Monday 21st October 2019,
North Yorks Enquirer

“Final Fantasy”

A Letter to the Editor from former SBC Councillor and serving Secretary to the Independent Group, NORMAN MURPHY, setting out his opinion that the electoral facts and figures confirm the extent of the Tory collapse at Scarborough Borough Council, and thus condemning all prospect of a Conservative resurgence to the realms of fantasy.

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Sir,

I was rather intrigued by your recent article, “Fantasy Leader” ,in which I get a mention as a possible future Leader of the Council, and your further review of the current Council leadership. My interest in the article was further peaked by your consideration that the past Leader of the Council, Cllr Derek Bastiman (Con), might, possibly, at some future date, reclaim his fallen crown, becoming the “once and future Leader” as you quote someone referring to him. This is, of course, a possibility, as there are undoubtedly, throughout political history, examples of politicians who are so reviled by the voters that it looks like they will never gain power again, and yet, against all the odds, they somehow manage it.

However, history also tells us that such a thing happening is a very long shot and most political leaders who have fallen as low as our previous Council Leader has done do not ever regain power, so my considered opinion is that the previous Leader is perhaps better described as the “once and future loser”.

However, I say this, and let me make this clear, not because I have any personal or political animosity towards the previous Leader, but as the result of a very thorough review of the results of the last local elections. This review has convinced me that he, and his Conservative Group, was so spectacularly and humiliatingly booted out of power in May because they had abused their power to such an extent that they had completely lost voter confidence.

It is my view that the residents of the Borough have not only lost faith in him personally, but also in the local Conservative Group more generally, and that consequently, it will be many years, if ever, before they are trusted with power again.

So how do I come to this conclusion? Looking back in hindsight at the May 2019 local election, it was perhaps self-evident that the former Leader and his Group were going to do badly in the local elections even before a vote had been cast. Once the list of those putting their names forward for election on a Tory ticket had been announced, it was clear then that the Tories were in trouble. Although there were, in this election, 46 possible seats available the Tories could only find 35 people who were willing to put their names forward as Conservative candidates, a situation unheard of in previous elections, where the Tories usually found candidates for every seat available.

Moreover, it was clear from the names of those who were willing to put themselves up for election on a Tory ticket that there was a lot of “bottom of the barrel scraping” going on, even to get this meagre amount of candidates. Many of those who were standing had previously declared that they would not be standing again and wished to leave the Council. Their reasons for not wanting to stand again were many and varied and we need not go into them here, but, suffice to say, as they could not find many people willing to serve the then Leader, a lot of arm-twisting was required to find even the 35 who did eventually stand.

As the election process progressed, it was not difficult to see that the quality, as well as the quantity of Conservative candidates, was not the only thing missing from the Conservative campaign. Putting a candidate forward who had previously tried to down play the actions of convicted paedophile Cllr Peter Jaconelli, a former Conservative Mayor of Scarborough, showed a high degree of desperation. However, allowing a candidate on to the ballot paper who had sort to make a joke about the Yorkshire Ripper, woman murderer, Peter Sutcliffe, was, perhaps, an even greater demonstration of how desperate for candidates they were.

Indeed, this perception was amply confirmed when they put forward a candidate who had previously called the electorate “thick”. With candidates of such dubious calibre, their prospects did not look good right from the start, and it was not difficult for the electorate to conclude that the only people who were “thick” were amongst the Tory Leadership.

Moreover, the Conservative candidates, or at least most of them, had virtually to a man and woman, supported, and were still supporting, the decision to demolish the Futurist Theatre, against the wishes of most Scarborough voters. This decision, which apart from it being a gross act of historical vandalism had also saddled the rate payers of the Borough with a £4.5 million bill, for which, it looked like they were going to gain nothing much in return.

Not only did this call into question their claim, to be ‘listening’ Councillors, which obviously they were not, but also smashed their claims to be competent with the Borough’s finances. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that the North Yorks Enquirer referred to many Conservative candidates standing in the last election as “Lunk Heads”, not a word I have ever heard of but one which, to me, and it seems to many other voters, fitted them perfectly. Indeed, one voter said to me on the doorstep that he considered that the Conservative candidate standing against me in the Northstead ward was not fit to run a “whelk stall”.

However, even with all this damming evidence that the Conservatives would, under their tarnished Leader, and his less than perfect candidates, do as badly as they did, was not certain until the results were finally tallied and assessed. Once this exercise had been completed, however, the scale of the Tory defeat was plain for all to see. Out of a possible bag of 46 seats, the Tories had managed to take only 16. Even though they had 35, candidates they only managed to attract 14,455 votes. The Independents on the other hand, with only 24 candidates, attracted 15,530 votes. In Scarborough town itself, there was not a single Tory left standing. There are no Tory Councillors in Eastfield and Independents took all the seats in Filey and Hunmanby.

A closer look at the results of some Scarborough wards is, I believe, worth savouring as it reveals how big the Tory defeat in the town wards really was – and how well the Independent candidates, with the exception of myself of course, did. In the Newby ward, where there were 7 candidates, the Independent candidate came first with 860 votes. The Tory candidate came last, with a measly 386 votes. In the Weaponess/Ramshill ward, where there were 9 candidates, the Independent candidate came first with 828 votes with the three Conservative candidates coming almost last with the best of them only polling 573 votes. In Woodlands Ward, the Conservative candidates came last and second to last and in Northstead the Conservative candidate came second to last, gaining just 7% of the vote, a truly monumental thrashing by any standards.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps, the results from wards where the Conservatives did manage to hang on to their seats that we see the true depth of voter discontent with the Tories and their leader. Looking at how the Conservative vote held up in wards such as Cayton, Seamer/Ireton and East/West Ayton (Derwent Valley and Moor), it is clear to see that discontent with the former Leader’s disastrous years in power runs deep and will, I think, last for many years to come. With 6 seats available in these 3 wards, all for many years in the main ‘safe Tory seats’, the Conservative vote was severely depleted, and it is my contention that it was only because there were only two Independents standing in these three wards that the Tories managed to hold on to what they had. Although only one Independent won a seat, Seamer/Ireton, it is clear that, had six Independents been standing covering all the seats available in these wards, the results would have been vastly different with, perhaps, all the Conservative being wiped out.

Careful analysis of the results of these wards and anecdotal evidence from both before the election and after it, have convinced me that all the seats in these wards were winnable for Independents. In Seamer, the Independent candidate won convincingly with 537 votes, beating her Conservative, former portfolio holder opposition, by a large majority. Indeed, the other Conservative candidate in Seamer & Ireton, out of a field of 6 candidates, came last with only 193 votes. In Cayton, only three candidates put their names forward for the 2 seats available, two Conservatives and one Labour, unfortunately no Independent candidates came forward. These seats, which, were already strongly held by the Conservatives, should, therefore, have been considered to be safe seats. However, amazingly, in this Tory heartland, the Labour candidate nearly knocked one of them out, coming a very close third.

The result in Cayton, therefore, reveals (to me at least) that neither of these seats is any longer safe for the Conservatives and that had an Independent put his/her name forward they would almost certainly have won. Indeed, I know, for a fact, that Independent candidates would have been welcomed in Cayton as I had many people contact me, once the candidate list had closed, asking why there were no Independents to vote for. Nor has this disappointment that there were no Independent candidates to vote for in Cayton stopped since the election, many Cayton residents have, in recent months, expressed their frustration to me over having no Independent to vote for.

The East/West Ayton ward (Derwent Valley & Moor as it officially called) was another ward where, in my opinion, had Independent candidates come forward sooner the two Conservatives might well have lost their seats. Although, in the end, the Conservatives held these two seats with a comfortable majority, and the only Independent candidate standing came last, the Tories have nothing, in my view, to be complacent about in this ward either. Frank Wright, who stood in this ward as the only Independent, and who, I might add would, in my opinion, make a great Councillor, only came into the fight at the very last minute. Had he had more time and been able to seriously canvas the ward, hopefully next time with a running mate, then I am sure that he, and possibly another, would have given the two incumbent Conservative ward councillors a very good run for their money.

However, while all the above confirms, at least in my mind, that the Conservative star has well and truly “waned”, it is perhaps the election results from our former glorious Leader’s ward, Scalby, that point most convincingly, for me at least, to the likelihood of his return to power, anytime soon, if ever, being a very remote prospect. The Scalby ward was won, in 2015, by the former Leader with a cracking 1,305 votes. However, in 2019 his vote crashed to a meagre 495 votes, this means that over 800 voters in Scalby had decided that Derek was not the man for them.

Indeed, the only reason many believe that he managed to hold on to his seat was because Labour put up a candidate. Had they stayed out of the ward it is more than likely that the Green candidate, who only lost by 71 votes, would have gained a large proportion of the 283 votes which, went to the Labour candidate and thus easily taken the seat.

It seems almost certain that the catalogue of disasters, which the former Leader and his administration had in the main been responsible for, had completely, and perhaps, irrevocably, undermined the former Leader’s credibility. Many voters, it seems, realised that giving unsecured loans to questionable developers, closing much valued public amenities, such as public toilets, and wasting millions of pounds, on totally useless schemes, such as the Park & Ride bus service, did not display leadership qualities. A view that was even more comprehensively confirmed when the Leader supported the demolition of the Futurist theatre. A decision that was completely against the wishes of many Scarborough residents, and demonstrated to many voters, including those in Scalby, that this was a Leader who could not care less about the views of those he was supposed to be serving.

As for Independent involvement in the Scaly ward, this was, unfortunately, at least at the last election, none existent, as sadly no Independent candidates came forward in time to be registered for the 2019 vote. However, this situation (as in several wards) will not, I hope, happen next time. Although a week is a long time in politics, and many things could change by the time we come to the next set of local elections, several good potential Independent candidates have expressed an interest in standing as Independents in the Scalby ward, so the former Leader, if he ever stands again, might not be so lucky next time.

Looked at as a whole, the wards of Scalby, Cayton, Ayton and Seamer, I would suggest, act as something of a barometer on Tory fortunes in local elections and the recent readings all, therefore, seem to indicate to me that a storm is brewing. Although these wards only constitute eight seats, of which the Tories presently hold seven and the Independents one, this situation could change drastically next time around. Indeed, all these seats are, in my view, winnable by Independent candidates and, all things being equal, my guess is that some, possibly all, will be strongly contested by Independents at the next local elections and it is not inconceivable that even Scalby, as it has been in the past, will become an Independent ward. Should this be the case, the former Leader’s chances of regaining power, already vanishingly small, in my opinion, will be irrevocably lost.

However, the above being said, it is not all doom and gloom for the former Leader; there is one region of the Borough which might keep his hopes of regaining power alive, and that is Whitby and the Northern area of the Borough. The wards that comprise what is holistically referred too as the Northern area stretch in simple terms from Burniston to Sleights. This swathe of the Borough is decidedly Tory Blue with the Conservatives currently holding 9 of the 11 seats available. Why this should be, however, is a complete mystery to most political commentators, as undoubtedly, most Whitby residents cannot stand Scarborough Council and resent its involvement their lives.

It would therefore, seem obvious that, as most people in Whitby hate Scarborough Council, which has for the last 20 years been run by the Conservatives, that the voters of the Whitby wards would support any candidate other than a Conservative. However, this is clearly not the case. Over the last 20 years although the Council based in Scarborough, and dominated by the Conservatives, has treated the people of Whitby appallingly they still go out and vote for them. Indeed, it seems that the Whitby piers can fall into the sea, the fishing industry can be trashed and Whitby businesses can be robbed blind, the imposition of the DBID scheme being a recent classic example of Tory disregard for the concerns of Whitby residents, and still the people in the Whitby wards will vote Tory.

So at least, perhaps, the Conservative former Leader of the Council can derive some comfort from his faithful servants in Whitby. However, their support, it seems to me, is about all he can count on, and even then, when the impact that the DBID will have on the lives and pockets of Whitby people is felt more keenly; perhaps, even this support might begin to wobble.

So although, as mentioned, nothing is certain in politics, my view is that the chances of the former Leader regaining control of SBC are about as likely as us seeing Lord Lucan riding Shergar.

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