May’s election is done and dusted, the rosettes stored away, the leaflets recycled, and the manifesto promises are just fading memories.
What are we left with for the next four years, here in sunny Herne Bay? Well, we’ve got eight of the old guard (one re-badged) and five newbies – a decent rate of turnover, by the look of it. Twelve of them are Conservative, one Liberal Democrat. And this is where our problems start.
In Herne & Broomfield, there was no change: Bisset, Sonnex and Vickery-Jones sailed in. In the papers the next week, Sharron Sonnex wrote about continuing to “robustly represent” her constituents. I laughed till I stopped. After attending HBAMP meetings on and off for a couple of years, plus the occasional Council meeting, I had never heard Sharon Sonnex speak (or Evelyn Bisset, come to that). When the Herne & Broomfield blarney fairy was handing out the gift of the gab, I think Peter Vickery-Jones must have cornered the market.
Over in West Bay, old hand Peter Lee topped the poll, closely followed by Sebastien Byford. Who? Well, Sebastien is one of the new foundling councillors, magicked out of nowhere by Conservative High Command and dropped neatly into the gap left by Vince McMahan. As you can tell from the number of votes – nearly as many as the experienced financial wizard Peter Lee – he is clearly top-class councillor material.
In my home Ward of Reculver (where I was beaten into fourth place, but still ahead of Labour and LibDems), we hung on to Cllrs Reuby and Taylor, and acquired Jennie Edwards. Putting her glamorous past behind her, Jennie works in the local Conservative office in Birchington, where she was sprinkled with fairy dust and became – tadah! – another foundling councillor.
Heron Ward in central Herne Bay is home to our lone remaining LibDem, Ron Flaherty, and two more newbies – Andrew Cook (King of the Beach Huts) and Joe Howes, about whom I know nothing, other than Andrew apparently met him whilst out dog-walking.
Greenhill & Eddington was all surprises – Robert Bright (once a Conservative, then a LibDem, now a Conservative again) topped the poll, closely followed by David Hirst (already a busy Kent County Councillor for Herne Bay). Councillor Bright is said by his (current) leader John Gilbey to have “ratted and re-ratted” – and there the similarity with Winston Churchill ends, completely. He had not been reselected by the LibDems due to his poor performance as a constituency councillor. For me, his election lends the lie to the idea that the Conservative party has a formidable election machine – you can pin a blue rosette on a rat and it will get votes.
So, what are we to make of all this, and what’s going to happen next?
Dear Reader, I must confess I’m worried for our town. All of the retorgrade steps in recent years have, by definition, happened under and because of the Conservative majority in Canterbury. We now have an overwhelming Conservative majority in Herne Bay – anything and everything that is suggested or ordered by Canterbury High Command will go through on the nod. I forecast poor attendance, and worse debate, at HBAMP (the meeting of our local councillors) as the unchallengable majority become increasingly lazy and arrogant.
Our local democracy is already in poor shape – the Central Development Plan gets a mixed reaction from 119 people, and goes ahead; the village green application gets solid support from ten times as many (1,181) and is fiercely opposed by the Council. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen blue and red landslide victories in national politics, and both have turned sour. I fear this local landslide will follow the same pattern.
And what of HBAMP itself?
We’re at the stage in the game of political musical chairs when everyone changes place. The chairmanship alternates annually between Kent County Council and Canterbury City Council, as does the vice-chairmanship. Last year we had David Hirst (chair, KCC) and Vince McMahan (vice-chair, CCC), so this year we must have a CCC Chair, and a KCC vice-chair.
The vice-chairmanship is easy enough to forecast – there are two possible candidates, David Hirst and Jean Law. As David has just had a year of chairing, it will fall to Jean Law to be vice-chair. The chairmanship is a little trickier.
Traditionally, members of the Executive are ruled out – they don’t want to give the impression that the Executive runs everything. Perish the thought! So that rules out Lee, Taylor and Vickery-Jones. The newbies are out of the running for a whole host of good reasons, not least inexperience – so that rules out Cook, Howes, Edwards and Byford. Cllr Reuby was chair recently, and there is not a chance in hell that LoneDem Ron Flaherty would be made chair.
Which leave us with the Silent Sisters Sonnex and Bisset, and Blue Rat Bright. Tough call! The word on the street is that Bright wins by a whisker, much to the annoyance of local Tories, some of whom refused to stand in the same Ward as Bright, and even threatened to resign rather than be too close to him. Bright managed to rile people, councillors and public alike, sitting as a councillor on HBAMP. As chair, he promises to be insufferable. He may turn out to be the only significant problem the Herne Bay Conservatives have.