Brexit was the issue on the doorstep facing Calderdale Conservatives in their 2019 local election campaign – there was no getting away from it.
Conservative Group Leader Coun Scott Benton says the issue eclipsed attempts to bring local concerns into focus and he fears the effect will have on his party and democracy generally if the Brexit issue is not settled.
Coun Benton, who comfortably defended his own Brighouse seat, said he and his group were braced for losses following last Thursday’s poll, with Friday morning’s count revealing they lost six of the ten seats they were defending, four to Labour and one to the Liberal Democrats, with Labour taking overall control of Calderdale Council.
But the swings in voting share would not be enough for Labour to threaten the Calder Valley Parliamentary seat held for the Conservatives by Craig Whittaker, he believed.
“We were preparing ourselves for a difficult morning – we have been in power for nine years nationally and you would expect the party of Government to lose seats,” he said.
It was also harder defending seats gained in 2015 when Prime Minister David Cameron secured the Conservatives’ first majority Government for 25 years.
“We were starting from such a high point so we had prepared ourselves for losses which were proved right,” said Coun Benton.
It was interesting nationally that Labour should have done better than they did and the Conservative performance in Calder Valley council wards in particular gave his party heart, he said.
“Labour are still not on course to win a General Election because figures suggested it would be very close.
“We were very disappointed to lose seats but it is clear Labour are not in a position to take the Calder Valley seat in a General Election,” said Coun Benton.
But party workers’ experiences on Calderdale doorsteps had shown the Government has work to do to deliver a Brexit settlement.
“That was the issue on the doorstep – we kept trying to turn the conversation back to local issues such as cutting of front line services and the Local Development Plan but all people wanted to talk about was Brexit,” said Coun Benton.
“People were saying time and time again that if Brexit isn’t settled ‘we won’t be voting for you’,” he said.
It would be disappointing not only for the Conservatives but also for democracy if people stopped voting if the Brexit issue was not settled, Coun Benton added.
He was sorry to lose long-standing group colleagues including John Ford and Robert Thornber who had lost their seats.
“They have served their communities extremely well for a long time,” said Coun Benton.