By Rebecca Curley, Local Democracy Reporter, 9 May
Brexit was not the only issue that lead to Conservatives experiencing one of the biggest losses in generations during the local elections last week, according to Surrey’s party chairman.
Controversial issues such as housing and the green belt were also factors affecting the result which saw the Tories lose their ruling majority in six councils.
Surrey Conservative chairman Julian Ellacott says the party now needs to pick itself up and keep working for the residents.
The party lost 117 seats in Surrey during the local elections last Thursday (2 May), contributing to the 1,300 seats lost by the party nationally.
As votes started pouring through the county’s first count at Tandridge District Council during the night then through the day on Friday elsewhere in Surrey, it soon became evident the Tories were going to take a hit.
Five boroughs and districts are now in a state of no overall control as talks continue between group leaders, and Mole Valley was won by the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Ellacott, who stood down from his seat in Reigate and Banstead, said: “Across Surrey generally it clearly wasn’t a good election for us, with a similar trend to the overall national picture. I think we’d have to go back to 1995 to find anything similar.
“Brexit undoubtedly played a role – we had lots of feedback from residents about it, and I suspect that it kept a lot of our usual voters at home and encouraged others to come out to vote for other parties.
“But we can’t lay it all on Brexit – there are other, local factors which explain why the results varied widely across the county. Planning, housing and green belt are especially controversial issues in some places at the moment, and this showed in the results.”
Among some of the leading Tories to lose their seats included former Tandridge leader Martin Fisher, who lost out to Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group’s David Stamp.
And Matt Furniss, a county councillor and lead member for highways, was Guildford Borough Council deputy leader but lost his Christchurch ward seat to Joss Bigmore from the Residents for Guildford and Villages.
In Waverley, Farnham Residents increased their majority from six to 15 with the Liberal Democrats also going from just one member of the council to 14.
Mr Ellacott added: “We heard strong messages from the electorate last week, both local and national, and we have listened, and we will reflect and then act on those messages. We try never to take our support for granted and we’ll pick ourselves up and keep working for the residents, whether still running councils or in opposition.
“Having stepped down last week as a councillor myself I’d like to wish all of those elected last week, from all parties and none, the very best for their term, and also thank those who didn’t get elected for their efforts.”
In Woking and Elmbridge it still remains the ruling party but is outnumbered by opposition councillors and so still has no overall control.
Conservatives remain in control at Reigate and Banstead, Runnymede, Spelthorne and Surrey Heath.
Epsom and Ewell is run by residents’ associations.
The Liberal Democrat party now has 110 seats in Surrey gaining 54 last week.
Cllr Chris Botten, leader of the Liberal Democrats at Surrey County Council, said: “I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats are again a real force in local government, with our greatest success since the nineties.
“Our commitment, to all residents of Surrey, is to work together to represent them, work hard to restore lost services, ensure all councils’ budgets are sound, and ensure that we have the infrastructure to support a growing population.
“The years of austerity will take time to roll back sustainably, but we are here to stay.”
Independent and residents’ associations also made great gains, particularly in Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley to upset the balance.