John Marriott: The Tory county council landslide – A poisoned chalice?

Well, the cynic in me might reckon that it was a smart move on my part to quit while I was ahead. Quite frankly, I doubt whether I would have survived the cull of non Tory members that took place last Thursday had I decided to stand again for the county council.

At least I have a framed certificate from LCC thanking me for 16 years of “dedicated service”, which now has pride of place in my conservatory until my wife decides it has to join my other ‘souvenirs’ in the loft!

Don’t get the idea that I was the only about-to-be ex councillor to be singled out. All those departing received a certificate and the longest serving member (1977-2017) also received a small gift, a nice gesture, about which, I am sure, some council tax payers will complain.

I wonder whether those sitting members, who chanced their arm once again but met with defeat last Thursday, will receive something as well.

The Tory victory on May 4 means a return business as usual at County Hall after four years of No Overall Control. To be honest, I had an inkling that the party might be heading for virtual hegemony in the county as being a Tory is part of many people’s DNA around here.

I also had a feeling that UKIP, which started the last four year cycle as the second largest group and over the next four years gradually leeched members, was going to struggle now that its raisin d’être had to all intents and purposes disappeared following the 2016 Referendum. You could see that the danger signs were there within a few weeks of their success in 2013 when three members deserted to form the intriguingly named ‘An Independence from Europe’ Party!

The Tory supremacy in Lincolnshire has much to do, in my opinion, with the age profile of the electorate.

Many people reckon that the older you get the more likely you are to support a conservative philosophy.

The percentage of over 65s in the county, who are more likely to vote compared with those under 40 in particular, is the highest in the East Midlands if not the country as a whole. Outside of immigration from abroad, most internal immigrants to Lincolnshire have for many years been middle aged or retirees. These people tend to vote Conservative.

At the other end of the age profile we find that many qualified twenty to thirty year olds, whose political philosophy, if indeed they have one, may be more varied, are forced to leave the county to go to areas where career opportunities are greater.

I think that, with 58 members out of 70, this is the largest majority achieved by any party since Lincolnshire County Council was formed in 1974. In fact the Tories might have to create their own opposition if the other 12 members can’t get together and get up to speed.

For new members operating effectively at this important level of local government can be a steep learning curve.

And let’s not forget that not even one third of the electorate bothered to vote in the first place.

It’s galling to think that, with many totalitarian regimes still operating around the world, over two thirds of our voters, when given a realistic chance of influencing events, don’t appear to give a damn either way. Let’s hope it’s different in a month’s time.

Whatever you think about the county council, whose days might still be numbered if that consultation on local government restructuring already planned for September comes up with a positive verdict, it’s still a billion pound organisation one step down from national government.

It’s got some tough decisions to make in the next few years as the funding from central government on which it depends continues to shrink, funding which cannot be made up by raising council tax to the sort of level needed without a local referendum, which it would struggle to win.

I assume that certain opposition members will still be offered the opportunity of providing chairs and vice chairs of some of the various scrutiny committees. That could be a problem as might be the divvying out of committee places based on the number of members each party or grouping has.

The Lib Dems’ sole councillor, a new boy on the council, may not have many meetings to attend on this basis. I don’t envy him, nor do I envy the ‘Leader’ of the Lincolnshire Independents, whose empire has crumbled to one. Mind you, knowing how she operates, it wouldn’t surprise me if she isn’t already launching a recruiting drive amongst the other four Independent members and possibly the Lib Dem member as well.

As for the official opposition, all six of them, I wonder what attitude they will take. Judging by the reaction from national Labour Party members, when questioned by the media following the relative rout of their party in the local elections, perhaps that dose of reality will only kick in after next month’s general election.

So, assuming he remains Leader, the much maligned Councillor Martin Hill, possibly like Theresa May if she wins big next month, will be able to do exactly what he wants. I don’t envy either him or her. I

If the vote last Thursday really was a bellwether for the General Election then these two politicians, both local and national, face an uphill task in delivering on promises made. Given the cuts still in the pipeline for councils, which could get worse if Mrs May’s Brexit talks go wrong, Councillor Hill and his 57 Tory colleagues could be left holding a poisoned chalice.