Cllr Rob Blackman is the Leader of Lewes District Council
The one thing that my association didn’t tell me was how good this campaigning malarkey is for your fitness levels.
I should have booked in for the local 10K. Having moved wards following a councillor’s retirement I had lost that incumbency effect and I have to say I was a little nervous about my own position let alone anyone else’s. However, it was the right thing to do because I now represent the ward where I live.
My ward goal was to beat the lovely and highly respected Linda Wallraven, my fellow conservative candidate. I had been told by the retiree that, ‘You’ll get in off the back of Linda’ and I wasn’t having any of that. We were both elected and I polled 150 more votes than Linda. Happy days! Although I’ve got a sneaking suspicion she’s going to up her game next time around.
Of course my secondary concern was to ensure that we kept control of the council.
This involved preparing the literature (including writing the local manifesto), organising the activists and candidates to deliver it, training them to canvass, getting people to put up boards and later organising help for telling and back office functions.
It was a mammoth task but the results speak for themselves: We’ve gone from no overall control to having 24 councillors including one from Newhaven: the first time that’s happened since 1987 and a bit of a shock to our paper candidate.
We’ve had our first council meeting where the leader and the chair of the council are elected and so the task is now to get our manifesto pledges added into the Council’s forward plan and get on with the work.
This is going to be an exciting four years building on the great work that we have been doing since we took back control of the council in 2011 and our plans include raising a further £51m for district infrastructure projects including a training hotel for our young people, joint ventures with the private sector to deliver at least 500 new homes (40 per cent affordable) and acquiring an additional 160 homes for our own housing stock. We know that it will be a tough environment given the efficiency savings we are going to have to make but hey, I like a challenge..
If I reflect on the results of the election it is fascinating: We won the parliamentary seat from the Lib Dems helped by a good constituency campaign BUT we only polled 800 more votes than in 2010. The Lib Dem support just crumbled giving ground to the Greens, Labour and probably some UKIP. The same was true in Eastbourne. However, what is really interesting is that in the Eastbourne Borough elections people stuck with the Lib Dems and even returned more of them to the council chamber.
It makes me think therefore that our success was not merely based on a great parliamentary result but because people were discerning and did vote for the people locally they thought would do a good job.
As I said above, we returned one Councillor in Newhaven and as a paper candidate, nobody was more surprised than him! However, most of the £51m we managed to attract into the district is being spent in Newhaven: people can physically see the difference that is being made to the town and importantly know that we were responsible. That is why I think we were re-elected in such large numbers and that may also explain the additional 800 votes our new member of Parliament received.
But I would say that wouldn’t I?