An angry text exchange between me and a former Tory councillor after she lost her seat has got me thinking.
During the campaign, I asked this lady if she would like to put a poster in my front garden as it adjoins the village green. Even more to the point, next door to me is her main rival, who has a placard fixed to his front wall.
Her reply came back no thanks. She did not want me to put up a poster or placard as it would only make matters worse by reminding the opposition to vote. In terms of the effect on her main opponent, she said it would ‘wind him up’.
This seemed odd to me. Aren’t the different candidates supposed to wind each other up during election campaigns? I asked around my various Tory friends and no one in this area of Surrey could find a poster to give to me. I had people ask, not revealing it was for me, in case the Tories didn’t want the funny woman with the column to be their poster girl, but no, they couldn’t get one either. There didn’t appear to be any.
Driving along the A3 one afternoon, I finally spotted a Conservative poster. It was hidden behind the hoarding signposting an exit: a small blue square, barely bigger than four feet across, positioned right behind the massive road sign, so you could catch only the merest glimpse of it as you took the slip road, and even then you couldn’t really look at it because you were concentrating on taking your exit.
A week before election day, the Tory councillor texted me again out of the blue (pun intended, because if she’d been more into the blue we wouldn’t have been arguing): ‘It was the right call not to do posters.’ She said that in her opinion the ones that her main rival had put up around the villages looked like estate agent boards.
This was hardly the point. Pink and white and quite jolly, they looked attractive and were very effectively advertising this new grouping of local people standing for their villages.
I didn’t reply, but I did write to the local Conservative association making known my feelings about being told I couldn’t advertise my political allegiance. Surely, if you discourage your supporters from publicly saying they support you during a campaign, you are hampering democracy?
They didn’t reply. I felt a bit deflated, to be honest. When the day came to vote, I didn’t vote. My blood pressure was up and I had a pounding headache. I lay in bed and couldn’t rouse myself to go out and put an X in a box for a woman who had told me, effectively, where to stick my support. Fighting everything and everyone is wearing me out, I thought. If they want me to give up, I’ll give up.
When the results came in, she had lost her seat to the man next door to me by 479 votes. And she wasn’t the only Tory to lose. While all across Britain, and other parts of Surrey, the Conservatives were holding on to seats and gaining them, in my area they lost seats.
They went into the election here with seven county councillors but came out with three.
I confess I felt cross. So I belatedly replied to her last text: ‘Congrats. Your strategy worked! If central government would only take a leaf out of your book we would have a Labour government. I not only didn’t put up a Tory poster on your advice, I didn’t vote either.’
She replied that she didn’t need the sarcasm, and kind words of support were what I should be sending: ‘One poster from you would have made zero difference.’ Ouch.
She said she had lost because of the ‘backlash on the local plan’.
Ah yes, the local plan, formulated on the Tories’ watch: to put thousands of homes on the former Wisley airfield, until recently farmland, now in the ownership of Taylor Wimpey which is excavating it in readiness for building a new town. Leaflets come through my door every other week telling me how this is progressing.
And then there is the toxic row over a nearby waste burning site owed by a widely revered chap I like to call Demolition Man. The site is rumoured to be on the verge of being shut down, with many believing more houses will go there, after years of complaints from local people, to no avail previously.
The councillors who lost their seats, no matter how dedicated, must, on some level, be sighing with relief. Rough times ahead.
‘I’ve done that for four years and I don’t have to do it any more,’ as the outgoing Tory councillor texted me, before informing me she was blocking me.