THURSDAY night was not a great night for the Thurrock Conservatives. All across the borough, they were beaten time and time again by UKIP. They gained just 28% of the vote. Labour did not fare much better with 30% but there appear to be worrying signs that the Thurrock Conservatives are on a slippery slope.
In 2004, on a night quite similar to 2014, there were 28 Thurrock Conservatives councillors. Since then, their numbers have slowly dwindled.
2004 – 28 Conservatives
2006 – 26 Conservatives
2007 – 24 Conservatives
2008 – 24 Conservatives
2010 – 23 Conservatives
2011 – 22 Conservatives
2012 – 21 Conservatives
2014 – 18 Conservatives
They will be disappointed that they lost their leader in Phil Anderson, who was beaten by UKIP in the ward of Stanford East and Corringham Town. However, Phil cut a fairly peripheral figure since late last year as if this day hung him over like the sword of Damocles.
They will be pleased that, amongst others, Rob Gledhill. Tunde Ojetola and James Halden retained their seats. They will also be pleased with the performance of new campaigners such as Teresa Webster, Abbie Maguire and Michelle Macadangdang.
What of their campaign? Their campaign seemed to come across as dictated and defined by what they were against and not they stood for.
Yes, individual councillors such as Tunde Ojetola, Rob Gledhill and Lynn Carr (whom many are very sorry to see lose) could all stand on and stress their personal record over four years but much of that across the board was overshadowed by their main campaigning that focussed on the sharing of services between Thurrock and Barking and Dagenham Council.
It may be a fair point. There are some who think the sharing of services does not save that much money and has more to do with boosting the CV of the chief executive, Graham Farrant. There are others that think it plays the race card. Whatever the merits of it all, putting it at the heart of your campaign seemed questionable.
The other campaigning issues centred on the record of Thurrock Council. Of course, the fact that it is Labour run makes it fair game but again, it is defining your campaign by what you are not as opposed to, what you are.
The major question is, why was the MP, Jackie Doyle Price, was spearheading the local election campaign. It led to a very confused set of signals. All over the country, MPs take a bit of a back seat, letting their councillor colleagues run the show. They are supportive but not intrusive.
It begged a question as to why the leader (Phil Anderson) and deputy leader (Rob Gledhill) were not in front of the large expensive adverts. It gave an impression that Anderson and Gledhill were in office but not in power.
There will now be a new leader of the Conservative group. The money is on either Simon Wootton, Barry Johnson, James Halden, Sue Little or Rob Gledhill. They have a number of challenges and a number of opportunities. Who knows, they might want to forge a Tory-UKIP pact and take control of the council and suddenly, after four years, be back in power. Slow decline eh?
Having said that, they may say that their whole campaign for 2015 General Election could simply be a picture of Ed Miliband with the words “Really?” It might well work.
The next year will be fascinating. For all we know the Tories will regain a number of seats and talk of decline will be as accurate as some half-wit predicting Linda Hall winning Stanford East…..