• May 15, 2021:
    • It was a bloke's world in the Super Thursday elections here in Shropshire - why do so few women stand for public office?

      With thanks to the Fawcett Society and the Democracy Club, we can analyse the gender of the more than 21,000 candidates that stood in elections on 6 May. Just one third were women (33%). Of the major parties, the Greens had the highest proportion of women at 43%, followed by Labour (41%), the Lib Dems (31%) and the Conservatives (27%).

      I was one of 232 candidates standing for Shropshire Council on 6 May. It was depressingly like the national picture. Only 28.4% of candidates were women: Green 48.8%; Labour 31%; Lib Dems 29.8%; Conservatives 18.8%; and Independents just 14.3%. The newly elected council is now just 24.3% female.

      Why? I think if we really understood why, we would have as many women pitching for election as men.

      I don't think councils can represent their communities well if they do not look like communities. Shropshire is not ethnically diverse. Just two per cent of residents are non-white and we have no unitary councillors from ethnic backgrounds. But just over half of our population is female. I instinctively feel that we should be reflecting that in our body of councillors.

      This article sets out the data and asks why relative few women are standing for elections. It does not provide any answers.

      Long ago, in the dark ages of democracy, it was almost all men. I remember attending the infamous smoke filled rooms of men puffing on their pipes and puffing out their opinion on how their town or county should be run.

      Thank goodness that has ended. No smoking and an expectation that women have an equal right to participate are the new normal. Of course, puffing out opinion, no matter how ill informed, remains a core value of politics. Meetings are in theory gender neutral but why, oh why, are so few women standing for local councils and other public roles today?

      The lack of gender balance is not restricted to a few areas. In Scotland, 37.5% of candidates on 6 May were women. In the Welsh Senedd elections, just 196 of the 634 candidates were women (30.9%). The London mayoral election has greater gender equality at 41% female candidates.

      Looking at the 46 English counties and districts where 50 or more seats were up for grabs, there were higher proportions of women in Doncaster (41.9%), Chorley (41.0%) and Cambridge (40.7%). Coming in at the bottom were Gloucestershire (27.9%), Leeds (26.6%) and Isle of Wight (24.6%).

      As I said at the top of this article, it can't just be about selection as only 23.6% of independent candidates were women (I have excluded the various independent parties from this calculation as they presumably have some form of selection).

      In a report published in 2018, Sue Maguire from the University of Bath summarised some of the barriers to women participating:

      "The white, middle class and male dominated environment of British politics (both national and local government) is a major barrier to widening participation among women and other under-represented groups. Women's continued role in assuming caring and household responsibilities poses another significant barrier, especially among younger women and those with young children."

      She adds that lack of financial resources may also be contributing along with weaker motivational factors such as ambition, self-confidence, self-belief and dedication.

      We need to create a political environment that encourages women and ways of working that encourage women. Equal participation might lead to different priorities for councils. I am sure that could only be a good thing.

      A version of this article was published on Lib Dem Voice yesterday.

      Per cent of female candidates in Shropshire (above) and all elections (below)
  • May 10, 2021:
    • Local Elections 2021 - The results for Ludlow and Clee and Ludlow Town Council

      I am a bit late on this post due to other commitments. But you will probably have heard by now that all four of us, Viv Parry, Tracey Huffer, Richard Huffer and myself have retained our seats on Shropshire Council. Looking at the countywide picture, we look like an oasis of calmness as the Conservatives take a battering across the county and the Greens storm Oswestry.

      There was a big turnout for the one contested seat for Ludlow Town Council. A new face won more than 50% of the votes. It is pretty much all change at Shrewsbury and Oswestry town councils from today. But in Ludlow, we drift on without the renewal which is essential to the health of local democracy. We need contested elections to test the strength of the existing councillor body.

      Otherwise, we get councillors we did not and could not vote for and then complain!

      What curious local elections they were! Shropshire Council's leader Peter Nutting was dismissed by the electorate and he lost his seat on Shrewsbury Town Council as well. Oswestry Town Council was stormed by the Greens, who grew in strength across the county. Lib Dems and Labour also gained seats, though not enough to take control of the council out of the hands of the Conservatives. Philip Dunne campaigned for his candidates in Ludlow and even wrote a column supporting them in the Ludlow Advertiser. But he wasn't watching what was happening in the east of his constituency where Bridgnorth West and Tasley returned the town's first Labour councillor.

      Here in Ludlow, it was all rather serene in comparison. All four of us Lib Dems representing Ludlow and Clee were re-elected. Thank you to those who voted for us and supported us.

      The turnout across the unitary area was 38.5%, which is around average for local council elections. Turnout was higher in Clee, Ludlow North and Ludlow South but lower in Ludlow East.

      Viv Parry faced a challenge from Philip Dunne's assistant, Josh Boughton. He worked hard canvassing but failed to increase the Conservative vote leaving Viv with a comfortable majority of 524.

      I didn't canvass door to door (sorry, knee problem which is easing). My opponent Thomas Scott Bell lifted the Conservative vote by 50 on 2017. Independent Graeme Perks gained 196 votes, slightly more than the 182 that he scored against Viv Parry in 2013. But I still had a majority of 328.

      Tracey Huffer was comfortably returned in Ludlow South. Her main opponent was former Ludlow Town councillor Colin Sheward who has tried to win the seat three times for Labour. He gained 184 votes in 2013, 143 votes in 2017 and 132 in last week's election. There is a clear trend here.

      Richard Huffer faced a strong challenge in Clee. His majority against the Conservatives was cut from 324 to 107.

      There are two new faces on Ludlow Town Council. I join the council for the first time today, unopposed for Gallows Bank Ward which is where I live. There was only one contested election for Ludlow Town Council and that was for the Bringewood Ward, which includes the Stantons and Fishmores, along with New Road bank. The election in this ward was a battle between two long standing town councillors, Rose Jones and Jim Smithers, and newcomer Alan Tapley. The turnout was a high 59.2%.

      Alan Tapley took more than half the vote. Rose Jones was re-elected on 25%. Jim Smithers was not elected. He was not elected in 2017 either but subsequently gained a seat through co-option.

    • Local Elections 2021: The county results - Nutting dismissed & opposition parties gain but fail to win control

      Elections can be thrilling, exhausting and disappointing all at once. That was certainly the case in the Shropshire Council elections last Thursday.

      Council leader Peter Nutting, the man who put Shrewsbury first in everything, was thrown off Shropshire Council and Shrewsbury Town Council. The Conservatives gained 11% more seats across England with the Boris Bounce but in Shropshire they lost 12% of their seats.

      For the first time, the Green Party showed strength across the county, taking four seats. Labour gained one seat and the Lib Dems two.

      There could not be a clearer message. Whatever is happening elsewhere in the country, the Shropshire Tories are unpopular in this county and they are failing our county.

      The now former council leader Peter Nutting was summarily dismissed by the Lib Dems. This wasn't a close call. Rob Wilson won by more than 500 votes. Wilson also defeated Nutting in the Shrewsbury Town Council. Labour remains the biggest group on the town council with seven members. The Liberal Democrats are now in second place with six seats. The Conservatives and Greens have two members each.

      Julia Buckley is the first Labour councillor in Bridgnorth, a town that has not been well served by its Conservative councillors. And the unpopular Conservative Simon Harris was defeated by Labour in Broseley.

      The Greens went from one seat to four. An impressive performance and in the wards they targeted, they performed strongly. Unfortunately, neither Greens nor the Lib Dems were elected in the chalk and cheese ward of Church Stretton and Craven Arms. Their combined vote was 2,915. The two Tories who won had a combined vote of 2,538. There is a lesson for green leaning parties there. The Greens won 12 of 18 seats on Oswestry Town Council.

      The Lib Dems nearly toppled the deputy leader Steve Charmley, who despite his confidence before the vote scraped in by just 34 votes.

      The Conservatives gained 43 seats, 11 fewer than in 2009. That weakens their authority but is five more than the 38 seats they need to form the next administration. Shropshire Conservatives have lost their sense of judgement. That is why they have performed so badly when across the country other Conservatives were enjoying the Boris Bounce?

      Steve Charmley now wants to be the new council leader. Applauding Peter Nutting on BBC Radio Shropshire this morning, Charmley has backed every disastrous decision Shropshire Council has made since it was created in 2009. The list is too long for this article but he supported setting up the council company ip&e, which failed with unknown losses. He has backed plans to refurbish Shirehall and the subsequent plans to demolish it. He was enthusiastic about buying the now near worthless shopping centres in Shrewsbury, losing council tax papers around £50 million so far. He has shown no interest in green or community issues. He closed Ludlow's recycling centre. And he wants to be leader? Do the Conservatives want more of the same stuff that has served them and the county so badly?

      Despite the near miss in Whittington, the Lib Dems have done well. We are up by two seats, one of them being the stunning victory by 20-year old Alex Wagner in Bowbrook, Shrewsbury. The Conservatives vote in Bowbrook fell from 688 to 322 votes and Alex romped home with 1,001 votes. He said:

      "This was a victory due to traditional, pavement-pounding, liberal community politics. We worked hard, listened to local people and I'm so proud to be their voice now. The Conservative record on waste is appalling and they've made such a bodge of running the show that hundreds - 1,001 in Bowbrook - want real change!"

      Also in Shrewsbury, another young newcomer, Mary Davis retained Abbey and Bernie Bentick took Meole for the Lib Dems.

      There were, as in all elections, some near misses. The Lib Dems lost to the Conservatives in Bagley (by 18 votes), Ruyton and Baschurch (90 votes), The Meres (23 votes) and Whittington (34 votes). Labour lost Harlescott to the Conservatives by 23 votes.

      Majorities ranged from 18 to 938. The five largest majorities are: Gwilym Butler, Conservative, Cleobury Mortimer (938); Ed Potter, Conservative, Loton (933); Ruth Houghton, Liberal Democrats, Bishop's Castle (889); Heather Kidd, Liberal Democrats, Chirbury and Worthen (863); and Nick Hignet, Conservative, Rea Valley (777).

      Full results for Shropshire Council.

  • May 8, 2021:
    • Local Elections 2021 - Shropshire council leader Peter Nutting voted out, Lib Dems march in to Copthorne!!!

      March the bands. Bang the drums. Sound the trumpets. The Conservative leader of Shropshire Council has lost his seat to a wannabe Lib Dem councillor by a mile.

      The feedback on the streets of Copthorne in Shrewsbury for Rob Wilson, the Lib Dem candidate has been strong for weeks. And tonight, it has been confirmed. Rob has won the Copthorne Division in Shrewsbury by 519 votes. We done Rob! Welcome to what looks like being a very different Shropshire Council. I hope….

      Peter Nutting, who has led Shropshire Council since May 2017 has been retired by the electorate. Thank you voters. You have done the county a service.

      It was Nutting that pressed the council to buy the now near worthless shopping centres in Shrewsbury. It was Nutting who was driving the council onwards to build the North West Road (North West Relief Road) on the doorstep of Copthorne at great financial and ecological cost, let along driving further holes into the council's finances to suit his own ambitions. We can't do anything about the shopping centres but we can review the North West Road.

      Successful Lib Dem candidate Rob Wilson said:

      "I'm proud and honoured of the trust that the people of Copthorne have placed in me. This win is a rejection of the last administration, and the next Leader needs to take this result very seriously. It is clear that people want Shropshire Council to stop talking about taking climate change seriously, but to actually deliver. That has to start with a review of the North West Road alongside a thorough appraisal of 21st century alternatives. Our existing roads need fixing as matter of urgency and firm commitments need to be brought forward to secure the future of Shrewsbury's bus station and Quarry Pool."

      Rob won Copthorne through tireless campaigning. I sure he won't mind me saying that when I talked to him last night, he was struggling to keep awake.

      But it is also true that Peter Nutting lost this election through his own unpopularity. Not just in Copthorne but within his own party.

      The council will need a new leader but that is for another day.

    • Local Elections 2021: Greens and Labour gain from Tories - Lib Dems waiting in wings (1pm)

      This is proving an interesting election. No one is doubting that the Conservatives will form the next Shropshire Council administration from Monday. But there are strong messages coming from the electorate that they want more action on green matters and the climate emergency, and on areas outside Shrewsbury.

      For the first time, a Labour candidate has been elected for Bridgnorth following years of the town being badly served, some would say dissed, by its Conservative representatives.

      There is a kick in the whatsits for the Tory leadership in the county. David Minnery in Market Drayton was deselected due to a perceived lack of loyalty, probably one of the few times a political party has deselected a cabinet portfolio holder. Today, David is back as an independent. He and I are not allies but I welcome the challenge he is giving the local party leadership.

      We will learn whether that council leadership is outgoing by the end of the day.

      The Greens are gaining vote share across the county, though not evenly, and have picked up two seats from the Tories.

      The two seats in the combined Church Stretton and Craven Arms division have returned again for the Tories. The Greens and Lib Dems were snapping at their heels and the combined vote of these green leaning parties was 2,915, easily beating the 2,538 votes for the Tories. These is a lesson here for how we can get stronger and greener representation for this chalk and cheese division in future elections.

      Julia Buckley becomes the first Labour councillor on Shropshire unitary authority for Bridgnorth. That has broken a mould and the town might now be better represented. The Green vote in Bridgnorth was dismal, clocking up just 249 of 7,946 votes cast in the two divisions.

      The Lib Dems have retained Abbey in Shrewsbury.

      I cannot think of ever agreeing on anything with David Minnery, who has been returned for Market Drayton West. He was deselected by the Tories when he was still cabinet portfolio holder for finance. He stood as an independent against his Tory replacement and won.

      Peter Nutting's manoeuvrings to keep himself in post as council leader look doomed to fail. He may not even keep his seat - hopefully.

      Only 23 of 74 seats have been declared as I publish this. More to come before the end of the day and tomorrow.

      Declared seats by party (1pm Saturday)

      • Conservatives: 12
      • Green: 2
      • Labour: 5
      • Lib Dems: 1
      • Independent: 1
      • Other: 0.

      Full results. Shropshire Council is updating its twitter feed as declarations are made.