Candidates come under fire as fears of a voting slump hit Thursday’s council elections
With five candidates battling for one Wiltshire Council seat in Marlborough’s East Ward, the political ding dong is reaching new heights in the run-up to Thursday’s vote -- and amid fears that fewer people than ever will go to the polls.
Total lack of trust in the political system has already produced evidence that people will either sit on their hands or else vote for outsiders, which has given a surge nationally to UKIP.
But there are no UKIP candidates standing in Marlborough, which makes every vote vital when the overall low rate of turn-out has now dropped from 43 per cent to only 31 per cent and is expected to dip further.
Stewart Dobson, the Tory candidate in East Ward, has already come under fire from independent candidate Nigel Kerton (see "Marlborough’s campaigning journalist reveals the secrets behind the Tory council election despair"). Now the Lib-Dem candidate Sue Knowles is being criticised too.
And the attack has come from two Lib-Dems who have quit the party because of its support for Tory policies, notably Peggy Dow, who won the seat on the unitary authority four years ago, supported by town councillor Richard Pitts.
“I left the Lib-Dems two years ago, Peggy Dow last year, and neither of us have ever come across Sue Knowles,” Councillor Pitts told Marlborough News Online. “She must be one of the quietest Lib-Dem activists I have come across.
“The position becomes a bit clearer when you realise you can't vote for a Lib-Dem in West Ward and actually what is all about is the Wiltshire Lib-Dems getting revenge on Peggy Dow quitting the party and becoming an independent.”
He added: “I am now deeply suspicious of the Lib-Dem approach of putting up paper or sleeper candidates for what ever reason. Though they never stand a chance of winning, the argument is they give Lib-Dem supporters a chance to vote for their party.
“In fact my name was used in the last Wiltshire Council election. I was horrified at the number of votes I got without a single leaflet being put out or me ever setting foot in that ward. I now think this is lazy democracy.”
Councillor Dow is more concerned that for someone to represent Marlborough voters on the unitary authority they must have intimate knowledge of the town, its strains and stresses, which she has gained by also being a member of the town council.
“I believe it is essential that you stand serve on Marlborough town council before contemplating being a Wiltshire councillor,” she told Marlborough News Online.
“That’s where the hard work is done, where the experience of dealing with local problems gives you the knowledge and experience you need to tackle the bigger issues in the county.
“Being an outsider doesn’t give you any insight into what is going on locally.”
Sue Knowles, a former Newbury councillor and member of the West Berkshire unitary authority, has reported that her door-to-door canvassing has revealed the need for a more proactive candidate to represent the ward.
But Councillor Dow responded: “I have delivered 1,800 leaflets in the ward and spoken to anybody who was in their gardens when I called.
“I haven’t been able to knock on all doors as I don’t have a big party organisation behind me as she has at her disposal. I am a lone person standing as an independent for what I believe in.
“I have demonstrated time and again that I am able to serve the people of Marlborough and acted in their best interests. I answer to the people of Marlborough only, not some political party now in real trouble.”
Ed. note: Since this story was published we received the following correspondance from Fiona Hornby, Chair of the Devizes Liberal Democrats:
Dear Marlborough News Online
I am sending you a statement because I could not see a way to attach a comment to the article about Marlborough East unitary candidates on Marlborough online.
“I contacted Sue Knowles during the 2010 GE campaign but her circumstances, at that time, meant she was unable to help. Her name has appeared on membership lists given to Marlborough Branch Liberal Democrats so Cllr Dow, as a member of that group, would have seen her name. In addition, I understand that Sue Knowles contacted Cllr. Dow in her capacity as Councillor for Marlborough East.”