Fenland: Local election 2019: Independents gain ground as some notable Tories lose their seats but the party still retains overall control
PUBLISHED: 14:20 03 May 2019
Conservative control of Fenland District Council was effectively guaranteed prior to yesterday's vote with 12 of their councillors elected for another four-year term without a vote being cast.
They all stood for wards without an opposition candidate coming forward with a further three Tory councillors always certain of winning because of multiple wards where only a handful of opponents were on the ballot paper.
That said today's declarations were by no means dull – with the Tory majority dropping as some long serving councillors were ousted by a newly enthused number of independents.
In fact it was the day for independents to flex their muscles and among them several former Tory councillors and Tory cabinet members who had been de-selected (or as the Tory hierarchy would say 'fail to be selected') for a number of parts of Fenland.
Those who did find the Conservative hospitality lacking decided to go it alone – and they achieved remarkable results.
Michelle Tanfield, Will Sutton and Mike Cornwell were among Conservatives elected four years ago and now find themselves back at Fenland waving an independent flag.
Brexit seemingly played little part in their respective successes with the likelihood of the electorate of Elm and Christchurch for instance deciding they'd rather be represented by their current councillors rather than a former Conservative turned |UKIP turned Conservative (again) candidate who now lives in Whittlesey.
In Wisbech it will be a return to mainstream politics for Dave Patrick, now an independent but one time Lib Dem who flirted, oddly, with UKIP but who saw off the Tory sitting councillor and former mayor Gary Tibbs.
Waterlees now has a mixture of independent and Tory councillors whilst another former Conservative, Sarah Bligh, who says she was hounded out of the party before joining the Lib Dems, was returned to the council. With Lib Dem councillor Gavin Booth they will fly the only flag in Fenland for the Lib Dems from their Wisbech St Mary and Parson Drove ward.
The writing was always on the wall for former March mayor Kit Owen who turned up for the count early, sensed defeat, and left before the declaration. His district seat was lost as too was his new town ward – the Green Party winning their first ever seat on the town council.
The defeat spells the end of Kit's mayoralty hopes for the coming year but he may decide to pursue a claim over a last minute leaflet circulated in his ward attacking his position over FACT, the community transport provider, and his refusal to apologise for any part he may have played in allowing a suspected fraud within the organisation to continue for many years whilst he was on the governing body.
Elsewhere its curtains, too, for former Wisbech mayor, former Wisbech town council leader David Oliver – he lost his seat to another former, mayor and coincidentally family friend) Nick Meekins.
And it was goodbye (to Fenland at least) for long serving Chatteris councillor Florrie Newell, beaten by independent Daniel Divine, himself a former UKIP county councillor at Littleport.
Behind the closed curtains of the local Conservative association has been a massive a and continuing argument over direction and leadership. Local agent and councillor Chris Boden has positioned himself, and candidates, to try and win the leadership post election. Standing against him, of course, is the current leader Chris Seaton. It is now a matter of some speculation whether Cllr Boden has sufficient backing to realise his dream of taking over as leader.
Former Tory leader Alan Melton told me he suspects there will be an inquest by the local Tory association into what went wrong.
“Something definitely isn't right,” he said.
New composition of the council: Con 26; Ind 10; Lib Dem 2; Green 1.