Conservatives across the borough went against the national trend to tighten their grip on Tunbridge Wells as opposition in the council was reduced from six to five members. The true-blue status of the borough was left in no doubt on Friday after the ballots were counted for the local elections.
Many of the Conservative incumbents retained their seat, with only Peter Lidstone’s victory for the Liberal Democrats over David Scott in St John’s ward causing an upset.
However, even this small victory was undone when the Tory candidate Carol Mackonochie unseated Hugh Patterson, the incumbent Liberal Democrat, in Capel. Liberal Democrat Cllr Ben Chapelard, who successfully defended his own seat in St James’ ward, said the poll had been one of mixed fortunes for the party.
He added: “We are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of trust the people in St John’s have in us. For many residents, a large Conservative majority does not work as it does not listen to them.
“But Hugh was a big loss for us, he was a great councillor with a sharp mind.” The Liberal Democrats’ position was left unchanged by the election with three councillors representing the party in the chamber. Labour managed to retain one of their two seats in the Southborough and High Brooms ward, when Dianne Hill won with a resounding 52 per cent of the vote, following the resignation of her predecessor Alain Lewis.
Cllr Hill said her victory had been down to campaigning on ‘purely local’ issues, such as the Southborough Hub project, and not getting caught up in national politics.
“I am local and those are the issues I focused on, nothing to do with the national party. The Tories tried to make it about national issues and put Jeremy Corbyn’s name on their leaflets, but it didn’t work,” she said. And yet Labour failed to make any inroads beyond the ward, where their only council positions are based.
This left the Tories with 43 of the 48 seats in the council after their candidate David Reilly won in Pembury ward following the resignation of independent Mike Tompsett. Opposition will be further eroded when the Mayor, David Elliott, hands over to the Liberal Democrat Cllr David Neve in two weeks’ time.
Under the borough’s constitution the Mayor must remain ‘politically neutral’ and will only be able tocast a deciding vote in the event of an even split in chamber, a situation exceeding unlikely with the Conservatives’ dominance.
Even the Council Leader David Jukes was ‘surprised’ by the resilience of his party and its ability to increase its number of councillors. He said: “It was a great result, but it is unusual for a leading party to gain seats during a mid-term election when you have a ruling party in government.
“We deliver sound financial policy and run the borough in a business-like manner with the aim of making it self-sufficient.”