Three votes: the difference between being elected as a councillor and not being elected, in Blean Forest ward last Thursday. The very point made in this column last week writ large: every vote counts.
Over in Tankerton ward: just four votes between success and failure. In Barton, just 10 votes made the difference between me being elected as a councillor and remaining no more than an opinionated guy with an online column.
These narrow margins are, in case people don’t realise it, precisely why the parties spend the previous months trying to identify their supporters, so that on election day they can be persuaded, encouraged, cajoled and if necessary carried into the polling station.
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Those small numbers can make the difference between the Conservatives retaining control of the council, as they narrowly have in Canterbury, and losing it – the fate of Tory administrations in Swale and Folkestone. We were so close to that same outcome.
But such voting patterns don’t just make affect the district as a whole. For individual candidates they represent the difference between joy and despair, between feeling valued and feeling rejected, between one future and another.
For those who hoped to win but narrowly lost, the sense of loss is not to be dismissed and is all the worse when friends and colleagues around them are celebrating.
Many good candidates lost close contests and saw months of effort and sometimes years of service come to nothing. Among those who lost seats they had held we can count former Lord Mayor George Metcalfe, former leader Simon Cook, aspiring leader Ben Fitter-Harding, and my friend Simon Warley, who narrowly lost out after only 22 months as councillor for Westgate.
Those who had worked themselves to a standstill to win fresh seats but narrowly lost included county councillor Ida Linfield, environmental campaigner Stephen Peckham, my mate Paul Todd, former Lib Dem councillor James Flanagan, and the proprietor of this esteemed website, Alex Lister.
Believe me, “working to a standstill” is not in any sense exaggeration. I could barely walk by Sunday last week, and every single serious candidate has flogged themselves around the streets of the district for months, in the cold, the rain and sleet, through wind and, far too rarely, blazing sunshine.
Not a single one of them, I think, did that for the glamour of serving as a councillor – there isn’t any – and no one is gong to get rich from the taxable £5,000 annual allowance, almost all of which will be spent either on the costs of being a councillor or in making contributions to the local community they serve.
Of course, candidates alone don’t make a campaign or an election. Every one of us has been supported by family and friends, party supporters and colleagues.
People knocking on doors and delivering leaflets in the election period have all worked hard for no reward, as have the legion of people delivering all those leaflets that almost no-one reads – but which in a tight election might just make the difference between success and failure. There have been many other volunteers behind all this effort, staffing phone banks, stuffing envelopes and organising all sorts of tedious work which has to be done.
On election day, there have been supporters taking voter numbers at polling stations from the crack of dawn until the dark of night, and others doing the admin work in campaign offices so that still more people could go out and “knock-up” recalcitrant voters who had pledged their vote but not actually got round to putting their cross on the ballot.
This is not to forget those who are actually paid but still put in amazing effort. That polling station staff have to sit in their location in one continuous shift from 7am until 10pm probably isn’t realised by most voters – but that continuity is just one of many ways in which the validity of the poll is guaranteed. And finally, the counters of votes and the supervisory and admin teams working with them to ensure that every individual vote is properly counted, logged and totalled. Even with a turnout as low as we had on Thursday, the diligence of those staff over an extended day of repetitive but detailed work is essential to our democracy. We have to thank them all.
At the end of it all: 39 victorious councillors get elected. The composition of the council is radically changed, and a Labour Group which has the numbers to function much more effectively as an opposition sits alongside a small number of Lib Dems facing the much reduced Tory ruling Group.
Every single Councillor, regardless of political party, has a responsibility to try to ensure the best outcome for the residents of the district. How we do that will be the story for the next four years.