Friday, 7 December 2012

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels - The Lightwater Campaign

Friday 7th December.

So the #BattleofLightwater is over, with a Conservative win, lock, stock & barrel.
@KatiaMalcaus Cooper was returned last night as the new Parish Councillor for Lightwater West with what can only be described as a massive majority of the vote against the stalwart efforts of her Labour Party opponent.

The numbers pretty much tell the story. 346 for Mrs Cooper and 81 for Mr Wilson, which equates to a 81/19% split from a 23.6% turnout.
Seemingly, despite a fairly bitterly fought campaign both online and on the ground, on the day the result was rarely in doubt. Telling numbers suggested a 2/1 split for most of the day, with the only 'heart-in-the-mouth' moment coming upon the opening of the postal votes, which appeared to be fairly evenly split; and an ill-tempered agent calling for several of us counters to switch off our phones at one point. (It turns out that the use of phones isn't against the rules as it happens. However, the taking of photographs during the actual counting of the votes, is. None of us were guilty on that score).

So, what should be taken from this result and this recent campaign?
Firstly, Labour can't win in a seat such as this. Despite early indications of a low turnout and early campaigning successes by the Labour candidate, it would appear that a socialist candidate, however community minded on the face of it is not a popular choice for this demographic section. It should be noted that Lightwater has in the past elected Liberal Democrats, but it would appear from last night that those votes didn't vote Labour. Adjusting for turnout, Wilson gathered fewer than the share of votes cast for the previous Liberal Democrat candidate, who was also unsucessful. I made the point to Wilson early on that his only chance electorally in this part of the world was to stand as an Independent candidate due to the fact that Surrey Tories generally don't vote red. Even extremely disaffected & disillusioned historic Conservative voters don't cross the electoral floor to that degree.

Secondly, votes cannot be taken for granted and strong campaigning remains of paramount importance. Nothwithstanding the above, I believe there were two main points where the Labour support faltered. Mr Wilson's comments regards The Briars Centre and some subsequent online nastiness proved to be a turn-off for many floating voters late last week; and the efforts of the enormous Conservative Party machine which gathered momentum at the same time, culminating in a #barrage of attention & information for the stalwart Conservative electors on voting day itself. These two elements resulted in a greater turnout of Conservatives on the night, which naturally increased the gap between the two candidates.

But could Wilson have won? Given the historic numbers, it was going to take a strong campaign and a similarly strong following wind to carry his victory. But early campaign successes certainly pointed towards a much closer contest as evidenced by the postal votes, which by my estimation last night were almost equal in share. Similarly, this time of year generally discourages voters at the polling stations and a much lower turnout would have handed an advantage to Labour on the basis that on those occasions it is generally only people with political interest who do go to the polls. And the people who are dragged out of their beds to vote when its deemed to be close.

In the event, this sort of debrief is for the party back-offices to worry themselves about ahead of the next elections. Lightwater remains in the hands of the Conservative Party for another session and seemingly forever.
It remains to be seen just what the remaining political forces in this area now decide to do about that.

Now, off to the post office.


  1. Hi Stuart,

    First things first, I'm an entirely online participant in local politics and aware that the picture I see is bound to be skewed. That said, even from this limited perspective I'm sure that a less aggressive approach would almost certainly have worked in Richard's favour and it was strange that he seemed to be doing everything possible to increase turnout. Conservative apathy and frustration with the coalition, combined with possible complacency were his best chance and this was not going to be helped by a campaign which seemed a little hysterical and sometimes vindictive in tone.

    Talking of hysterical and vindicative, there is someone else who has a strong online presence for whom those two words seem particularly apt at the moment. One of the reasons I like following local politicians and activists of all parties on Twitter and reading their blogs is that it gives an insight into an individual's personality and motivation that you will never get from flyers or even the local media. I'm open to being persuaded otherwise but to me, there seems to be a very clear split in Surrey Heath between those who genuinely want to work for their communities and those who are solely about winning an argument and personal attacks.

    That split is not along party lines.

    Cath Dibble (@Dibbs71)

  2. Thanks Cath,

    I can confirm from my own experience that you are quite correct about the splits. Local politics is generally populated by the two types you describe. I like to think that the majority of us get involved in order to help make things better, while there are some who are purely ideologically driven. And this, as you suggest, is the case in all parties.

    Regrettably in part, some of the party dogma affects us all. Again, that comes both from the personal experience of dealing with some of the more vexatious elements and the loyalty exacted as a party member. It is lamentable that some of this becomes personal, which is generally formed of exasperation or desperation. My own experience of this campaign is that a lot of people are generally turned off by the party element at present; In spite of the fantastic result last night, lots of voters I spoke to said that they would have voted for an Independent candidate had one been standing, which is a serious message I have sinced shared with both the Labour and Conservative party executives locally.

    It will be interesting to see whether genuinely community-interested people will pick up that baton if such disaffection continues.