No clear majority for Council

Despite some hard-fought campaigning, last Thursday’s local elections have resulted in Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) continuing with No Overall Control (NOC), as parties prepare for the ‘all out’ vote expected next May.

This year’s vote saw 16 seats – one-third of the total of 48 – up for grabs in the Borough elections.

Despite national reports of significant Labour and Lib Dem gains at the expense of the Conservatives, the effect was muted in Tunbridge Wells.

After the ballots were counted in Tunbridge Wells on Friday, no party had gained or lost more than two seats, and just six out of the 16 seats had changed party colour, with only the Conservatives seeing a net loss of seats.

If proposals for new ward boundaries and councillor numbers are approved, next year’s election could see much more drastic changes, with 48 seats being squeezed to 39, and 20 wards giving way to just 13.

Though all parties in the governing Borough Partnership – Liberal Democrat, Tunbridge Wells Alliance and Labour – made small gains, no majority emerged, so at the time of writing, the Borough Partnership looks set to continue.

In another local exception, only the non-national Tunbridge Wells Alliance took seats from the Conservatives, not the national parties.

The Alliance stood in 10 out of 16 wards, and did not lose any of the three seats it was defending. Leader Cllr David Hayward was returned to Pembury and Cllr Nancy Warne held her Benenden & Cranbrook seat.

Meanwhile, in Speldhurst & Bidborough, where in 2019 Cllr Lucy Willis unseated Conservative Council leader David Jukes, she stepped down this year and Paul Curry, Chair of Speldhurst Parish Council, re-won the seat for Alliance.

Meanwhile, Alison Webster took another rural seat from outgoing Conservative Cllr Dr Linda Hall, turning Goudhurst & Lamberhurst into an Alliance stronghold.



The other ward councillor, Cllr David Knight (Alliance), commented: “Not to have a Tory in Goudhurst is quite something.”

And Siobhan O’Connell took a third Park seat from Conservative Cllr Christian Atwood, joining Alliance’s first councillor Cllr Nick Pope.

Cllr Pope told the Times: “The results were as we were expecting. We held three and won two more. It was a good result for us.”

These gains gave the party 11 councillors, the same number as the Conservatives, a party which only lost control of Tunbridge Wells in 2022.

However, although the Conservatives ended this election with a net loss of two seats and no gains, it held commanding leads in two seats it was defending.

Cllr Andy Fairweather polled 429 in Frittenden & Sissinghurst, in what Conservative leader Tom Dawlings called “a ringing endorsement”, noting that none of the challengers for the single-member seat had reached over 100 votes.

Meanwhile, outgoing mayor Cllr Godfrey Bland secured 800 votes in Hawkhurst and Sandhurst, over 500 more than his nearest Alliance rival, despite the vote being split by six candidates for the seat.

In yet another difference from the national scene, the Liberal Democrats remain the largest local party and not Labour.

In Tunbridge Wells, the Lib Dem bloc won three seats and lost one, for a net gain of two, leaving it comfortably ahead of all other parties with 17 seats.

However, it remains well short of a majority in the 48-seat Council, and it is worth noting that two of the seats it won this year had been held by former Lib Dems sitting as independents, who both stepped down this election.

With David Osborne’s win in Culverden, and Pamela Wilkinson’s win in Pantiles & St Mark’s, both wards have now reverted to Lib Dem strongholds, with three councillors of the same party – joining Broadwater, Southborough North, St James’ and St John’s.

Cllr Marguerita Morton easily kept her St John’s seat, polling 1,018, with the nearest challenger, Labour’s Dariel Francis, polling 670.

And Joe Opara kept the Southborough North seat for the Lib Dems after incumbent Cllr Trevor Poile stepped down.

However, Lib Dem Mark Munday won in Paddock Wood West, taking the seat vacated by Cllr Matthew Bailey – formerly a Conservative and now standing for the Residents Party – when the latter moved over to target Paddock Wood East.

The Lib Dems confirmed on Friday that the party group would “commence discussions with other parties on possible configurations to create a stable majority on the Council”.

The party’s prospective parliamentary candidate, Mike Martin, added: “No speculation at the moment on the Borough Partnership.”

Yet the party did not have it all its own way. Though it put up a candidate in all seats available, it made a net gain of just two, and saw Rusthall Lib Dem Cllr Dave Funnell lose his seat to Labour’s Jayne Sharratt.

“Rusthall was a Labour target,” confirmed Labour campaign co-ordinator Bjorn Simpole.

The Sherwood ward was a tighter race, with the Labour group leader Cllr Hugo Pound defending his seat against four other candidates, winning with 643 votes, while his closest challenger, the Conservatives’ Nasir Jamil, won 545.

John Francis was the new Labour councillor successfully defending Southborough & High Brooms after Cllr Luke Everitt stepped down.

As Labour increased its share of councillors from seven to eight, Cllr Pound said: “We have gone from two councillors to eight in five years.

“I am very pleased with the result.”

More broadly, he said, ‘Labour is having a fantastic day. Medway [which Labour flipped from the Conservatives] is a fantastic result.”

Results were not so positive for the smallest party-groups.

Just one independent, Cllr Rodney Atkins, now remains on the Council, after defending Paddock Wood East against five challengers.

One of those challengers was Cllr Matthew Bailey, formerly a Conservative who had quit to become an independent after the ‘partygate’ scandal of lockdown parties in Downing Street.

This election, he stood for the newly-registered RTW Residents Party, changing ward to Paddock Wood East, while Linda Store stood for the Residents Party in Cllr Bailey’s old ward of Paddock Wood West.

Yet neither won a seat.

Meanwhile, the Green Party fielded a candidate in all 16 wards, yet came away with none.

The Greens’ Goudhurst & Lamberhurst hopeful, Geoff Mason, told the Times: “We had two main targets – myself in Goudhurst  & Lamberhust and Trevor Bisdee in Paddock Wood West. And also Sue Lovell in Southborough North.

“But we wanted to give everyone the chance to vote Green in Tunbridge Wells. It has never happened before. It is the first time we have done it. We’ve put the Greens on the map.”

However, he acknowledged, “It did spread out our resources a bit.”

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