On an oft surreal night and day which included a random email to all and sundry – including me – from Tory Party chairman Greg Hands that began ‘John, I know the results are disappointing,” it was obvious he wasn’t aware of Fenland.
Here in an area acknowledged as below the national average in wages, educational attainment, and access to good health care and with huge pockets of deprivation still to be tackled, once approached via the A141, A605 or A47 Mr Hands would find a ‘Conservative paradise’.
“I know people are worried about what Labour councils will mean for their local communities,” added Mr Hands.
“But I want to be totally honest with you, John. These local elections are a massive wake-up call. If you want to stop Keir Starmer, then we have to come together now.”
The reality for Mr Hands, and others, is that Fenland is a law unto itself. It breaks all the rules of conventional polling. Ignores national trends – up or down – and goes about its business in its indomitable and idiosyncratic way by keeping the Conservatives in power.
Today’s outcome of the local elections was no different -in fact, Fenland District Council, which successfully persuaded the Electoral Commission to allow them to have 43 instead of 39 councillors might soon need a double decker bus for a seaside team building trip.
Conservatives obliterated most of its opposition, winning 35 seats with Independents dropping to six (the nominal leader and ex Tory Mike Cornwell also among today’s ballot box cull, losing ironically to another Independent by one vote) and two Liberal Democrats.
“John, I don’t want the same people who tried to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister deciding what Britain’s future should look like,” Mr Hands signs off, before asking if I have some spare time or spare cash to help. I don’t as it happens but maybe he needs to consider bringing the entire Fenland Tory election machine into Central Office to explain to prime minister Rishi Sunak how they win so successfully and so often in the Fens.
MP Steve Barclay – his majority at the last election of 29,993 not looking threatened in the slightest – quickly visited the count today at the Hudson leisure centre to offer a rallying cry to his troops but in reality, both he and they would have regarded it as superfluous.
Turnout was low across of the district, most wards only managing between 25 and 30 per cent, although there were exceptions.
Wisbech North, for instance, had a turn out of 17.01 per cent which allowed Conservative Lucie Foice-Beard to win a council seat with just 198 votes cast in her favour.
In Whittlesey (Lattersey ward) Jason Mockett needed only 190 votes for victory against Labour opponent Ian Moyes, although one in four of the electorate did turn out to vote.
There may have been few surprises but there was a bewildering moment when Sidney Imafidon, a Wisbech pub and property entrepreneur, inexplicably in his ‘victory’ speech labelled successful independent candidate Dave Patrick in the same Walsoken and Waterlees ward a ‘racist’, a comment likely to be subject to an early code of conduct complaint.
Wisbech Tory Steve Tierney held onto his seat, and will no doubt be on hand to welcome his mother, Brenda Barber, to the council chamber after she won a Leverington and Wisbech Rural seat at her first attempt.
Former Tory councillor John Clarke, now firmly ensconced in the diminished independent group, retain his seat and two new independents successfully replaced two outgoing independents at Elm and Christchurch.
They will be comforted on the independent benches by Whittlesey councillor Roy Gerstner who is now both a town and district independent councillor.
Parson Drove and Wisbech St Mary remains the only part of Fenland with a Liberal Democrat presence, with Gavin Booth topping the poll and a new Lib Dem, Diane Cutler joining him to represent the ward. Cllr Michael Humphrey, Conservative, also won in the three-seat ward.
Elsewhere the town council elections sprung few surprises, although Conservative councillor Billy Rackley- who kept his district council seat – failed by four votes to retain a seat on the town council.
Perhaps though it is to Wisbech town council that the accolade of ‘quirky result of the day’ should best be given.
In the Claremont ward step forward newly elected independent town councillor Tom Read. This ‘pocket ward’ of Wisbech embraces Cocketts Drive and Boyces Road and attracted a turnout of only 16.94 per cent.
It meant it took just 40 residents to vote in Tom – but the result was decisive. The runner-up and only other candidate Andre Caplinskij was not even close.
He polled 12 votes.
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