Each week, we have been analysing the local election results for a different region. Our series concludes with the East of England.
There were no electons in South Cambridgeshire.
Among the unitary authorities the following had all their seats up for election:
- Central Bedfordshire
There was also the election for the directly elected Mayor of Bedford.
While for these unitaries only a third of seats were up this time round:
Among the district councils, the following had all the seats contested:
- East Suffolk. (This is a new Council, a merger of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney).
- King’s Lynn & West Norfolk
- West Suffolk. (This is a new Council, a merger of Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury.)
The following districts had a third of the seats up for election:
- Castle Point
- Epping Forest
- North Hertfordshire
- St Albans
- Three Rivers
- Welwyn Hatfield
Those of us who remember the results coming from 1992 know all about the importance of Basildon. This time the Conservatives lost Basildon. Labour made gains. So did the Wickford Independents – with a message of supporting high streets shops. The Council is now run by a coalition which will push unitary status – there seems to be some disatisfaction with Conservative-run Essex County Council:
“An alliance of parties has taken control of Basildon Council, promising a new era of ‘transparency, democracy and accountability’.
“The ‘Basildon Borough Alliance’ committed on Thursday night, May 24, to freezing council tax, cutting councillors’ allowances and fighting to free the borough from Essex Council’s control.
“The alliance is made up of Labour, UKIP and independent.”
Southend was another defeat – the Council now has a Labour/Lib Dem/Independent coalition. St Albans, Tendring and Peterborough all went to No Overall Control.
Uttlesford (which covers Saffron Walden) was perhaps the biggest upset. The Conservatives lost 19 seats – overwhelmingly these went to the Residents for Uttlesford which won control of the Council. The Group pledges “to protect our communities from predatory development.” Arrangements for Stansted Airport is an important local issue. In many ways they sound pretty Conservative. They want to devolve more power to the town and parish councils, and call for greater transparency. Lots of points about being financially prudent and ending wasteful spending:
“We will make the councils which we control more efficient, stop money being wasted and provide better value for your council taxes. We will ensure that any investments that a council has to make are based on sound, independent and expert investment advice.”
On the other hand, we held Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford (where the Conservatives gained a seat), Braintree (though losing ten seats) and Brentwood (though losing five seats). There were many councils here that started off with big Conservative majorities. Both the new councils fighting elections – West Suffolk and East Suffolk – were won by the Conservatives by very clear margins.
Maldon saw the Conservatives maintain control but only after losing 11 seats to independents – who said Brexit had resulted in an anti party politics mood.
Central Bedfordshire saw the Conservatives maintain power, but lose 12 seats. Independents gained 10 seats.
The great triumph for the Lib Dems was winning Chelmsford from the Conservatives. The Lib Dems – promising to make the City “safer, greener and fairer” – gained 26 seats from the Conservatives. Concerns about knife crime and traffic congestion were highlighted by the Lib Dems. Some of their proposals seemed more relevant to Essex County Council – being beyond the remit of Chelmsford City Council. But misleading and opportunistic campaigining from the Lib Dems is hardly novel. What heartened them was that most people in Chelmsford voted Leave in the EU referendum, so Sir Vince presented the results as a softening of Brexit feeling. More likely was that it was a hardening of it. Brexiteers who had previously voted Conservative were so angry at the delays that they abstained. The Conservatives also lost five seats to independents.
The Lib Dems also gained North Norfolk from No Overall Control. The Lib Dems gained half a dozen seats in Bedford. Also, Dave Hodgson, the Lib Dem directly elected Mayor of Bedford, was re-elected – albeit by a narrower margin than last time.
This isn’t a terribly strong part of the country for Labour. They hold Ipswich, Norwich, Harlow and Cambridge. Luton still has a big Labour majority – despite them losing three seats to the Lib Dems. Thurrock, which is the sort of place they need to be winning, stayed under no overall control – the independents gained five seats.
In other parts of the country the overall gloom for the Conservatives was broken by a few positive results. I’m afraid in this region I struggled to spot any. I suppose what one can say is that there was not a clear defeat for Conservatism. Often the biggest losses were to independents, who seem to complain about the Conservatives being too feeble towards bureaucratic pressures. Essex Man may have lost enthusiasm for the Conservative Party but not for Conservative principles. Much the same appears to be the case for Essex Woman – and the men and women of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The pattern was of significant Conservatives losses – a rebuff, a warning. But so far as I could discover there was no Socialist uprising. Obviously, there was exasperation at the delay with Brexit, coupled with some signs of complacency at a local level. There was nothing in the fundamentals that suggests that recovery is impossible.