I am sorry to say that we lost the Borough Green and Long Mill By Election in Tonbridge & Malling, by 104 votes. The Independent candidate, Mike Taylor, who is Chairman of Borough Green Parish Council, was the winner; and I send him my congratulations.
The full result was:
Independent - 692 (39%)
Conservative - 588 (34%)
UKIP - 349 (20%)
Labour - 84 (4%)
Green - 68 (3%)
It never feels good to lose a by-election but that is part of the democratic process. If seats never changed hands we would never have a change of government. We are happy to claim credit when we win - so we must be equally ready to accept the verdict of the voters when we don't.
What is interesting about this result, however, was the changing vote shares across the ward, which comprises four distinct communities; Borough Green has c 50% of voters, Platt 25%, Plaxtol 17% and Shipbourne 8%. In the three rural parishes our vote share (including absent votes) was identical to 2011 (when the seat was last contested) and actually showed an increase on what was achieved in the County Council result last May. This was not sufficient, however, to counter the independent candidate's appeal in his home village. Our share of the vote in Borough Green fell from around 40% in 2011 to 15% tonight, with the independent candidate on around 60%.
Had the by-election been a referendum on the Conservative Council, the Government or the local campaign, then we would have lost support across the board. That didn't happen; in three of the four polling stations our share improved. We lost this election due to a massive 25% swing against us in one village; Borough Green. What we need to do is identify why; after all, they all had the same leaflets, the same number of knocks on the door, the same GOTV campaign.
I am surprised? In truth; no I am not. I picked-up the first signs of the independent candidate's bandwagon starting to roll on 2 January. By yesterday I knew the writing was on the wall. My blog on the by-election (posted last night) was trying to prepare the ground. Those who know me well picked up on the nuances, for example...
" I fret endlessly over what we could or should have done differently..."
" In 2011 the independent polled 900 votes compared with the lowest Conservative
vote of 1,250 - so our majority is just over 350 in a ward of 5,000
"The issue is further complicated by the fact UKIP did not stand last time, but
are standing now."
...and by 9.30am today, I knew we had lost. In fact, I told Jon Botten and the Association Chairman to expect defeat as soon as I had seen the first three teller's slips.
My biggest disappointment is for all those hard working and loyal volunteers who gave their time to help deliver leaflets, canvass residents, address envelopes, take numbers at the polling stations and help GOTV; they are a magnificent, selfless, dedicated and honourable team whose commitment makes me proud to be their agent.
So well done again to Mike Taylor, I really do wish him well.