Monday, May 08, 2023

Mid Suffolk elections 2023 - if you thought that 2019 was bad for the Tories...

The 2019 District Council elections saw our local Conservatives take something of a hiding but, with the aid of the friendly "Independent" from Combs Ford, they retained control of Mid Suffolk District Council on the casting vote of the Chair.

Now you might have thought that they would then display a degree of humility and at least show some respect for the combined opposition parties following such losses but alas, it was not to be. And thus, on Thursday, they paid the price, courtesy of our local Greens.

In truth, everything favoured the Greens in Mid Suffolk, with an invisible Labour Party fielding just eight sacrificial lambs in predominantly unwinnable wards at the best of times, and the Liberal Democrats effectively trying to do little more than retain their five seats won in 2019 under the disadvantage of losing four incumbents to well-deserved retirement. And, apart from two Reform UK candidates who barely stirred public consciousness, that left twenty-nine Greens facing twenty-eight Conservatives.

And, when an early result saw the demise of the Conservative Group Leader in the Stonhams, Friday promised to be grim for Mid Suffolk Conservatives. As it turned out, grim really wasn't sufficient to describe their fate.

Stowmarket went from three Conservatives, two Greens, a Liberal Democrat and an Independent to six Greens and a Liberal Democrat, whilst Conservative councillors were also ousted in Claydon & Barham, Debenham, Eye, Palgrave, Thurston and Walsham-le-Willows.

Amongst the Conservative losers were Tim Passmore, the County Police and Crime Commissioner, despite moving to Palgrave from Claydon and Barham, and Nick Gowrley, the former Group Leader, who lost his Combs Ford seat in 2019 and re-appeared in Claydon & Barham in an attempt to return. The Deputy Group Leader bit the dust too, effectively decapitating the Conservative Group. 

From a Liberal Democrat perspective, the loss of one of two seats in Needham Market (to a Green) means that the town has a non-Liberal Democrat District Councillor for the first time since 1991, when Ros was elected as a rookie councillor.

So, Mid Suffolk ended up:
    • Greens - 24 seats (up 12)
    • Conservatives - 6 seats (down 10)
    • Liberal Democrats - 4 seats (down 1)
    • Independents - no seats (down 1)
which makes it the first Green majority administration in the Northern Hemisphere and only the second globally.

It will be interesting to see what they do with power, having very little experience of it anywhere, and having never had to have sole responsibility for decision making. If I were a member of the Liberal Democrat Group, the prospect of constructive opposition to a ruling Group with whom relations are good would be a potentially enticing one, offering a possibility of gains for those we represent that probably didn't exist under the Conservatives.

Finally, these elections results represent an outcome that the "Local Conservatives" thoroughly deserved. They don't campaign in any meaningful way, relying solely on the historic record of Suffolk voting Conservative. And even though they knew that the Greens were coming for them, they still seemingly couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. If the Greens dig in as I expect them to, whilst they'll probably lose seats in 2027, they may not face much organised opposition.

Indeed, the best prospect for a Conservative recovery in four years time is for the national party to be thrashed in the next General Election and for an unpopular Labour administration to emerge from it. But I sense that it will come despite the quality of local Conservatives rather than because of it.

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