Tories looking for a ‘Boris Bounce’ to keep them in power at Town Hall

Tories looking for a 'Boris Bounce' to keep them in power at Town Hall

The party has seen its majority in the chamber slashed from 32 to just six, and overall control will fall if the Conservatives lose any more than three seats at next May’s local elections.

Conservatives have ruled the roost since they last lost out to the Lib Dems between 1996-1998.

They fear the Lib Dems will take seats from them in May, along with control of the council, when 12 Tory councillors are up for re-election.

But Boris Johnson’s honeymoon period may be just enough, they hope, to leave voters with a feel good factor that will make them more inclined to support the Conservatives.

Meanwhile newly elected MP Greg Clark has thanked the voters in Tunbridge Wells for having ‘kept faith’ despite three years of Brexit turmoil, after they overwhelming backed him to be their MP for the fifth time last week.

Mr Clark, who secured more than half of the vote during last Thursday’s General Election, also assured voters that the EU withdrawal ‘will be a world away from a No Deal Brexit’.

He told the Times yesterday: “The thing that surprised me was how stable my vote was, it was almost identical to last time so I think people kept faith.”

Despite there being a majority in Tunbridge Wells who voted Remain in the EU referendum in 2016, Mr Clark said the Liberal Democrats, who stole second place from Labour following an intense anti-Brexit campaign, had ‘misjudged’ the mood of the people.

“There was a sense the people wanted to come together and heal division and not deepen them, and my message was that we should come together with a reasonable compromise. I know Tunbridge Wells very well and I know that is the tenor of the town,” he said.

He added the Liberal Democrats, ran a ‘divisive’ and at times ‘a touch personal’ campaign that at one point branded him a ‘hardline Brexiter’

“I think it backfired. The more leaflets the constituents had the more support for my campaign increased,” he said, before praising the Labour candidate, Antonio Weiss, whom he described as ‘impressive’ after securing 15 per cent of the vote, despite a disastrous campaign for the party nationally.

Mr Clark is now one of only four MPs re-elected to the House of Commons out of the original 21 ‘Brexit Rebels’ that lost the party whip after defying Boris Johnson in September, but he insisted there would be no Hard Brexit.

“We will have no problem with that. The next step is to ratify the deal that has been negotiated this week and then we will very quickly move to a free trade agreement with the EU.

“The Europeans want to get on with it, there is a strong mandate now in the House of Commons to get on with it, so it is very straightforward.”

The former Business Secretary added: “There is no possibility of us leaving the EU under WTO [World Trade Organisation] terms. None at all. The agreement will be a world away from a No Deal Brexit.”


Swing from Labour to Lib Dems fails to unseat Clark

GREG Clark stormed to victory in Tunbridge Wells for the fifth time last week, following a disastrous night for the national Labour Party, and an equally poor performance by the Liberal Democrats who lost their leader.

Mr Clark, who has represented the constituency since 2005, received more than half of the local vote, but found his majority slightly dented following a veracious campaign by the Liberal Democrats who stole second place from Labour. Despite torrential rain that pelted Tunbridge Wells throughout most of last Thursday, turnout was up slightly on 2017, with around 55,000 turning out to cast their ballot or 73.5 per cent [up from 73 per cent in 2017].

The result, which was announced at around 3.45pm at Putlands Sports and Leisure Centre in Paddock Wood, saw Mr Clark’s previous majority of 16,495 take a small dent, with Lib Dem candidate Ben Chapelard closing the gap to the Conservative to 14,654.

But it was a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats both locally and nationally.

The party had targeted Tunbridge Wells as a ‘winnable seat’ based on the constituency’s record in the 2016 EU referendum in which the majority voted to Remain.

Yet the ardent Remainers of Tunbridge Wells proved to be less committed to their cause than the Lib Dems were, who gambled the election on the single policy of keeping Britain in the EU.

In reality it turned out that most of those who voted Remain in Tunbridge Wells three years ago had already conceded defeat following the 2016 referendum and preferred Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit done’ campaign over another two years of Parliamentary deadlock and indecision.

Despite intense campaigning by Jo Swinson’s party, the local Lib Dem made little inroads into the Conservative vote, but managed to take second place from Labour. Although this was a swing of around 18 per cent, they expected to do much better.

While Mr Chapelard saw the number of voters choosing his party in Tunbridge Wells rise to 15,474 up from 5,355 in 2017, it was little more than a reversal of the Labour and Liberal Democrat position, which can only be seen as disappointing on a night that saw the vote collapse for Corbyn’s party up and down the country.

Antonio Weiss, the Labour candidate, managed 8,098 votes and said he was ‘disappointed’ with the result, but it was hardly a surprise in an election that saw his party rejected in many of their strongholds.

The two independent candidates both lost their deposits, with ‘hard Brexiter’ Christopher Camp coming fourth with 488, narrowly beating last place Nigel Peacock who secured 471 votes.


Could a Boris bounce bail out the struggling local Tory party?

Sketch by Richard Williams

A CLEARLY disappointed Ben Chapelard was both emotional and taken aback by Thursday’s result. It is obvious both he and his Liberal Democrat party expected to do much better.

It is unclear whether it was his decision to rail against the electorate for choosing a path of ‘nationalism and division’ or a party line, but it was perhaps unwise for Cllr Chapelard to blame the voters for getting it wrong after they have spoken, especially as he will soon be appealing for their ballots again.

After licking his wounds on Thursday, the Lib Dem councillor will now surely have both eyes fixed on next year’s local elections, and in particular, the Council Leader’s seat.

Following a disastrous result last May, many local politicians, including a number from the controlling Conservative group on the borough council, were expecting control to fall from the Tory party’s grasp when the local elections take place in May.

The party has seen its majority slashed from 32 to just six, and overall control will fall if the Conservatives lose any more than three seats, which would leave Leader Alan McDermott in opposition, and Cllr Ben Chapelard in his chair.

To anyone paying attention during the last local election, it was clear the doomed Calverley Square project was largely behind the Conservative defeat, not to mention belonging to a party in government that was both in deadlock and at its weakest over Brexit.

While national elections should not really influence how people vote locally, they invariably provide a means for the electorate to kick an incumbent government they don’t like, or reward one that they do.

And Boris Johnson’s honeymoon period may yet be enough to make Calverley Square a distant memory come May in the eyes of the electorate, especially as many of the Tories up for election didn’t actually vote for it.

Cllr Chapelard may also find the General Election has damaged the chances of his potential coalition partners in Tunbridge Wells too.

Following the catastrophe that was Corbyn’s leadership, coupled with what will certainly be an embittered leadership election scheduled in the weeks leading up to the local elections, the local Labour Party may find the red rose on their campaign literature has been tainted somewhat.

Of course, even if the Conservatives do get a Boris bounce, the numbers next May could mean a three-way coalition of Lib Dems, Labour and Tunbridge Wells Alliance could still wrestle control of the Council from the Tories.

As the three parties appear to have only two things in common – their opposition to the now defunct Calverley Square project, and a shared hashtag of #Toriesout –thanks to Boris Johnson, it could be that neither will have the same resonance as they did before Thursday night.

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