Tonbridge Liberal Democrats: People feel ignored and taken for granted

BACK TO THE BALLOT: Michelle Wallington wants another public vote on Brexit

Tonbridge Liberal Democrats: People feel ignored and taken for granted

by Andy Tong | 1st May 2019

FOR eight years between 1995 and 2003, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council was under no overall control as the Liberal Democrats challenged the Conservative stronghold.

But from having 21 councillors out of 55 in the 1999 elections, the Lib Dem representation has now dwindled to four - in Larkfield and East Malling.

Michelle Wallington is running for the first time because she believes the two main parties have 'behaved abysmally' over Brexit.

But as a candidate for Cage Green alongside Rob Shergold she faces a tall order. She is up against Conservative Nicolas Heslop, who has been the council Leader for seven years.

You are running against Cllr Heslop – are you hoping for an upset?

The response we’ve had has been amazing. People want to talk. They’re unhappy with the local Conservative leadership. They feel ignored and taken for granted. 

Only last week someone said 'you’re the first to bother to knock’. People see our leaflets with ‘fresh voices’ and they nod and start to talk to us about their ideas.  

The Liberal Democrats have seen their Parliamentary presence eroded – but can they claw back their traditionally greater influence at council level?

If elected we will work to make sure local residents are really involved in the plans and decisions that affect them. It’s why we want to explore Tonbridge having a town council, and we feel council meetings should be webcast.

We already have 1,900 councillors across the country and a strong record in local government. The polls are predicting a further 400-plus wins for us nationally.

Have you been campaigning for a second referendum on EU membership?

I’ve been on two EU marches in London. It’s been great to see a strong Tonbridge contingent, of all ages and backgrounds, taking part.

Given that there is no agreed view of what Brexit means in practice, and Parliament can’t make up its mind, the only way to resolve matters is to put it to a public vote. 

If people feel it’s a good enough deal they can vote for it, or they can decide it’s better to remain. 

As for no-deal, even our Conservative MP thinks no deal would be a disaster and lead to gridlock Kent. 

Kent has been described as being on the front line of no-deal because of the border ports. Are feelings running high?

Brexit hasn’t really come up. What has come across is the need for Tonbridge to have a stronger local voice and a better and more sustainable plan for its future. 

There’s considerable concern that the Local Plan includes several greenbelt sites. I live in North Tonbridge so I’m very aware of the worries around the Longmead Stadium car park.

This election is about local matters so on the doorstep that’s what we’ve been focusing on. The problems with air pollution and traffic congestion, social and affordable housing and our green spaces are the issues that matter to the people I’ve spoken to.

The Brexit impasse is turning people off politicians. How can the Lib Dems appeal to the public?

The two main parties have behaved abysmally over Brexit and the public are right to call them out on it. It’s why I joined the Lib Dems in 2016 and why I'm standing now. 

I also think it has made people look at our two-party system and realise it isn’t working. If we want things to change for the better, we need an alternative to the ‘same old, same old’. 

This newspaper has profiled candidates from all major parties in the run up to the elections.

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