There will have been little time for Anne Western to reflect on her achievement of becoming the first ever female leader of Derbyshire County Council before the scale of the challenge facing her will have started to dawn.
But on May 3rd the long weeks of planning an alternative vision for the county, of campaigning day and night to communicate that vision, of media coverage for visits from Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and the frantic last few days trying to ensure that the electorate support it in sufficient numbers was over and it was time to watch the votes coming in.
As Derbyshire Times readers will know, Labour took control of Derbyshire in comprehensive style gaining a net 20 seats across the county as voters rejected the CONDEM vision of austerity Britain and opted for something different.
National issues often play a part in local elections which, whilst unfortunate for hard working local Councillors, is simply an occupational hazard of serving in local government, but it is important that those of us who seek the support of the electorate attempt to learn lessons from the votes cast by voters.
The first thing to say about the Derbyshire County Council elections was that less than four in ten chose to vote, and there was a significant increase in votes cast for other parties, particularly UKIP, who although not winning enough votes anywhere to gain a seat did get sizeable vote shares.
These should not be dismissed as ‘protest votes’. People fought and died for the right to vote and we should respect what they choose to do with their hard-won vote. People I met who were voting UKIP, were generally reflecting a wider unease that our politics has failed to find the solutions and that we should be capable of better.
Happily for us, more people did vote for Labour to provide that alternative as Labour secured almost half of the vote. As Councils face significant cuts imposed by central government, you can be sure that there will be tough decisions ahead, but it was important that a commitment to youth services, to democratically elected schools and to proper investment in our dilapidated roads was supported by Derbyshire electors.
The election also provided real choice for voters across Derbyshire and I suspect the death of the tired old adage ‘the two horse race’. Conservatives, Independent, Lib Dems and UKIP all came second in at least one Chesterfield seat and at least five different choices on the ballot paper was commonplace. That paints a healthy picture about local democracy that is so important in tough times.
A year from now will come the European election where every vote cast across Derbyshire will count the same under a proportional system, though sadly, the system tends to leave people feeling that they have less direct say on which person is elected. I am sure there will be a wide choice available again, it is the job of Anne Western, of Labour’s district council leaders across Derbyshire, of MPs and of MEPs to show they are worthy of that vote when the time comes.
by Toby Perkins, MP