02:35PM, Friday 10 May 2019
The days after an election are often filled with pundits trying to break down the real winners and losers from the night.
Once you filter through the votes, the losses and the gains, it often comes down to who had a ‘good night’ as the results came in – and that depends entirely on who you ask.
The Lib Dems will certainly say they had a good night after they proved on both a local and national level that they are far from a spent force.
Residents’ associations had a good night, romping home to a comfortable victory in Old Windsor and claiming a couple of high-profile scalps in West Windsor.
The Borough First saw two of its founders, Claire Stretton and Charles Hollingsworth, lose their seats but it will point to its three elected councillors less than a year after being set up as a job well done.
So what about the Conservatives? The party remains in power in the Royal Borough and Simon Dudley is still the council leader but even the most optimistic of Tories would struggle to spin this as a good night.
The ward boundary changes may mean fewer councillors, but the Conservatives saw their majority plummet from nearly 40 to just five and big hitters including Derek Wilson, Phill Bicknell and Natasha Airey all lost their seats.
National politics no doubt played some part – the Royal Borough was far from alone in seeing Conservatives lose their seats – but there’s a lot more to this new-look council than Brexit frustration.
Four years ago, the Tories swept to a comprehensive victory in the local elections, securing 54 out of 57 seats. It was a resounding success for the party, but even die-hard supporters would have to admit it didn’t create the healthiest of environments for debate and scrutiny.
Fears were raised, often through the pages of this newspaper, that decisions would be pushed through despite strong public opposition. Campaigners who fought passionately over fair funding, the Borough Local Plan and the Vicus Way car park will say those fears were realised.
Meanwhile, the council leader, so bullish in his decision making, has been an enormously divisive figure since he took charge. Just a week after the election, he is already embroiled in a fresh row (see p3). But Simon Dudley is still here. So are the Conservatives. They have a mandate and a chance to deliver on their promises in a democratically healthy council.
While last Thursday might not have been a good night for the party, it could present an opportunity to set right some of the wrongs of the previous administration.
A strong opposition means stronger scrutiny and a stronger voice for the public. That voice becomes even stronger when all parties work together to find solutions for the good of the borough.
Policies can and will still be pushed through despite opposition, but now all it will take is a handful of Tory rebels to oppose a decision to stop it in its tracks. It’s the sort of pressure which should make an administration sit up and really listen to the concerns of other councillors and voters.
Last week, some dedicated and hard-working Conserva-tives who want what is best for the borough were elected. The same can be said for the Lib Dems and the independent groups. If they work together and learn from the mistakes of the past, May 2 may well prove to be a good night for local democracy.
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