By-election winner says ‘hostile’ voters were suffering from Brexit burnout

Huntingdon Town Hall, home of the town council.

Huntingdon Town Hall, home of the town council. - Credit: Archant

The winner of a by-election for a seat on Huntingdon Town Council has said that he has never seen such hostility towards politicians during canvassing in the run-up to the poll.

Mike Baker, who won the seat with a substantial majority, thinks voters are suffering burnout over the long-winded Brexit negotiations and the possibility of a general election - contributing to low turnouts for both the council election and a referendum on a neighbourhood plan for Huntingdon.

The by-election for a seat representing the east ward on Huntingdon Town Council attracted under 18 per cent of the electorate and a referendum on a neighbourhood plan saw fewer than 12 per cent of voters turn out.

Cllr Baker, a Liberal Democrat former district councillor, romped home in the town council election, with 485 votes, four times as many as runner up Daniel Laycock, on 120, who stood for the Greens. Labour's Marion Kadewere came third with 84 votes.

No Conservative stood in the by-election for the council which is independent politically, although members may be affiliated to political parties.

Cllr Baker, a former teacher at Hinchingbrooke School who runs the Huntingdon Together charity, said: "There was a lot of hostility to politicians generally.

"I picked up an antipathy towards politicians of all parties while I was out canvassing, in particular over Brexit."

Most Read

Cllr Baker said there had also been an unusually high number of blank, or defaced ballot papers which was worrying.

"This is a council I have never been involved with before and I have been impressed by their support for the Cromwell Museum and for the new cemetery which I find very positive," he said.

Cllr Baker said he had also been impressed by the council's stance on environmental issues, such as climate change.

A high number of ballot papers were rejected in both the town council by-election and the neighbourhood plan poll. The election saw a turnout of a low 17.84 per cent and 49 of the ballot papers were rejected for being unmarked or uncertain. In the town plan referendum just 11.97 per cent of the electorate took the trouble to vote and 36 papers were rejected for being unmarked or uncertain.

A total of 1,823, or 87 per cent, supported the introduction of the neighbourhood plan and 232, or 11 per cent, opposed it.

Mike Shellens, Liberal Democrat agent and a local county councillor, praised Cllr Baker for winning the seat, but said: "The turnout was extremely low and particularly low in the neighbourhood plan referendum.

"I think questions need to be asked."

There has been speculation that a lack of a Conservative candidate in the town council by-election may have prompted the high number of blank ballot papers, but that would not explain the similar response in the neighbourhood plan referendum.

The neighbourhood plan gives the town more of a say in the way development is carried out locally and it will also receive a higher percentage of the money developers have to pay to offset the impact of their schemes.

Although the plan has been given the green light in the referendum, it still needs to be formally approved, or "made" by Huntingdonshire District Council at a full meeting, probably on October 9.