37 candidates across Fenland compete for nine county council seats
- Credit: Archant
The term of office for 60 of the 61 members of Cambridgeshire County Council is effectively over. Fresh elections will take place on May 6.
For one, of course, his time as a councillor, and that of a tenant of the council farms estate, ended abruptly and simultaneously at the end of April.
Roger Hickford stepped down from his role as deputy council leader and member for Sawston and Shelford on February 26,
It was ahead of a decision to be taken by his former council colleagues over whether to release a report of an investigation into his tenancy and interactions with the county farms team.
Tory Party chiefs, whilst confident of retaining control, have learned from past experience -including that of 2013 when UKIP delivered an extraordinary electoral blow – not to be complacent.
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Including the deputy leader’s former seat, they have held 35 of the 61 council seats – with Lib Dems, Labour and independents the remaining 26.
Retention of that comfortable working majority is the goal.
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No one knows for sure, however, what affect the Hickford inquiry – that has come to be known as farmgate – will have on the minds of voters when they make their choices.
Fenland is critical to continued success for the party – it returned nine councillors, all Conservatives, for the eight divisions in 2017.
It includes the division of March North, the seat of council leader Steve Count, and that of Roman Bank where Simon King, eased out of Fenland Council by the Tory group over an expenses scandal, is clinging onto his political ambitions.
Wisbech itself may also offer an insight into how well independents fare with former Conservative turned independent Andy Maul taking on Steve Tierney.
And Simon ‘Spike’ Crowson, a homeless campaigner, banks on forgiveness by voters over his thoughtless Facebook post last summer against Cllr Tiereny, as he presents himself to the electorate. He is hoping to dislodge former mayor and town council leader Sam Hoy.
Across Fenland, 37 candidates have put forward their names to contest the eight divisions. That compares to 48 four years ago.
All divisions are single member wards with the exception of March North and Waldersey that has two county councillors to represent it.
Apart from the nine Conservatives seeking re-election, Labour has also put up nine candidates to oppose them.
Independents field six candidates, the Green Party also has six names on the ballot papers whilst the Liberal Democrats have five candidates.
There is also one candidate for UKIP and another to represent the Workers Party of Britain.
Polling day is May 6 and the results should be known by the afternoon/evening of the following day.
There is also a vote on the same day for the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and for the police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire.
(* denotes sitting councillor)
Andrew Crawford (Green)
Daniel Divine (Ind)
Anne Hay (Con) *
Marian Philips (Lab)
Anne Hay took the seat in 2017 with a decisive win over UKIP, whose popularity had waned since the surprise successes of 2013.
In 2017, in a field of five, Anne topped the poll with 48.5 per cent of the vote. Bottom place went to Daniel Divine (independent) who had previously been a UKIP county councillor for Littleport.
Daniel is back for the 2021 contest, strengthened by his success in winning a seat on Fenland District Council in 2019 when he ousted long standing Tory councillor Florence Newell.
“It is going to take me a lot to get over this,” Florence remarked afterwards. Unlikely she ever will.
Greens have drafted in Andrew Crawford: the party won a seat on Fenland Council in 2019 and also have a handful of parish and town councillors in office.
Labour’s choice is Marian Phillips who has lived in Chatteris for 14 years and has worked in the teaching profession for 26 years.
"I passionately believe that local government can be a force for good and positive change, but it can only achieve this if a wide range of opinions are listened to and acted upon,” she says.
“Chatteris needs a voice for the poor, the workers, and those who feel left behind and unheard at any level of local power.”
Anne Hay has been described by Fenland Council leader Chris Boden as “the champion of connectivity of the CAM network” who had lobbied intensively for it to come to Chatteris.
He also dropped her from the cabinet when he became leader after the 2019 Fenland elections.
Daniel Divine is running a low-key campaign but that didn’t stop him making an observation about his Tory opponent’s election literature this year.
“So, the mega rich millionaires Conservatives are not scared of an independent candidate, are they?” he wrote.
“So, where's their Conservative emblem and royal blue colour on their manifesto?”
MARCH NORTH AND WALDERSEY (Two members)
Sarah Bligh (Lib Dem)
Steve Count (Con) *
Martin Field (Lab)
Jan French (Con) *
David Patrick (Ind)
Jazmin Stewart (Green)
Mark Taylor (Lab)
Robert White (Green)
The turn-out four years ago was a disappointing 24.9 per cent; the Tory success was emphatic with Steve Count and Jan French topping the poll.
Four years on, UKIP has disappeared off the ballot paper, leaving voters in this sprawling division to select from a list of eight rather than the 10 of 2017.
On paper it looks a shoe in for the two incumbents as there’s been little evidence of seismic political change. The division includes Christchurch, Guyhirn, Elm, Wisbech St Mary, Friday Bridge and Thorney Toll.
Both Steve Count and Jan French are relying on their track record including infrastructure ‘wins’ including huge investment from the combined authority into Fenland market towns.
“It’s been a long while since those people who live in these towns can remember any sort of attention paid to them at the expense of the cities,” says Steve Count.
Steve, who is also county council leader, has ignored opposition taunts over farmgate, and the failure to release the audit committee report into how his deputy Roger Hickford obtained a council farms tenancy.
He insists it was not his decision to keep the report confidential and has, mainly, confined himself to thanking “Cllr Hickford for his years of service in his role as a councillor and the support he has given me over the years as my deputy leader”.
An independent opponent, and independent district councillor, David Patrick, has, as expected, been more vocal on the issue.
"Honesty and integrity are paramount as a councillor as is transparency,” he says.
“If elected l will campaign and press strongly for the release of the ‘farmgate papers.”
He says: “The county council under the leadership of Councillor Count is refusing to release critical papers into the public domain over farmgate. That is something I and many others believe should be released.
Former Tory turned Lib Dem district councillor Sarah Bligh has also opted to fight the division.
Labour’s Martin Field is again there – hoping to build on the fourth place and 20 per cent share of the vote he obtained in 2017.
He said: “I am fed up, as we all are, with the way our area has been neglected because our Tory councillors who do not share our values in putting services, community and the environment above self-interest
“And I will not be voting for a big pay increase for county councillors, which was the first thing that the Tories did when they were elected four years ago.”
The two Green candidates four years ago each averaged five per cent of the vote – a massive hill to climb in the flatlands of the fens.
But the party has achieved some modest successes, and now has a district and some parish and town councillors locally.
MARCH SOUTH AND RURAL
John Gowing (Con) *
Amanda Hirson (Lab)
Liam O’Rourke (Lib Dem)
Emma Pollard (Green)
Four years ago, John Gowing and former March Mayor Rob Skoulding were political rivals but, on the day, it was the former who prevailed.
John Gowing topped the poll with 39.7 per cent of the vote, Rob Skoulding, on an independent ticket, was squeezed into runner-up with 37.3 per cent.
In the following two years Mr Skoulding joined the Conservative Party, was re-elected to Fenland Council, this time under his new colours, and March South leaves Labour, Lib Dems and Greens to take on the sitting member.
Labour has chosen Amanda Hirson as challenger – an NHS dentist and dental public health consultant.
"For the last 20 years of my long career, I was part of a public health team helping to improve access to local health services and reduce health inequalities particularly around oral health and dental care,” she says.
Improving access to “high quality health and social care services” features in her manifesto.
ROMAN BANK AND PECKOVER
Gavin Booth (Lib Dem)
Ruth Johnson (Green)
Simon King (Con) *
Chris Mountain (Lab)
Part of Wisbech, Tydd St Giles, Gorefield and the hamlet of Foul Anchor form the bulk of this division.
In 2017 it offered a formidable base for the Conservatives, with Simon King polling 54.2 per cent of the votes from the 29 per cent turn out.
UKIP came third back then: Greens keep the number of candidates to a quartet in 2021.
One might have predicted continued success for Simon King had it not been for an expenses scandal in 2018.
Mr King was suspended from the ruling Tory group at Fenland Hall for six months and did not stand again for his district council seat in the May 2019 election.
His lawyer said: “He was not off on jollies or freebies; he was seeking reimbursement for expenses he genuinely incurred.”
Mr King told a conduct hearing he felt he had been singled out but the meeting noted no other councillors seemed to have problems with claims.
Expenses queried include claims for travelling from Rugby, Leicester and Swaffham to Fenland Hall and a 10-mile journey from his Wisbech home to a meeting five minutes' walk away at the Boat House.
Another was for 71 miles instead of 32 because he claimed from a dental appointment in Peterborough to a council meeting.
Although he won re-selection as Tory candidate for this year’s county council elections, he became socially distanced from the party locally even before social distancing became an everyday norm.
However, Mr King retains some sort of record for listing over 50 groups or organisations on his declaration of interests at Shire Hall.
These include The Round Tower Church Society, Latin Mass Society, the Association for Latin Liturgy, National Rifle Association of America and the Salmon and Trout Association.
Labour is represented by Chris Mountain of Doddington who says that, at the age of 69, he is “not a career politician looking to rise to the top”. His goal he says is to offer an alternative voice.
One policy he has expounded is on homelessness, a proposition he says is “straightforward; provide suitable accommodation”.
He says: “Central government could, for a relatively small amount of money, provide councils with enough money to build basic accommodation for all homeless people in the country.
“These could be pre-built units that provide the basic essentials for a civilised existence.”
The likely, and substantial challenge to Simon King, will come from Gavin Booth.
He is a district councillor with a long track record of community involvement and engagement.
The Greens’ choice Ruth Johnson is a familiar figure in the Fens, her most recent election campaign as parliamentary candidate in 2019.
“We must ensure that we build a better future where there is cleaner air, there are safer roads, better health and a tax and a welfare system which works for the common good,” was her general election ambition.
She hopes to translate that into a more parochial effort in this part of the Fens.
Peter Bibb (Lab)
Chris Boden (Con) *
Diane Cutler (Lib Dem)
Do the maths! In 2017 Chris Boden secured a win of epic proportions, securing 65.7 per cent of the votes where the turnout of 27.2 per cent was about average.
Four years on his political career has moved on, helping to mastermind the ‘coup’ of 2019 that saw knives not only sharpened but used to metaphorically savage the Tory group at Fenland District Council.
When the dust settled, with former leading Tory councillors not selected, a robust re-awakening of survival instinct saw the emergence of an invigorated independent group at Fenland Hall.
With 10 independents, two Lib Dems and one Green joining the 26 Tories at Fenland Hall the composition of the new council looks and feels different.
Former Tory association president Victor Aveling had previously moaned that “we have replaced experienced councillors with some weak candidates,”.
He felt the will of local branches was ignored “as many of the selections were carried out by the executive as most branches didn’t have enough members to make the selection.
“It has become obvious the majority of the executive have decided on their choice of candidate before the meeting either by having a prior meeting or by using social media.
“The idea of a private group deciding the policy of the executive council is completely unacceptable.”
Much, if not all, of that had been factored into the calculations as Cllr Boden, former Tory agent, now a parish, district and county councillor, was selected to lead Fenland.
The Lib Dem challenge this time is from a candidate living in Murrow, whilst the election provides a platform for Labour's Peter Bibb who has set out some spirited ambitions for the environment, jobs, education and transport.
He also, wistfully, hopes the county council owned This Land housing company will be coerced into providing “decent affordable housing for local people”.
David Connor (Con) *
Jes Hibbert (Lab)
Bob Wicks (Ind)
Simon Wilkes (Green)
Like Simon King in Wisbech, David Connor once faced the disciplinary wrath of a council conduct process.
In Mr Connor’s case it was over the use of his position in a dispute with a neighbour over a planning issue.
Unlike Mr King, his recovery and re-establishment within the local party’s hierarchy was rapid.
He is now chairman of both Fenland planning committee and the county council planning committee and defends one of the safest of Tory majorities.
In 2017 and on a turnout of 27.2 per cent, he polled 65.7 per cent of the vote.
Experienced Labour activist Jess Hibbert is one of his three challengers – offering himself for the county council as well as for a district and town council vacancy.
He once served on both the district and town councils (indeed is a former chairman of the latter) and the election has seen the re-emergence of one of his long-standing campaigns.
Part of town, he says, continues to endure “HGVs using Inhams Road and Station Road to access the industrial estates.
“This is intolerable and I will work with all relevant agencies to create a bypass for the town with access to the industrial estates from the east”.
Greens are fielding Simon Wicks, a surprise winner in the 2019 elections to Fenland Council.
"As a non-driver myself, one of the biggest issues I noticed living here is the lack of public transport infrastructure,” he says.
“This I would like to see improved along with better access and safety for horses and their riders.
“As someone with a disability, (I am visually impaired) I understand the difficulties disabled people face which could so often could be easily resolved.”
Coincidentally a third member of Fenland Council contests this division, independent Bob Wickes who won the Benwick, Coates and Eastrea seat two years ago.
Among his campaign thoughts for the county council, he has made references to conduct in public office.
He publicly criticised former police and crime commissioner Jason Ablewhite, and the previously chronicled issues surrounding Simon King.
Mr Wickes remains in no doubt that the county council should publish the farmgate audit committee report.
“The leader Cllr Steve Count is blocking the release of the report,” he says. “Why you may ask?
“It is clear that there is a great deal that the Conservative group wish to keep from public scrutiny.”
Spike Crowson (Ind)
Samantha Hoy (Con) *
Rasa McGill (Lib Dem)
Reginald Mee (Labour)
Clayton Payne (Workers Party)
Only a quarter of the electorate turned out four years ago but in a five-way contest, this was a decisive Tory win. Samantha Hoy collected 63.2 per cent of the votes as UKIP, so successful four years earlier, was wiped out.
Back to the present.
And the appearance on the ballot box of Spike Crowson, who has chosen, for familiarity reasons no doubt, to lay his proper Christian name of Simon aside.
To many he was a hero of the pandemic in Wisbech, his fledgling 50 Backpacks group setting up ‘camp’ at St Peter’s Hall, distributing copious quantities of food and provisions to the vulnerable, the elderly and feeding the homeless.
But then he blotted his copy book, posting on social media damaging accusations against Wisbech councillor Steve Tierney.
Fenland Council ordered an inquiry, detailed rebuttals were authorised, and it caused quantifiable damage to both him and his organisation.
The homeless issue in Wisbech, however, did not go away, Mr Crowson, somehow, kept going and of late he continues his work, albeit under the umbrella of the Salvation Army.
Nightly supper offerings to the homeless are popular and in demand. And he challenged opponents by offering a list of all those homeless individuals that he has successfully helped to re-house. Over 30 are on the list.
Mr Crowson’s continues his efforts whilst unparalleled anger, already simmering from within the Conservative controlled town council, exploded throughout the winter and now well into the spring.
Meanwhile Mr Crowson’s political ambition emerged, his campaign offering to listen to all “without judgement and to do all I can to give the people of Wisbech a voice again”.
He says: “Over the years I have watched Wisbech decline in many ways and with the elections looming and very few people prepared to stand up against our elected in the town that I was born, I have put myself forward.
“The promises that I make are quite simple. I will listen to the people of Wisbech without judgement and always act within the best of my abilities giving 100 per cent to the cause.”
Samantha Hoy is focusing on her party’s achievements citing Wisbech Access Strategy, school improvements, the upgrade of North Cambs hospital and Market Place enhancements.
She also says that “I have been the subject of ongoing and very personal attacks by opposition activists. It seems some people think personalities are more important than who can and does get the work done”.
And in a leaflet to voters added: “I thought if I bow down to Facebook trolls then I may as well give up and I am not the giving up type.
“I am a councillor because I want to help people and make our town better.”
Ted Hurlock (UKIP)
Daniel Kerry (Lab)
Andy Maul (Ind)
Lynn Monk (Ind)
Steve Tierney (Con) *
The Lib Dems and Greens have stepped away this time round, and will effectively ensure a two-horse race between the incumbent and the former Conservative councillor, now independent, Andy Maul.
Two years he defected from the party to join the growing number of independents.
“I have always been a Conservative, which is why it was natural for me to fight the by-election in August 2016 as Conservative,” he remarked at the time.
“But to be honest I have always felt politics doesn’t really have a place at a local level. I have found the town council to be too political and to be honest I am far from that.
Andy – who runs Bygones café in Wisbech – said he felt voters should always have a choice when it comes to local elections.
Steve Tierney had the misfortune a couple of weeks ago to be the victim of a prankster who falsely ordered food from a take away which was then delivered to his home with an accompanying bill.
He blamed it on “the Hatefest group” who he says come out at election times to “stir up as much hate and division as they possibly can.
“They are convinced that this time it will win an election for them, even though it hasn’t worked before”.
In one of his election addresses dispatched to voters he reminds voters that “I’m spending a lot of my time in 2021, as I did in 2020, volunteering to get shopping and medication for elderly and vulnerable people who are isolating”.
On his political ambitions he says he has “done my best to do a good job” and lists his “fight against the incinerator” and pushing for Market Place improvements and a new school as part of his successes.
“I am absolutely dedicated to Wisbech,” he says.
UKIP makes an appearance in the division, one of four Cambridgeshire seats they are fighting: they have candidates, too, in Peterborough for four seats.
“Despite being written-off by the establishment parties, UKIP is still very much alive and kicking,” says the party.
Voters will decide the outcome on May 6.