Since joining the Green Party in November I have been going along to local meetings and when there was a call for candidates to stand in the local council elections I volunteered. The aim was to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot for all wards of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council and I agreed to stand in my own ward, Hatfield West, where I have lived for over 20 years. Hatfield also has a Town Council and three seats were up for election in West Ward so I offered to put myself forward for that as well.
For both elections I had to fill in nomination papers and get a proposer and seconder from people on the electoral register in my ward. There was no deposit required but for the Borough Council I also had to get another 8 (or was it 10?) nomination signatures. It wasn’t difficult getting people to sign but I had to check with them that they had not signed anybody else’s papers because only one signature would count (the one on the first paper submitted).
Since the local party is quite small and under-resourced they decided to concentrate on a target ward in Welwyn Garden City and that meant I had no support for my “campaign”. I could have got my own leaflets printed if I had paid for them (as long as it was declared as an election expense by the party) but would have been hard pressed to distribute them myself and certainly didn’t have time to go round door knocking and talking to all my potential voters. That didn’t really matter though, the main reason I was standing was to give any Green Party supporters in my ward the option to vote for a Green Party candidate. There was no realistic chance of me winning but by standing I was enabling the party to judge the level of support in my ward and report a higher total vote count.
Election day arrived, I went to vote, a few friends told me they had voted for me, and after the polls had closed I cycled over to Welwyn Garden City for the count. They were only counting for the parliamentary election that night and it was taking ages so I cycled home about 4am. I returned in the morning for the local counts and found myself amongst a disconcerting number of smug Tories celebrating the re-election of our infamous MP Grant Shapps (albeit with a somewhat reduced majority).
The Borough count occurred first and when it came to Hatfield West I went and sat at the counting tables to help keep an eye on things. I was pleased to see a fair number of votes for me but it also became clear that it was going to be a close race between the Labour candidate James Broach and his Conservative rival. I was rooting for James and would have felt partly to blame if he had only just lost (if there had been no Green candidate I expect more of the Green votes would have gone to Labour than to the Tories). James came out slightly ahead but the Tories demanded a recount and it was a huge relief when he won by just thirteen votes. With a turnout of 58% I picked up 210 of 3,695 votes cast, about 5.7%. Full results are available on the council website.
Once all the Borough results were declared the count for Hatfield Town Council could begin. With three councillors to be elected in my ward the three main parties had fielded three candidates each and with electors allowed to choose a maximum of three candidates the counting procedure was more complicated. First they separated ballot papers with “block votes” where there were three crosses against three candidates from the same party. Because I was the only Green Party candidate there were a lot of people who had voted for me plus two other candidates (for example I voted for myself and a family friend who stood for the Liberal Democrats and James Broach for Labour). Also a lot of people had only used one of their three votes and I suspect many of them had failed to read the instructions on the ballot paper. After the block votes were separated the remaining “odds and sods” were counted using a tally system. The turnout was fractionally lower at 57% (more spoiled ballots?) and I picked up 454 of 8802 votes cast, about 5.2% (enough to get your deposit back if you are standing for Parliament). The three councillors elected were Frank Bowron for the Tories and Lenny Brandon and James Broach for Labour.
As the last results were being declared there was sudden excitement amongst Labour supporters as it became apparent that against all odds Labour had taken control of Hatfield Town Council from the Tories. Not that the Town Council has a lot in the way of responsibilities but this could be just what Hatfield needs right now.