Local elections 2016: as a Surrey reporter & London voter

Many people don’t think elections are interesting in the slightest but I was privileged to cover an unusual election count on Saturday – a Surrey council which now faces a no overall control situation after the Tories lost their actual majority.

Elmbridge is the wealthiest borough in England outside London, and it pays the most income tax in the UK. But it’s incredibly community-minded, and in the past Elmbridge Borough Council has actually been controlled by the Residents’ Group in 2002-05 and has experienced periods of no overall control.

Now, after eight years of Conservative control, the residents are fighting back once more. I heard reports at the count of some bizarre mixed voting going on – for example ballot papers with votes for one Tory, one Green and one Residents’ Association candidate with voters perhaps choosing individuals they respect or just not wanting to put all their eggs in one basket.

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The two Conservatives (one was council leader) on the left lost their seats to a residents’ group

This was a rare all-out election in Elmbridge, with voters choosing three candidates instead of the usual one, after the boundaries all changed and there are less councillors overall. This was a Conservative-led money saving idea, and residents in some wards that ended up grouped with another area to which they felt no allegiance seem to have fought back.

Of course it could also have been due to national trends, perhaps Surrey voters keeping an eye on the mayoral election in London and not liking Zac Goldsmith’s ‘dirty’ campaign, or just the loss of Conservatives who only come out for general or Euro elections.

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A trio of Conservative losses

Whatever the reason this has all happened, it was incredibly exciting to cover and it’s certainly an ongoing story, not business as usual as with the other Surrey councils.

Conversely, I mentioned earlier the elections for London Mayor and the London Assembly, which I was eligible to vote in. I spent weeks not knowing who to vote for. Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan seemed to have rather similar policies on the face of it and whatever the differences were they were never explained, what with the entire campaign trail consisting of personal digs and pettiness rather than anything actually constructive.

There were 10 other candidates standing but many of their policies, while sometimes a good idea, were often just less realistic or feasible. I’d rather vote for something the Mayor could actually make happen – although I do like the idea of putting a smaller party as your first preference to express that dissatisfaction with the two main parties while still choosing your winner of the two with the second.

Then there were the London Assembly candidates, plus the party vote too, who you hear almost nothing about during the Mayoral campaign. I’d heard of my constituency Conservative candidate because his name was often advertised alongside Zac’s in my area, but how are you supposed to vote for people you’ve heard nothing about? Or even the parties, when you don’t know what they actually want to do for London? People just end up voting along their usual party lines and it doesn’t really mean anything.

So all in all I was feeling a bit apathetic about this vote, certainly compared to the general election last year, but I’m still glad I ended up making a decision and went out and voted.

As I was discussing with the Elmbridge Lib Dem leader yesterday, people my age need to get out and vote in the EU referendum because the older people certainly will – which could well land us with Brexit if we don’t have our say. It’s our future, after all, and as the Elmbridge results showed, every vote really does count.

 

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