Election law quirk could see councillor keep her seat even if she comes second.
6th March 2019
CONSERVATIVE councillor Tracy Moore, the public face of the controversial plan to spend £90million on a new theatre complex, could keep her ‘seat’ even if she is not first past the post at the May elections.
She is one of three councillors that represent Park Ward and is due for re-election having served her full term. However, Tory colleagues have long feared she could lose her seat due to her high profile as the council’s Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Communication.
She has come in for criticism due to her role, and even received trolling and online abuse.
The Tunbridge Wells Alliance, that already has one councillor on Park ward, Nicholas Pope, has indicated it will stand against Cllr Moore. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have told the Times that they intend to ‘contest every seat’.
However, as the Times reported two weeks ago, long distance councillor, Peter Bulman, who has been representing Park ward from his home in Holt, Norfolk, some 160 miles away, has informed the council he will be stepping down just before the elections.
If Cllr Bulman does indeed step down, two seats in Park ward would then be up for grabs.
The Borough Council has confirmed that under current local election rules, the winner of the Park Ward ballot would automatically get the seat currently up for election and held by Tracy Moore. But whoever comes second would get the seat up for by-election—that of Mr Bulman.
This means, even if Cllr Moore failed to retain her seat, she could keep her role on the Council and in Cabinet if she comes second in the ballot, although she would only be able to serve he remaining term left on Mr Bulman’s seat, which is one year.
Cllr Moore has told the Times she does intend to stand for re-election in Park ward in May, a decision that will be welcomed my many Conservative colleagues.
As one of the most active councillors Tracy Moore regularly engages with people on social media and is a popular face in both the civic offices and at various events in and around Tunbridge Wells.
She most recently helped broker a cross-party deal that found a new location for the Farmers’ Market, which had been made homeless due to the current developments going in Civic Way.
Clever electioneering by the Tories or simply a piece of luck?
Councillor Bulman stepping down from Park Ward looks to be a timely manoeuvre by the Tunbridge Wells Conservatives.
The party has long feared for Cllr Moore’s seat, up for election in May, due to some targeted opposition to the council’s £90million development on the edge of Calverley Grounds, which sits in Park Ward.
Traditionally a safe Conservative ward, Tracy Moore won the 2015 election with 54 per cent of the vote, securing 2,126 out of 3,902 votes in the 5,537-strong electorate.
However, following a campaign of opposition to the Calverley Square development in Park Ward, Tunbridge Wells Alliance candidate, Nicholas Pope, took a shock win for one of the three ward seats in 2018, securing 773 votes—34 per cent of the 2,271 votes cast, narrowly beating the then Conservative candidate, Catherine Rankin.
The Tories fear the same thing could happen on May 2, but thanks to the timely resignation of Peter Bulman, Cllr Moore only needs to secure second place.
Indeed, residents of Park Ward have long pondered why Cllr Bulman did not step down from his seat when he moved 160 miles away to Holt.
The answer may well be down to the fact that if he resigned earlier, it would not only have cost the council an additional £5,000 for an out of period by-election, but also have meant Cllr Moore, as a sitting councillor, would not have been able to contest that seat, only her own during the May elections.
By stepping down in May, Mr Bulman may, by design or fault, have secured Cllr Moore’s position on the Borough Council and the Cabinet.
Even if the Alliance, Liberal Democrats and Labour all field candidates in Park Ward, Cllr Moore would only need to secure a quarter share of the vote—less than half the number she managed to land in 2015.
The Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats even told the Times they were contemplating putting up two candidates for Park Ward due to there being two seats up for grabs, and other parties may be thinking along the same lines, but they all run the risk of splitting their own vote, leaving the door open even wider for Councillor Moore.