Can we restore faith in local politics this week? Letter to the editor

Lyme Regis Guildhall Photo by Martinvl Wikimedia Commons This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

Dear Editor,

We are drawing close to the first local election since Dorset Council became a unitary authority in 2019, which the Financial Times (FT) recently dubbed as:

“… the most keenly watched ‘blue wall’ battle in a crucial set of local elections on May 2.”

Under the headline “Dorset Tories tell Sunak’s MPs to ‘stay away’ in local election battle” the FT suggested thatConservative candidates were trying to distance themselves from party’s problems in Westminster (20 April)

As someone standing for re-election to Dorset Council following a shock by-election win in 2022 for the Green Party in the true-blue Conservative seat of Lyme Regis and Charmouth, I thought it was worth reflecting on the themes covered in the FT article.

It clarified the desire of Dorset Council’s current leader, Cllr Spencer Flower, to distance his party from the national Conservative Party by re-branding as ‘Local Conservatives’ and by telling MPs to ‘stay away’.

Apart from admiring Spencer’s chutzpah in thinking the Conservatives can hold on to their slim majority, a “gravity-denying feat”, according to the FT, I’m inclined to think this shows just how out of touch even the local Conservatives have become.

There will no doubt, sadly, be some very good local councillors who will, perhaps unfairly, lose their seats thanks to the terrible reputation the current government has with many of their lifelong supporters, but do the Tories really imagine anyone will be fooled by disguising themselves as ‘Local Conservatives’?

What really distinguishes the Conservatives, apart from being scarily out of touch with public opinion, is that they still seem to think its acceptable to make stuff up. Their leaflets are a laughable collection of fictional claims and outright misrepresentation – have they not learned the lesson that people are sick of their b******t?

In Dorset Council, however, what makes the Conservative Party very different from all the other elected members is that their councillors are instructed how to vote – not every time but on crucial motions in Full Council.  

More importantly, the Cabinet system means that only the majority party has members in Cabinet, as ‘portfolio holders’, so nearly 90 per cent of council decisions are made by Conservative councillors who are instructed how to vote by their party. Yes, the proposals have been developed by cross-party committees, but as every committee is selected according to ‘political proportionality’, the majority party will always have an automatic majority, assuming everyone turns up to the meetings.

This feels not only extraordinarily unrepresentative for voters across Dorset but also excludes some of the best brains, experience and enthusiasms of councillors from other political parties, as well as all the independent councillors. Do voters realise this?

It also, in my opinion, can make for bad decision-making.

After all, why bother to read all the meeting papers, research the topic and think through the potential consequences for your constituents, if you know in advance how you will vote?

This level of party-political control is surely unnecessary at local authority level where we should all be working together in the best interests of our residents.

No wonder so many people feel politics is a waste of time. Only one in five town and parish council elections will be contested in Dorset as so few people put themselves forward as candidates. This is tragic.  

Those of us who are not members of the Conservative Party, ‘local’ or otherwise, truly hope that what the FT labelled the “survival strategy being adopted by Tory candidates across England and Wales for the local elections” will backfire in spectacular fashion.

If voters reject the nonsense being peddled by some of the ‘Local Conservatives’ in Dorset and vote for parties or independent candidates who are not told how to vote, they will see far more cross-party collaboration and much more representative decision-making in future.

Surely this is in all our interests, and could this start to restore our faith in local politics?

Cllr Belinda Bawden

Green Party Dorset Councillor for Lyme Regis and Charmouth

Promoted by Andy McEwen on behalf of Belinda Bawden (Green Party), Garden Cottage, Netherbury, Dorset DT6 5NB

29 April 2024

If you want to vote tactically to remove the Conservatives, visit

Belinda Bawden is the tactical vote for Lyme Regis. Ed