Cllr Holly Whitbread is an Epping Forest District councillor and currently works as a parliamentary researcher.
As the dust settles on local elections, many Conservative councillors will be licking their wounds. The results were disheartening for Conservatives across the county. The many losses were largely down to national politics, which were out of the control of hard-working councillors and candidates.
What is clear is that this disappointing result is a reflection of frustration and disenchantment with the national picture and politics more broadly. Our core vote failed to turn out to support us, and some voted against the Conservatives in protest. Many historically Conservative voters told us on the doorstep that they would never vote Conservative again or that they would not vote Conservative again until Brexit was delivered.
An unprecedented number of ballot papers were destroyed in this local election. Many brandished the words ‘none of the above’ or simply had ‘Brexit’ boldly written upon them.
In Epping Forest, after an extremely hard-fought campaign, we were lucky, to somewhat buck the national trend. Whilst individual Conservative majorities were slashed, overall we only lost three seats. Therefore, we managed to retain a large majority on the District Council.
However, where we did lose seats it was certainly symptomatic of the collapse of our core vote. Where majorities were slashed, smaller and more independently minded parties were snapping at our heels. As disappointed as we were to see the victory of Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, one dark cloud hovered over the Epping Forest count – the election of a ‘For Britain Movement’ Candidate.
Julian Leppert was a former councillor for the British National Party in Redbridge. He took the Waltham Abbey Paternoster seat from a long-serving Conservative Councillor. Winning by less than 100 votes.
The ‘For Britain Movement’, is a far right, fascist group. It has previously received the endorsement of Tommy Robinson. It is led and was established by far-right political activist, Anne Marie Waters, who cried tears of joy at her party’s victory in Epping Forest. Ms Waters was labelled too extreme by her former party, UKIP. For Britain’s principle policies centre around anti-Islamic sentiment. The newly elected Cllr Leppert previously made headlines for driving a car with a ‘Nazi’ number plate.
This toxic form of politics has no place on the benches of our town halls and civic offices. The battle is now on to ensure that our local authorities are not polluted with any more extremists.
We cannot let extremists, like ‘For Britain’ have any route into any form of power or any platform.
On a local, grassroots level, we must start campaigning now, and asking local residents, what can these people achieve for your community? Their only purpose is to whip up hatred and chaos.
On the ground, we must expose what this far-right political movement actually believes in. We must ensure people understand what they are voting for when they vote for this group and the wider political implications that this may have.
In Epping Forest, we have had BNP councillors previously in Debden. We eventually saw them off by exposing their record of inaction for the communities they were elected to represent.
On a national level, this election, and the collapse of our core vote, raises questions and should act as a catapult for politicians to deliver Brexit, as the people were promised. People need to be able to believe in our democratic systems.
It is clear that ‘For Britain’ used the fact that Brexit had not been delivered to attract the politically homeless. Their slogan of ‘forgotten people’ in their literature painted a misguided, yet powerful narrative. It played on people’s emotions and vulnerability. Not all of those people who voted for ‘For Britain’ will be extremists, indeed, this may have been a blind protest. However, we must stem the growth of this dangerous group by exposing them for what they are. And we must deliver Brexit so as not to further aggravate this delicate political climate which we are currently living through.