CONSERVATIVE’S defending their divisions at tomorrow’s county council elections (May 4) have spoken of a growing Brexit backlash on the doorstep.
Anger is primarily directed at the town’s MP Greg Clark and his vote to trigger article 50 despite backing the Remain campaign before June 23 last year and representing a constituency that voted in the referendum to stay in Europe.
One incumbent councillor, who asked not to be named, said he was ‘taking nothing for granted’ at this year’s years Kent County Council elections.
He told the Times: “It could be closer than people think, especially in my division which covers some areas that traditionally vote Liberal Democrat and Labour.
“Feedback on the doorstep is that Brexit remains a big issue, even when the focus should be on local issues. There is a lot of negative sentiment towards Greg Clark and this could end up meaning less votes for Conservative candidates.”
The Liberal Democrats themselves are not shying away from explicitly linking the county elections to people’s views on Theresa May’s ‘hard Brexit’.
Senior figures in the local party say their membership has received a significant boost since the referendum and are framing themselves as the only real alternative to Conservative dominance in the borough.
Gillian Douglass, chair of Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats, said: “In Tunbridge Wells it is a two-horse race between us and the Conservatives. Voting Labour only helps the Conservatives win.
“In Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrat membership continues to increase in opposition to Greg Clark and Teresa May’s hard Brexit.”
Local membership now stands at over 300 people, the party have said.
Ben Chapelard, the Liberal Democrat for St James’ said he has noticed ‘palpable anger’ on the doorstep when out canvasing.
He said: “Brexit and triggering article 50 specifically seems to have highlighted to people – something they knew implicitly – that Greg Clark is a career politician.
“There is palpable anger that he is looking after number one and has ignored his Remain voting constituency. Lifelong Tory voters are now telling us they will vote Liberal Democrat.”
Meanwhile, local Labour sources have admitted that negative coverage of the national party and its leadership are presenting them with ‘challenges’ but believe their focus on ‘Tory austerity’ is resonating on the doorstep.
They also believe they can make decent headway in Tunbridge Wells North, where there has been considerable opposition in Southborough to the Conservative run town council’s decision to demolish the Royal Victoria Hall.
Their candidate for the division, Martin Betts, has previously told the Times: “We aim to give the Conservatives a run for their money. The demolition of the hall is symbolic of their destruction of local services.”