Colchester bucked the national trend on Thursday evening with the local LibDem party performing well and looking likely to form a coalition administration once again along with the Labour and the Highwoods Independent group. With twenty seats up for grabs, Wivenhoe Quay was the only ward that changed hands, with Labour taking it off the Conservatives with a 42% turn out – the highest in the Borough.
Following the final declaration made shortly before 2am at the Charter Hall in Colchester, the borough council now contains 26 LibDems, 23 Conservatives, 8 Labour councillors and three from the Highwoods Independent group.
It is expected that a coalition between the LibDems, Labour and the Highwoods group will be formed over the next few days, with Labour having the grace of a little extra bargaining power following the Wivenhoe Quay result.
“We did very well this evening, we increased the majority in a lot of our seats. We will be talking early next week with the Labour Party and the Independents. We both have our group meetings first and listen to what our groups want to do. We then go forward and meet to negotiate with each other.”
Providing we run the joint administration, I will be staying on as the Leader of Colchester Borough Council.”
Confusion has crept in regarding Cllr Turrell’s position, with Cllr Paul Smith being elected the new leader of the local LibDem party at the start of the year. The previous party leader, Cllr Martin Hunt, took a step back from leading the council, allowing Cllr Turrell to take on the role.
Cllr Quince told The Chronic:
“It certainly is challenging and our vote has held up, all bar one seat to Labour. Looking at some of the results around the country I believe that we did quite well in Colchester. We’ve got some new councillors that have come in. We will carry on being an effective opposition, holding the current administration to account.
The biggest issue on the horizon is the High Street and the changes that the current administration wants to make to it. They are grossly unpopular. There are very few people that I can find that are in favour of the plans being proposed at the cost of half a million pounds to the taxpayer.”
Despite not winning the control of the council, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, Bernard Jenkin, told The Chronic:
“Colchester once again bucks the trend. It is going to be a tricky night for us across the country, but to only lose one seat in what has always been a traditional Labour area against a strong Labour incumbent candidate, it didn’t come as a complete surprise.”
The difficulties that the government had following the budget and other matters haven’t enthused our supporters or activists. The Conservative party is looking for a little fresh direction following these elections. We have got lots of new blood coming through in West Mersea and Dedham. These are young and ambitious people that want to change the things we do in the borough.”
Change certainly appeared to be taking place in the borough, depending on whom you were talking to at any stage throughout the past four weeks. For all the talk of a Tory takeover, a Labour drubbing on the Greenstead and the LibDems not knowing how both the national picture and the Sir Bob factor may affect them, the borough is left with little change.
Same as it ever was.
Much attention has been focussed on the St Andrew’s ward during the campaign. Independent candidate Bobby Hunt put himself up against Labour cabinet member Cllr Tina Dopson, in an effort to raise awareness over the LibLab coalition closure of Joyce Brooks House, the sheltered accommodation along Oxford Road.
Speaking to The Chronic before the count, Cllr Tim Young, the leader of the Colchester Labour party admitted:
“We had some anxious moments in St Andrew’s. It is the fear of the unknown. I can’t remember an independent candidate in St Andrew’s in my twenty years. We have looked at the early sampling, and Tina [Dopson] looks very strong.
“Joyce Brooks has hardly been raised at all. It wasn’t raised once in any of our target wards. It doesn’t appear to have had an effect on our vote.”
This was one of the few predictions on the night that turned out to be true. Cllr Dopson held her seat with 926 votes, with Bobby Hunt coming in a distant second with 194 votes.
But it was to be up Boundary Road and over in Wivenhoe Quay ward where the only slight change in the balance of power took place. Labour’s Cyril Liddy took the seat off the Conservatives with an impressive 915 votes, beating the Conservative candidate Bob Needham, who polled 539 votes.
This has been a key battleground locally, with both candidates fighting a fair campaign, and both drawing upon the support and presence that they have after service on Wivenhoe Town Council. Cllr Liddy’s Labour win might just be enough to give his party a little more authority around the bargaining table when it comes to thrashing out the terms of the coalition.
The Labour success story however felt short at Harbour / Old Heath. This was a ward that the Social Media Savvy Thrusting Young Chair of the Colchester Labour Party was keen to take control of as his political career continues to develop. Jordan Newell however could only manage 298 votes against the LibDem’s Cllr Julia Havis who held her seat.
It appears that the Social Media Savvy Thrusting Young Chair of the Colchester Labour Party was the sacrificial little lamb whilst his Comrades concentrated on working the Greenstead and taking control of Wivenhoe Quay.
We’re sure that he will be back, online, if not offline…
Elsewhere around the borough and the new blood of the Colchester Conservative party didn’t quite take a bloody nose, but certainly came to terms with how the rough and tumble of local politics works.
Darius Laws unexpectedly found himself thrust into the centre of the campaign, with a rival LibDem leaflet from Sir Bob of Sunny Colch seemingly criticising the young Conservative because he works, whereas his LibDem rival Cllr Nigel Offen is retired.
Speaking ahead of the count, Cllr Quince commented:
“Shrub End has been a particular focus over the past forty eight hours. We have put a huge amount of work in; the LibDems have put a huge amount of work in. It’s going to be an interesting one to watch.”
It seems that a multi-tasking Tory is not quite what the good folk of Shrub End are ready for just yet, with Darius polling an impressive 514 votes compared to Cllr Offen’s 745.
Once bitten by Sir Bob, twice shy?
Possibly, but Darius will be back…
Much like Ben Locker up at Mile End, who ran a very transparent online campaign in an attempt to remove Cllr Martin Goss, the LibDem incumbent. 514 votes were polled in support of the transparent campaign by Ben, compared to 1,467, which meant that Cllr Goss retained his Mile End seat.
Another big winner on the night was Cllr Beverley Oxford of the Highwoods Independent party. Keeping it in the family with her husband and son councillor team, and keeping the Highwoods seat was the sitting councillor, pulling in an impressive 1,211 votes. The closest challenge came from the Conservatives with 167 votes.
The reward for such a strong Independent group is undoubtedly a continuation of the seat at cabinet. But with Labour also gaining in Wivenhoe Quay, it may mean that the LibDems may have to lose a seat around the top table. Unless a new cabinet role suddenly appears, that is…
And so after four weeks of campaigning, claims, bluffs and counter-bluffs, it looks like Colchester is back to where we were, albeit with an ever so slightly strengthened Labour group, and a Conservative opposition that has lost a councillor.
Was it a clean campaign?
Yes in the main, although the dogs of war still to tend to descend upon the borough whenever an election rosette needs to be worn.
Cllr Quince commented:
“Sadly I can’t say that it has been a fair campaign. I have seen some leaflets, which have frankly been disgusting – and that’s not just me, it’s members of the public from all over Colchester. They have been quite appalled by the content. I don’t think politics should ever get personal like that.”
Certainly adding a personal touch on the night was the fine Press Team at CBC, fronted up by Joanne Parlett and her staff. Many thanks for making The Chronic feel so welcome, and for helping out with some apolitical observations.
You can view the full results over on the CBC website.
Once the sleep deprivation has been addressed, phone calls will be made, calculations will be carried out on the back of fag packets, and we should get details of a new LibLab coalition sometime at the start of next week,
Same again next year, Comrades…