I spent a large part of Friday at the count of the County Council Vote from Stafford. In Stafford as in so many other parts of the county the Labour vote has been badly hit.
The interesting thing about being at a count is that you see the boxes being opened and you see the faces of the participants as the voting slips are unfolded.
The candidates and their supporters, like myself have spent months out there on the doorstep, talking to people, listening to their concerns, helping people to look beyond the headlines, and making judgements about how the votes lie. The faces of the Conservative candidates during the course of count showed pleasure that the votes were falling their way, but also real anxiety at the fragmentation of the vote.
Firstly let me say thank you to over 5000 Stafford voters who came out and voted Labour in this most difficult of elections. I was grateful on behalf of the councillors who have worked so hard for you over the years, and I was also grateful for myself. As I watched your votes pile up in the baskets this made me feel that it was worth-while to have given my own time for this. We may not have been able to win on this occasion, but I know how many of the people I met on the doorstep over the course of this campaign really believe strongly in the values of a fair society. This is important. It is worth fighting for.
The votes that tumbled out of the ballot boxes reflected what I had seen on the doorstep. Many people were confused and angry about the expenses stories. They blamed Labour because Labour is in power. Most of the people I spoke to were not willing to vote Conservative, and the six way split of the vote was pretty well as I expected. Most of these people were simply registering a protest, with no expectation of “winning”.
The serious problem that the Conservatives have is that they are now committed to carrying out their program with the active support of no more than 16% of the electorate of Stafford. Over 22% voted against. The rest stayed at home. (Country wide the Conservative vote is down by 6% since the last County Council Elections) The serious problem for us as a community is that for the next 4 years, there will be no effective opposition within the country council. A vote made in a moment of public anger, whipped up by the media, has had some pretty big consequences.
Large majorities on a small electoral base are not a good thing, either for themselves or the community. I believe it will be necessary for us as a community to develop effective ways of scrutinising the work of the county council and challenging them if necessary. I am interested in spending some time looking at ways to make this possible, and I invite other people to join me in this.