Cllr Ian Hudspeth is the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council.
With Oxfordshire County Council elections on the horizon, it is time to reflect on the last four years. They have certainly been challenging. There have been increases in financial pressures along with reductions in funding. And we have been one short of an overall majority, having failed to win the necessary 32nd seat for a majority in the 2013 elections – by just 16 votes.
Looking back to 2013, the political landscape was completely different. At that stage UKIP were on the rise and whilst they were not successful in winning a division, they took votes away from us across the county. For instance in Banbury Calthorpe 560 residents voted Conservative with another 491 voting UKIP, yet Labour won the division with 576 votes. Did those 1,051 voters really want to be represented by Labour? With Article 50 triggered, how will that effect UKIP? We cannot be complacent assuming those votes will come to the Conservatives – especially as Oxfordshire voted to remain within the European Union.
That fact might have been part of the reason why the Liberal Democrats gained the Minster Lovell ward in a recent by-election. That victory has given the Liberals a boost locally with talk of them targeting many divisions including my own, Woodstock. If you want to help burst their bubble send me an email to find out about campaign days.
We know that County Council elections should be fought on local events, however residents often vote on national issues. I do not think voters will switch to try to stop the democratic will of the people, in fact I know of at least three Remainers in Bladon who will be voting Conservative. The Lib Dem campaign will be interesting. Will we see the end of those bar charts saying only they can win here? Perhaps changing the wording to “Vote Liberal Democrat for a county councillor who will ignore the democratic will of the people.”
Labour is currently the main opposition in Oxfordshire, despite the national meltdown; locally they work hard, campaigning on local issues. They hold a number of divisions across the county. As I mentioned earlier, where the combination of right wing votes is greater than theirs, there is the potential for Conservative gains.
We have been campaigning hard since the autumn in key divisions trying to identify those extra votes that will make the difference on 4th May. Nothing beats hard working candidates knocking on doors well ahead of an election.
The plan has to be simple: to get the message out about all the good work we have achieved over the past four years in balancing the books and working within our means. We need to ensure that we retain all 31 divisions we currently hold, next find those extra 17 votes to achieve a majority, then work hard on other potential gains.
There is good reason to be optimistic but not complacent ahead of the campaign. I’m sure there will be some surprises – however with a strong Conservative Government leading the country I’m sure we can change Oxfordshire from NOC to a Conservative majority council.