Monday, 14 June 2021

Tory wins as party clings on to power at county hall

CONSERVATIVE David Nimmo Smith will continue to represent Henley on Oxfordshire County Council following elections last week.

CONSERVATIVE David Nimmo Smith will continue to represent Henley on Oxfordshire County Council following elections last week.

He received 912 of the 2,756 votes cast, about a third of the total, to be elected to represent the town’s new single division. The turnout was around 30 per cent.

Councillor Nimmo Smith said he was surprised to have won in the face of opposition from Henley Deputy Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, representing Henley Residents’ Group, and UK Independence Party candidate and former mayor Ken Arlett.

The Conservatives held on to power at county hall after winning 31 seats, one short of the total needed for an overall majority, on an average turnout of 31.87 per cent.

The Labour party won 15 seats, six more than it had previously, while the Liberal Democrats won 11 seats, one more than previously. The Green Party won two seats and four went to other parties.

The count took place at White Horse leisure and tennis centre in Abingdon last Friday, the day after the election.

Cllr Nimmo Smith, who has been a county councillor since 2005 and a town councillor since 1983, said: “I wasn’t expecting to win. I thought that the anti- Conservative vote would have knocked me out.

“Somehow or another, it hasn’t managed to do that and I’m ever so pleased to still be representing the people of the town.

“I just hope to carry on the way I’ve been working in the last four years, which is trying to involve everybody in the town, trying to do the best I can for the town at county level and at town level.”

He credited the support of Judith, his wife and “campaign manager” for giving him the edge over his opponents.

Cllr Nimmo Smith, who is also a former mayor, will now represent the whole of Henley after the Local Government Boundary Commission scrapped the town’s two wards to help reduce the overall size of the council.

Cllr Gawrysiak, who was runner-up with 789 votes, just 14 more than third-placed Mr Arlett, said: “I’m hugely disappointed that we just missed out by so few votes.”

He claimed the result showed there was a “massive” vote against the Conservatives.

He added: “My only hope is that during the next four years Oxfordshire County Council will get off their backside and actually do something for Henley.

“I thought we fought a good campaign and we got the message of HRG out there and I’m sure that HRG will come back stronger.”

Mr Arlett said he was disappointed at the low turnout.

“I think it’s very poor that people in the town can’t pop along to a polling station or register for a postal vote,” he said.

“What I say to those people is that if they don’t vote then they shouldn’t complain.”

Mr Arlett, a former HRG town councillor, said he had only intended to stand at this election but after the success of UKIP in council elections across the country, he had thought again.

“I will probably continue because I think I have a lot to offer,” he said.

“There are some decent people in UKIP. I’ll probably help build up an organisation in Oxfordshire now because I believe it is the way forward.” The other candidates were Labour and Co-operative’s Veronica Treacher, who polled 122 votes, Asbjorg Dunker of the Liberal Democrats (90) and Peter Dragonetti of the Green Party (68).

Elsewhere, independent candidate Mark Gray won the new Benson and Cholsey seat after securing 1,194 votes, a share of around 46 per cent.

The 48-year-old former social worker, who also stood in 2009, said he hoped to “make a difference to people’s lives”.

Mr Gray, who is chairman of Cholsey Parish Council and a member of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “I believe from the things I’ve already started doing in Cholsey that a strong independent person can do a lot and I’d just like to extend that to a larger area.

“I shall go to the parish councils, I shall knock on people’s doors, I shall be there for people. I’ll be as open and available to people as I can be.”

The runner-up was Conservative candidate Peter Skolar, who used to represent one of Henley’s two former wards, with 545 votes.

Dr Skolar, from Shiplake, said he was disappointed not to win and he believed the council would be a “complete mess” with no party in overall control.

“I have been a member of the council for nine years and I’m 68 now so this was going to be my last election,” he said.

“The one thing I will definitely miss is being chairman of the health scrunity committee. I have been doing that for eight years and I was the longest serving chairman of a health scrunity committee in the whole of southern England.”

Conservative Caroline Newton was elected to represent the new Chalgrove and Watlington seat after winning 1,508 votes, a share of about 58 per cent.

She had represented Watlington since a by-election in April last year and will now also represent Chalgrove, which has been added to the division by the boundary commission.

Councillor Newton, who lives in Britwell Salome, said: “It’s quite significantly bigger than the previous division. There are a lot of other villages and getting round them takes a lot of time.

“I think it’s going to be hard work and it may be that the new councillors aren’t going to be able to go to all the parish councils they might have done in the past and we might have to find a new way of working using modern technologies like email to communicate.”

She added: “You don’t stand for election without wanting to win and it was quite a clear win for us so that’s a thrill.”

Conservative Kevin Bulmer won the Goring division with 1,216 votes, a share of about 47 per cent.

He works as a quantity surveyor and is vice-chairman of Goring Parish Council and chairman of its planning committee.

Mr Bulmer, 55, said: “I’m in a privileged position as I’ve got some time available and I just want to do a bit for the community while I can.

“I feel that in the past the rural communities have been a bit ignored for the urban areas. Oxfordshire is a rural county but the rural areas tend to be at the tail-end of anything.” Conservative David Bartholomew won the Sonning Common seat with 1,332 votes, a share of about 58 per cent.

He said: “I have been interested in politics since I was a teenager and I think now is the right time to take some action and the most important and best way to do that is as a county councillor.

“The fact that I’ve got 40 years’ experience in business is a plus and I think all politicians should have experience outside of politics.

“It’s vital to understand what people think, what drives them and what they want and it gives you a better background to actually manage the process.”

Henley Conservative MP John Howell, who attended the count, said: “All candidates worked extremely hard in this election. Sadly, Peter Skolar fell victim to a strong candidate from Cholsey.

“It is important to note, though, that in this constituency we otherwise held all the seats we contested with a notable performance from David Nimmo Smith.

“There are important lessons for the major political parties from these elections. For the Conservatives we are ready to learn the lessons.

“We understand why some people who have supported us before didn’t support us this time. We need to show respect for those who supported UKIP and we are going to work really hard to win them back.

“We’ve always been straight about the scale of the task facing this country. There are no easy options and there’s still a long way to go but on the issues we know people care about — and which we care about — we are on the right track.”

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