COMMENT: Why Conservative election defeat not just down to Brexit

Nigel Ashton blamed Brexit for the Conservatives poor results in North Somerset.

Nigel Ashton blamed Brexit for the Conservatives poor results in North Somerset. - Credit: Archant

It’ll be a few weeks, if not months, before the dust settles on this set off North Somerset Council results, and Mercury editor Tom Wright has looked at a tumultuous 48 hours.

And what pretty extraordinary results they were - a 12-year Conservative administrative has come crashing down, with a first hung council since 2003-7. Even then, the Tories managed to be the largest group, but not now.

But why?

Well, views depend on whether you were a beneficiary or sufferer of this political shift away from Tory rule.

Those Conservatives ousted - the only party to suffer a drop in councillors - were clear. There is one reason, and one reason only: Brexit. Failings in Westminster had cost the party during the local elections.

Several Conservatives said campaigns revealed people were angry with a lack of Brexit progress and that people wanted to Theresa May to go. One losing Conservative talked about ‘hostility’ on the streets because of forthcoming EU elections.

Even some North Somerset Tory candidates on social media appear to echo those frustrations - yet still chose to represent the party.

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National losses of more than 1,300 council seats show the Conservatives loss of support was not just a freak North Somerset phenomenon – clearly a bigger a force was at work.

But this isn’t the EU elections where a swing to the Brexit Party would show that this is all about Europe and anyone shrugging and wholly blaming Brexit is ignoring problems closer to home.

The Conservatives lost seats to independents, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Portishead Independents (four) - hard to find any discernible Brexit pattern there. Would many hard Brexiteers, frustrated by Westminster inactivity, start switching to Remain-supporting the Green Party and Liberal Democrats who picked up more seats collectively than the Conservatives?

The rise of independents and Portishead Independents shows the hot ticket in town was being hyperlocal and the areas where they were won shows Brexit apathy cannot be the whole story in North Somerset.

The Liberal Democrats were delighted with their improved showing.

The Liberal Democrats were delighted with their improved showing. - Credit: Archant

The council’s housing strategy has largely been ripped apart in recent years. Once there were plans for approximately 14,000-17,000 homes between 2006-2026 and following Government intervention this was raised by more than 5,000, with thousands more expected in the decade which follows.

It has meant a re-writing of long-term plans, and those worst affected – or likely to bear the brunt in future – have turned their backs on the Conservatives in their droves.

* Backwell and Nailsea have been earmarked for about 700 and 2,500 homes by 2036: Conservatives lost all three seats it held in those areas.

* Banwell & Winscombe and Blagdon & Churchill: Thousands of homes are planned near Banwell and Churchill in two new villages by 2036: Conservatives lost two of its three.

* Portishead: Has seen a huge amount of housing in recent years, but promised delivery of infrastructure in 2015 (such as a railway) have not materialised: All six Conservatives failed to be re-elected.

* Yatton: Hundreds of houses under construction at North End, with many more expected: Conservatives lost both seats.

And then there are areas where promises were not delivered, for example new swimming pools for Nailsea and Weston promised on the eve of the 2015 election.

With large amounts of house-building - largely prompted by high Tory Government targets - and a dearth of infrastructure improvements, many voters clearly felt the old administration was not doing enough to help their communities. Perhaps, even harming them.

The five areas mentioned account for 13 of the Conservatives’ 24 loses – its solitary gain being in North Worle.

The beneficiary, Marc Aplin, tweeted: “Easy to blame Brexit, but this election proved that you need to give local people a reason to vote for you.

“You must have been actively working for them and making an effort to connect.

“Otherwise, why would they put an ‘x’ by your name?”

Did I see this coming? No. I expected a few Conservative loses, at worst a loss of overall control for the Tories. What happened was a bloodbath.

It remains to be seen what sort of council we will now have, but this honeymoon period won’t last long.

Those coming to power promising a better council need to back that up with action because as Friday proved, politics can be brutal.