ELECTION 2019: Three is the magic number as Conservatives cling to West Norfolk power
On a dramatic political day, three proved to be the key as the Conservatives clung on to power in West Norfolk.
The final ward declaration yesterday afternoon saw the Tories need to take all three Woottons seats in order to claim an overall majority of one in the new borough council.
And, after several recounts, a mere 11 votes made the difference as Graham Middleton held off independent candidate Paul Bland to secure the narrowest of victories for his party.
They finished with 28 seats in the new 55-strong authority, the minimum required for a majority.
Council leader Brian Long said he was “very relieved” to have held on, but said the reason it was so close lay far away from West Norfolk.
He said: “My thoughts are for all those councillors, who’ve put in all those years of service, that we’ve lost today.
“My belief, absolutely, is the reason we’ve lost them is our government’s inability to sort out Brexit. That’s not just Conservatives in our government, that’s everybody in Parliament.”
He went on: “The public have been disturbed by not being listened to.
“To not take heed of a mass public vote such as that creates bad feeling and I can only think back to a local example of the incinerator.
“We had a definitive result on that. Had they not taken notice of that, the public would never have trusted us again. This has got to be sorted out.”
Ian Sherwood, the party's election agent, said the day had been one of the most challenging he had faced in the role and paid tribute to councillors and candidates who he said had lost on the basis of "national views."
The Tory casualty list included two members of Mr Long’s old cabinet – Peter Hodson and his one-time deputy, Alistair Beales.
And a third member of his administration, Ian Devereux, only avoided that fate in Snettisham by three votes against his independent opponent, Jan Roomes.
Mr Long said he would miss the colleagues he had shared the chamber with during his own 16-year tenure as a councillor and paid particular tribute to Mr Beales, whose defeat ended a 12-year stint on the authority.
He said: “Filling his shoes on the cabinet will be a hard job for whoever takes it on.
“We have a real ambition to deliver more and better homes for people in West Norfolk. That role is paramount to the success of this borough.”
The scale of the Conservative losses led to some speculation around the counting hall that Mr Long may face a challenge to his own position as leader.
But he said he was not anticipating one and expected his colleagues would unite to face the challenges ahead.