Why was the by-election called? Put simply it was because the incumbent, Cllr James Vickers, resigned. Why would a councillor resign just after the local elections? Of course, James knows but was his reason for resigning personal as the Conservatives say? Reports say not.
First, a little background. In the election of 2016 all the councillors were up for election at once. This was because of boundary changes.
Oliver Chappell had the highest result so his term of office was set for four years.
Andrew Burley and James Vickers tied at second place. So to determine whose office would last for three years and whose would last for two years, lots had to be drawn.
James Vickers expressed the wish that his term last only two years but there was a legal requirement to draw lots. James won the lot so he was due to serve for three years. In other words until May 2019
It was clear that James would rather serve for a shorter term and to do so he could have resigned in May. This would have avoided the considerable cost of the by-election around £8,000 to £10,000 for the borough and perhaps £3,000 for the candidates.
Second, the election in May resulted in gains for the Liberal Democrats, net gains for the Conservatives, losses for five of residents’ parties and a wipe out for one residents’ party. The Conservatives totalled 24 councillors as did the Lib Dems and Residents. Neither side had a working majority. The Leader of the borough council, Stuart Selleck of Molesey Residents’ Party, chose to resign.
Without a working majority the new Conservative administration could not guarantee to pass their policies. The Liberal Democrats believe that such an arrangement would have been in the interests of the people of Elmbridge. To make the governing of the borough as smooth as possible the party leader agreed a protocol, the details of which are here Operational Protocol 2018 19.
We, in the Liberal Democrats, expected business as usual. We were newly in opposition. However, it quickly became clear that internal squabbles of the Conservative party could not be contained in private.
A small point. Usually, when the new cabinet is formed they sit in the front benches – as in the national parliament. But when the council met for the first time some cabinet members had been bounced to the back benches by other factions in the Conservative party.
But then came the bombshell. At the beginning of every year, as each committee meets, the members elect the chair and vice-chair of that committee. Normally the nominee of the majority party is elected unopposed. Occasionally there is a contest between the parties for their nominees which is duly won by the majority party. But this year, in one committee, the Conservatives proposed two councillors for chair.
When the presiding officer sought nominees, Cllr James Vickers nominated Cllr Dorothy Mitchell of Cobham. Then Cllr James Browne of Cobham nominated Cllr Barry Cheyne of Oatlands. The councillors from the other parties were dumbfounded. The staff found it difficult to mask their own surprise in their stringent professional presentation of independence.
Cllr Barry Cheyne won the vote and Cllr Dorothy Mitchell stormed out of the room and did not reappear for the remainder of the meeting. Not long after this meeting James Vickers resigned.
However the Conservative try and present it in public, the Conservatives are clearly not happy bunnies. By all accounts James Vickers resigned “on a matter of principle”. He did not like the direction of travel of the new Conservative administration. Not so much the policies but the general conduct of business within the Conservative Party.
Now you have a chance to make a real difference and vote for Dorothy Ford and the Liberal Democrats.