This is the headline of the Devon Live article (see below) announcing the candidates for the Feniton and the Honiton St Michaels ward by-elections.
Unfortunately, a macho three-way “bare fist, winner takes all” fight is the way the national political parties would like to see it play out.
But two of them are misguided to the point of deluded naivety if they really think this is the way to give the voters the choice of an alternative to the Tories.
Repeatedly taking part in local elections, just for the sake of it, splitting the opposition vote and losing, isn’t the way, in Owl’s opinion, to increase your credibility with the electorate.
In fact, there is no natural majority support for the Tories here in East Devon local politics. Since 2019 the Tories only have just over a third of the seats in East Devon and despite having won two thirds of the Devon County seats this May, they did so on only 42% of the votes. But splitting the opposition vote will assuredly let them in.
Historically, the strong influence of religious nonconformity coupled with the independent nature of rural industries such as fishing and farming has produced a radical streak in Devon politics. For years it was the bedrock of liberalism. It could be again.
However, we live in strange times, in a fragmented political landscape, with no real prospect, under the first past the post system, that either Labour or the Liberal Democrats could win the next general election.
The gradual emergence of alliances and coalitions in Local politics, is being chronicled on East Devon Watch. They are locally led and gaining momentum. So why do Labour and the Lib Dems insist on fielding a candidate in every election? Where is any sign of them working together?
This is the politics of self-indulgence, not politics for the people.
Unashamedly in this post, Owl is going to try to knock some sense into Labour and Lib Dem heads with a no-holds review of their candidates. Two are strong but two are weak no-hopers. Their parties should be smart enough to see this for themselves. If it’s any consolation to them, Owl thinks both Tory candidates are also weak. But with a split opposition they are likely to win. This would be an awful outcome for both wards.
This ward is vacant following Cllr Susie Bond’s move to Berkshire to be closer to family and the end of virtual meetings, meaning it is no longer practical for her to carry on in the role. (How long has she been telecommuting from Berkshire?). However, she did return to vote at the annual meeting, supporting Cllr Andrew Moulding for Leader. Someone about as old and stale a member of the “Old Guard” as you can find. Inexplicable behaviour for a supposed Independent councillor.
Privately, Owl has always thought she was one of those councillors who were “really-not-very-independent-at-all-but-I probably-wouldn’t have-got-in-if-I-still-called-myself-Tory”.
This ward will be contested between Linda Baden (Labour), Alasdair Bruce (Conservatives), and Todd Olive (Liberal Democrats).
Alasdair Bruce (brother of Fiona) stood against East Devon Alliance Paul Hayward for Yarty, in the Tory rout of 2019 and lost by a substantial margin. Not exactly a strong candidate.
Todd Olive came a close second to the Tories in this May’s by-election for the district council seat formerly held by Kathy Mclauchlan (Independent Whimple and Rockbeare), where he received 44% of the vote and is learning how to campaign fast.
Against these, Linda Baden looks to be a candidate in name only with simply no chance of success.
Honiton St Michaels
This ward is vacant after Cllr Luke Jeffery, Lib Dem, stepped down to focus on his University course.
The ward will be contested between Jake Bonetta (Labour), Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrats) and Jenny Brown (Conservatives).
Here the picture Owl sees is very different.
Jenny Brown is the wife of Cllr. Colin Brown (current leader of EDDC Tory group). She has been a previous councillor but was rejected by Seaton voters in 2015. Owl places her in the mould or supporter of former EDDC councillor Sarah Randall-Johnson (SRJ) who, when leader of EEDC, was defeated by Claire Wright in 2011. A defeat that started the decline in Tory fortunes in EDDC.
SRJ’s style of abrasive Conservatism is amply chronicled in the EDW archive. See how she ignored a motion to debate hospital bed closures in 2017 – a Tory hardline policy we are living to regret.
Tory husband and wife teams aren’t new in EDDC. Sasha Swire outrageously described one pair as “toilet seats”, demonstrating that there is often little love lost between fellow Tories.
The Conservatives look to be scraping the barrel in choosing Jenny Brown. She isn’t the candidate for the testing times of the post-covid years.
Jake Bonetta came a close second in the May 2021 County Council elections for the Feniton and Honiton Division with 38% of the vote. In this contest he is fighting directly on his home patch. He was born and bred in Honiton and has taken an active part in Honiton Forward which, amongst other things, seek better governance in Honiton Town Council.The “goings on” there are also well recorded in EDW.
An “impressive head on young shoulders”, Owl believes he is the sort of young blood local government needs more of. The 2019 election did see a welcome change in this direction amongst newly elected councillors, long may this trend continue.
Jules Hoyles was the spoiler candidate in the Axminster County election gaining 5% of the vote and could reprise the same role.
Spoiler alert on another race for second place with potentially dire consequences
Here is another example of just how potentially dangerous this tit-for-tat competition for second place can be.
Owl understands that Labour is putting up a candidate for the Upper Culm Valley Mid Devon District by-election, again splitting the vote. The Lib Dems currently hold Mid Devon, but if Conservatives win this seat, they take back Mid Devon.
Owl hopes for the best but fears the worst.
Main parties in three-way fight for two East Devon by-elections
Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com
The candidates for a pair of by-elections being held in East Devon have been announced – with both being a three-way fight between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Vacancies on the council have arisen in the Feniton and the Honiton St Michaels ward, with polls taking place on Thursday, July 8.
One of the Honiton St Michaels seats became available after Cllr Luke Jeffery stepped down to focus on his University course, while the Feniton seat is vacant following Cllr Susie Bond having moved to Berkshire to be closer to family and the end of virtual meetings, plus the allowing of by-elections again, meaning it is no longer practical for her to carry on in the role.
The list of candidates nominated in both seats have now been announced, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all fielding a candidate in both wards.
In Feniton, the seat, which was held by an Independent, will be contested between Linda Baden (Labour), Alasdair Bruce (Conservatives), and Todd Olive (Liberal Democrats).
In Honiton St Michaels, which was held by the Liberal Democrats, the seat will be contested between Jake Bonetta (Labour), Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrats) and Jenny Brown (Conservatives).
The by-elections will both take place on Thursday, July 8, with anyone wishing to vote needing to be registered by Tuesday, June 22.
Following the two resignations, the composition of East Devon District Council consists of Conservatives (21), East Devon Alliance (13), Independents (12), Liberal Democrats (7), Cranbrook Voice (3), and Green Party (2), with two seats vacant.
The council is currently run by a coalition of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Greens, and some of the Independents.