By Martin Betts, Vice Chair, TWCLP.
Labour was given a significant boost at the Borough Council elections on 2 May – winning two seats in Southborough and High Brooms and Sherwood and just missing a victory in Paddock Wood West on the toss of a coin.
In these elections local Conservatives were given a massive thumbs down when their majority was slashed from 32 to a mere 8. They lost their Council Leader – David Jukes, and Cabinet Member – Tracy Moore, and their vote share slumped from 43% to 29%.
The result was said to be ‘disappointing’ as remaining Conservative councillors stare like rabbits frozen in headlights at the likelihood of losing their control of the council next year. Voters have said a massive ‘no’ to a party that has ploughed on regardless of public opinion to spending over £90m on new council offices, underground car park and a new financially risky theatre.
People don’t trust Conservative promises or agree with their priorities and understand that this project that will result in more cuts in services, increased charges and council taxes. Over 70% of votes cast went to parties that oppose the scheme. Voters have also given their verdict on a party led by one of the most incompetent Prime Minister’s in modern times, riven by infighting and divisions, and determined to take us into an unchartered Brexit future that will leave all of us poorer for decades to come.
The Conservatives have been sent a strong message, but are they capable of listening to it at any level? Experience suggests not.
Despite opposition, they have ploughed ahead with the Southborough Hub scheme – where they have just lost control of the town council. They have ignored opposition to the civic centre/theatre project. And the PM is threatening to bang her head again against the ‘her deal’ wall. It seems likely that the (still) Conservative-led Borough Council will do a May and ‘carry on regardless’ with their project. Word has it that they might rush to get contracts signed before a special meeting to discuss the issue on Monday 17 June.
Clearly, this sort of response would yet again be a flagrant rejection of the views the electorate have just expressed, and all the opposition parties need to use their new mandate to stand united in keeping up the pressure for a major rethink. Labour’s view is that the project should be stopped and creative, imaginative and cheaper alternatives explored, including the redevelopment of our existing civic buildings and theatre – in a similar way to the Amelia Scott cultural hub project. On Brexit the European Elections are a way to make the government listen again. It is vital for all of us that Nigel Farage’s ‘no deal’ Brexit party is not able to claim victory, and a vote for Labour will help to achieve this. Without an agreement along the lines of Labour’s alternative plans or a general election we back the breaking the deadlock option of a further public vote, which is the only sensible and democratic way of resolving this national crisis.