Alton voters have been denied their democratic right to vote for their next political representatives in six of Alton Town Council’s seven wards at the May 4 local elections because of a lack of candidates.
Every four years, electors are given the chance to vote at the ballot box for who they want to make decisions on their behalf at town and parish council level.
But before a single vote has been cast at this year’s local elections, Labour candidates have already been elected uncontested in four Alton seats, independents in three and the Heritage Party – Keep Our Countryside Green in one.
The only town council ward going to an election on May 4 is Holybourne, where two Labour candidates Donald Hammond and Barbara Tansey, will battle with the Conservative incumbent Graham Hill for the village’s two seats.
It means Labour is guaranteed to win at least five of Alton Town Council’s 13 seats and – with three of those seats guaranteed to be vacant – control of the town council.
The bizarre turn of events comes after the Lib Dems, having won control of Alton Town Council at the 2019 local elections, chose not to stand any candidates at the town council – two months after Conservative councillor Matthew Bayliss secured a motion to ‘depoliticise’ the council in February.
This motion was proposed to remove party politics from decision making.
But while the Lib Dems stood aside, Cllr Bayliss has secured a seat as an independent, Cllr Hill, who seconded his motion, is in the running to win back his Holybourne seat as a Conservative, and East Hampshire’s opportunistic Labour branch has stolen in to snatch control of the council.
It means of Alton Town Council’s 13 available seats, just two will be filled by councillors backed at the ballot box after May 4.
Eight councillors have already been elected uncontested – but bizarrely will not be able to serve as councillors until after the election.
And three town council seats will remain vacant after May 4 – in Alton Amery, Ashdell and Whitedown wards – after not a single candidate put their names forward to fill them.
It marks a departure from 2019, when the Lib Dems won a hotly-fought contest with the Tories to take control of the town council for the first time since 2007.
It will also be the first time Labour have ever controlled the council – and they could increase their control as early as the first meeting in May, when councillors will likely be asked to vote for candidates to fill the council’s three vacant seats.
But despite the vast majority of elected councillors not receiving a single vote from the electorate, Alton town clerk Leah Coney has expressed her confidence that all councillors “will come together to work in the best interests of the community”.
Mrs Coney said: “These vacancies will be dealt with immediately by co-option with no option for a by-election and it is likely this will be added as an agenda item for the first meeting of the new council. Notices advertising these vacancies will be published in the coming weeks.”
Asked if new members could reverse the motion to de-politicise the council, Mrs Coney said she “cannot comment”. But she added: “I am confident all councillors, both new and returning, will come together to work in the best interests of the community they will be serving.”
“On behalf of everyone at the town hall I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the existing councillors for their dedication and service to Alton over the past four years, with our best wishes for the future to the nine councillors retiring.”
These are Sharon Cullen, Suzie Burns, Annie Lancaster, Paul Crossley, Richard Platt, Ginny Boxall, Pam Jones, Lewis Jones and Guy Titterington.
The list of contested and uncontested Alton Town Council seats in full:
Alton Amery (two seats – uncontested):
Annette Eyre (Independant) ELECTED
Alton Ashdell (two seats – uncontested):
Jonathan Waugh (Independent) ELECTED
Alton Eastbrooke (one seat – uncontested):
Ben Hamlin (Labour) ELECTED
Alton Westbrooke (two seats – uncontested):
Matthew Bayliss (Independent) ELECTED
Nick O’Brien (Labour) ELECTED
Alton Whitedown (two seats – uncontested):
Janice Treacher (Labour) ELECTED
Alton Wooteys (two seats – uncontested):
Mark Boyce-Churn (Labour) ELECTED
Matthew Kellermann (Heritage Party – Keep Our Countryside Green) ELECTED
Alton Holybourne (two seats – contested):
Donald Hammond (Labour)
Graham Hill (Conservative)
Barbara Tansey (Labour)