A huge thanks to everyone who took the time to vote in this year’s local elections. The elections saw a 36% turnout, an improvement on the previous local elections despite the pandemic, with record numbers of postal voters.
These were a huge bumper set of elections, with Crawley holding elections for Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner election, every West Sussex County Council seat, a third of Crawley Borough Council seats and an additional two Crawley Borough Council by-elections.
The results for Crawley Labour were clearly disappointing. The reality is that most Labour campaigns focus on heavy community engagement and while we did everything we could to safely speak with voters this time around, we simply couldn’t run the type of campaign which typically delivers wins for Labour.
While we have to wait until Monday to find out who won the Police and Crime Commissioner Election, we already know that in Crawley Labour has seen a net loss of one seat on West Sussex County Council and another net loss of one on Crawley Borough Council since the last set of elections. Considering what has happened to Labour nationally, and particularly in other New Towns, we were expecting to do much worse, but we can’t pretend that this is the result we wanted.
For Crawley, this means the borough council remains in No Overall Control, with the Conservatives having 18 seats, Labour having 17, and 1 Independent (former Labour) councillor. So, what happens next?
Crawley Borough Council operates the ‘Strong Leader Model’ under which day-to-day decisions are delegated to the Council Leader and the Cabinet they appoint, with the Full Council responsible for the big strategic decisions. We elect the Council Leader for a four year term and my current term is due to end in May 2022, but realistically a Leader who cannot deliver a majority on key votes in the chamber will either resign or face a confidence vote in which the council replaces them. The first opportunity for this to happen is the Annual Council meeting, this year the meeting is scheduled for the 28th May, at which point committee and civic appointments for the coming year will be made, most importantly the Mayor.
While the Mayor of Crawley is a largely symbolic position, they are responsible for chairing meetings of the Full Council, as part of which they are granted a casting vote whenever there is a draw. Given the current 18-17-1 split on the council, this appointment has become incredibly important politically and due to the resignation of the last Mayor, the casting vote for this appointment will be made by the current Deputy Mayor, who is currently a Labour councillor.
So, what comes next? While it is possible for us to just wait until the Annual Council and see what happens, everyone seems to want to find a way to ensure stability for the forthcoming year and that means finding some sort of agreement between at least two of the three blocks of councillors. These conversations are happening now, to try to find a reasonable compromise which will ensure the council can deal with the substantial problems facing the council and our community.
I believe that a compromise which will deliver stability for the next year will be reached before the Annual Council, but at this stage I really don’t know what it will look like and ultimately it won’t be down to me to decide. However, based on conversations so far, it’s clear that everyone really wants to ensure an arrangement which will deliver the best for the town over the next year.