leaflets – that she and her boss would be handing Basildon Council over to Labour. The truth is that, in every real respect, Pauline Kettle was the Labour candidate in Nethermayne, not David Goddard.
It is important to recognise, however, that the big winner in this election – as in so many elections before – was the ‘Apathy Party’. The largest turnout in any ward was in Billericay West and that was only 35%. But that was actually the same turnout as last year. For the most part turnout was about average for local elections. The biggest drop in turnout was in Lee Chapel North and Nethermayne, where turnout was down 4 points in both wards. Lee Chapel North also had the lowest turnout overall at just 17% of eligible voters.
More shocking than the turnout was the sheer number of spoilt ballots. There is normally a couple of hundred rejected ballot papers across the whole borough. This year there were nearly 800! In Burstead, where the only choice was between Conservative and Labour, there were a whopping 109 rejected ballots, compared to last year when there were only 20. It is impossible to imagine these were all or even mostly people simply struggling with the complexity of marking an X in a box. The only explanation for this increase is that ballots were deliberately being spoilt by disillusioned voters, who clearly wanted to come out and vote but simply were not prepared to lend their votes to the parties on offer. The biggest single increase in rejected ballots was in Pitsea South-East, where there were 96 spoilt ballots this year, compared to just 2 in 2018. It is highly suggestive that in the seats where there was an Independent candidate on the ballot, the number of rejected ballots was far lower. Indeed, the ward with the lowest number of rejected ballots was Nethermayne, where there was not one but two Independent candidates to choose from. The only ward with less rejected ballots this year than last year was Wickford North.
I think there is a strong message for all the major parties in that.