Rother stays blue in ballot

editorial image

WHEN Rother District Council meets again for the first time since Thursday’s local elections, some notable changes will be evident within its ranks.

Although the Conservatives retain overall control, an aggressive campaign against the Tories’ alleged lack of consultation on important local issues, notably Bexhill seafront, saw three new Independents elected.

They join long-standing, non-aligned councillor Charles Clark, who comfortably retained his St Michaels seat. Two of the Independents to triumph were Tony Mansi and Bexhill Alliance chairman, John Lee.

They did so by capturing both Tory seats in Collington ward - one held by local Conservative agent and Bexhill deputy mayor Gillian Wheeler and the other fought by Shirley Miller in place of Christopher Starnes.

The other Independent gain also came at the expense of the blues, with former Tory councillor and well-known local baker Stuart Earl besting Conservative hopeful Robert Chase in St Mark’s.

Another change sees Labour regaining some representation on the 20 ward, 38-seat council. The party fought hard to capture one of two previously Tory-held seats in Sidley and Sonia Holmes’ Lib Dem seat in Rye.

Mrs Holmes’s defeat was one of several blows to the Lib Dems, for though group leader Sue Prochak was returned for another term, her husband Stephen Hardy’s stand in the same Salehurst ward came to grief.

He had sought to replace Lib Dem George Hearn, but was trounced by Tory Graham Browne.

The Tories’ new man Simon Elford was one of those responsible, forcing Lib Dem Martyn Forster to bid farewell to his St Michael’s seat.

Overall, the Lib Dems saw their representation on Rother reduced from eight seats to five, mirroring the party’s misfortunes across the country

Previous Conservative councillors called upon to engage in “musical chairs” to fight in new wards generally took no harm from the tactic and all remain part of the ruling group.

In Bexhill, Richard Carroll switched successfully from Sackville to Central and Patrick Douart from St Mark’s to Sackville, while out in the sticks Ian Jenkins, formerly representing Ticehurst and Etchingham, was elected in Rother Levels.

Turnout for Thursday’s poll was “exceptionally good” according to Rother chief executive and returning officer Derek Stevens, averaging 48 per cent, or just under half the district’s entire electorate.

He said: “It was encouraging to see so many people taking the trouble to come out to vote, and in a way rewarded all the hard work put in by the electoral team for the first district-wide poll since 2007.”

Altogether 92 candidates stood in the contest, which saw no place for the Green Party and its Darwell Ward contender, Andrew Wedmore.

There, seasoned Conservative David Vereker has been joined by another Tory, Bob White, who took the chance created by Independent Wendy Mier stepping down.

But it was the Independents who exulted in their suddenly increased stake in the council chamber.

Stuart Earl said: “I’m personally thrilled to be back and I hope as a group we will remind all the political parties that it was the electorate who put us here and it is the electorate we are serving.

“It’s clear that many residents were against not being appropriately consulted on issues like Next Wave and this election has proved people want a change.”

Fellow Independent Tony Mansi felt the Conservatives had shown “no humility” and that his and John Lee’s triumph in Collington reflected how people had taken that to heart.

For his own part, he said: “I’m under no illusion that it’s an uphill struggle but we’ve got to start somewhere” -- a sentiment echoed by Mr Lee, who added: “We will do our best for local people.”

Bexhill’s new Labour man is Maurice Watson, who was just five votes ahead of fellow Labour candidate Andrew Fleming for the Sidley seat left vacant by Tory Robert Wheeler and unsuccessfully fought by Abul Azad.

He said: “I would have liked it to have been both of us, although I have the greatest respect for my fellow ward councillor and Conservative Jim Carroll, who has done a lot for Sidley, and for Bexhill as its mayor.

“I aim to press for a revitalised Sidley, with safer roads, better opportunities for families, protecting the rights of tenants, continued effort to curb drugs and crime and no landfill or incineration site here.”

Departing Tory councillor Gillian Wheeler swallowed the bitterness of defeat by simply saying: “That’s democracy”, while deposed Lib Dem Martyn Forster was magnanimous in congratulating Tory rival Simon Elford.

He said: “I think Simon fought a very fair campaign and it won the day.

“I’m just sorry I shall not be able to build on the four years of hard work I believe I’ve put in since being elected in 2007.”

The ballot means the new council comprises 27 Conservatives, five Lib Dems, four Independents and two Labour.

• Rother’s electorate also returned a resounding “no” to the alternative vote ballot, with 8,718 voting for the new system and 25,167 against.