Labour resurgence in Thurrock but Tories hang on to overall control despite losing leader

By Nub News Reporter

5th May 2023 | Local News

THE Conservatives hold a two seat majority on Thurrock Council following the declaration of the 16 seats contested in the local elections, held yesterday (Thursday, 4 May).

They ended a very difficult evening with 26 seats, hanging on to the majority and just avoiding a final shock on a tough evening when the last vote of the count was declared, deputy leader Deborah Arnold holding on to Corringham and Fobbing by ten votes from independent candidate John Fox.

Had he won, and fellow non-aligned candidate Craig Austin grabbed three dozen more votes in an earlier result, there would have been an independent cohort of six councillors. Still not enough to deprive the Tories of overall control but they would have been on an uncomfortable knife edge.

However, overall it was a step backwards for the independent movement, with just one new candidate winning a seat and incumbents Chris Baker and Jennifer Smith losing their's to Labour. Gary Byrne (Homesteads) and Fraser Massey (East Tilbury) retained their seats.

The make up of the council is now 26 Conservatives, 19 Labour members, one Independent Group member and three non-aligned independents.

The contrast in fortunes between the two main parties was encapsulated when Tory leader Mark Coxshall lost his Chafford and North Stifford seat to Labour's Vikki Hartson.

The councillor who had stepped into the hot seat when the council's financial plight led to the resignation of Cllr Rob Gledhill in September last year, had pledged to lead from the front and put right the wrongs of his party and the council - but he paid the ultimate political price for being seen as the focal point for his party's failure.

There were scenes of real jubilation among Labour supporters who were literally dancing with joy when the result was announced. To his credit, Mr Coxshall, who had been in sombre mood from the start of the count as it began to dawn that his group were in big trouble, put on a brave face and smiled through the mockery.

The likelihood of a Tory rout looked a possiblity right from the off as the ballot boxes were opened and the sorting of votes began. Onlookers could see that votes for the candidates with blue rosettes were less than their supporters might have expected.

That rout never quite materialised but at one point it seemed there was a real possibility that the Tories might lose all seven seats they were defending, plus not win back Aveley &Uplands which was technically in the hands of the 'non-aligned' after retiring councillor Colin Churchman quit the Tories with just a couple of months of his tenure to go.

The first couple of results did set the scene for what group leader Cllr John Kent described as the best night for his party in years.

The first result of the evening saw Labour's Daniel Chukwu comfortably hold Chadwell St Mary.

Daniel Chukwu is congratulated by returning officer Ian Wake and Tory Sophie Corcoran.

He said: "I would like to thank Chadwell residents for having faith in me. We are not going to let them down."

And there was another big Labour win in the next vote declared - Grays Riverside where Val Morris-Cook made a return to the council benches after several years by romping home with a majority of 805.

Val Morris-Cook signs back into the council.

Third up to the podium to celebrate a ward win was non-aligned independent Cllr Massey, who was streets ahead of the opposition as he retained his East Tilbury seat with a majority of 735, just four less than when he won the seat for the first time four years ago.

The first inkling that it might be a special night for Labour came with the declaration of the West Thurrock and South Stifford ward.

It has traditionally been a Labour stronghold but a crack in that appeared when Labour jettisoned Cllr Qaisar Abbas in the months before last year's election only to see him join the Tories and retain the seat. This time longstanding Labour councillor Victoria Holloway had stood down so it was a newcomer, Labour's Aaron Green up against a former Mayor and experienced Tory candidate Tunde Ojetola.

Cllr Aaron Green.

The Conservatives had high hopes of pinching the seat but it was not to be as Labour held it by a thumping 333 majority.

And thumping majority could certainly describe the success of Labour's Cllr Cathy Kent in the Grays Thurrock ward.

Cllr Cathy Kent.

The now almost veteran councillor and former mayor polled a massive 1,151 votes, finishing well in front of her nearest rival, Tory Elizabeth Alo who got 343.

There was a close three way fight in Stanford West where independent candidate Neil Speight (in video below) topped the poll, ahead of Labour's Phil Smith. Incumbent Tory Shane Hebb was third. It was the only independent gain on the night.

The ward saw one of the highest turn-outs across the borough, though still less than one in three voters bothered to make their mark as Cllr Speight came home 111 votes ahead of Mr Smith who in turn was just 21 ahead of the former portfolio for finance, on whose watch the council slipped into catastrophic debt.

The first of three members of the Independent Group, the remnant of an alliance that came close to running the council just a few years ago, was next up to hear the verdict and Jennifer Smith became a victim of the Labour rise with Mark Hooper taking the Stifford Clays ward seat ahead of the Conservatives' Gavin Holland. Mrs Smith was a somewhat distant third.

Newly elected Mark Hooper.

There was a much anticipated outcome of the battle to win the Aveley and Uplands seat vacated by bench-hopping ex-Tory Colin Churchman.

Labour had high hopes of claiming it but in the end their candidate Cathy Sisterson, a prominent local campaigner, was beaten by Tory Jacqui Maney by 94 votes.

Contrasting fortunes as the Aveley and Belhus ward result is announced by returning officer Ian Wake.

Mrs Maney will join her husband and cabinet member Ben Maney in the Conservative ranks.

Then came the night's most remarkable scenes, the deposing of top Tory Mark Coxshall.

The moment of truth for Mark Coxshall as the vote result is delivered and winner Vikki Hartsean can barely restrain her joy.

He polled 639 votes but was convincingly beaten by Labour's Vikki Hartsean who secured a majority of 102. The presence of Reform Party candidate Sue Truman, who mopped up 129 votes might have been the difference.

Cllr Tom Kelly turns to commiserate with Enayet Sarwar after a hard fought campaign.

The Conservatives then survived a close contest in the Little Thurrock Rectory ward where a strong challenge had been expected from former councillor and independent Russell Cherry but it materialised instead from Labour's Enayet Sarwar who galvanised local residents and came within 30 votes of overhauling long time Tory councillor Tom Kelly. Mr Cherry trailed in 248 votes behind the winner.

There was a change of councillor in Belhus though.

Independent Group member Chris Baker found himself deposed and in third place, well behind another big Labour winner Mark Hurrell.

Winner at last: Mark Hurrell, left, as the result is declared for Belhus.

Cllr Hurrell, who has contested several wards unsuccessfully previously, finally found himself a winner as he finished ahead of Conservative former councillor Abbie Akinbohun.

Mr Baker had previously been a UKIP member when that party was in its heyday and a remnant of Nigel Farage's anti-European force of nature was UKIP member Michael Keal but he polled just 79 votes.

One area where Labour were optimistic they might take a Conservative scalp was in Ockendon but incumbent councillor Andrew Jefferies thwarted that aim.

The man who has held the poison chalice of the portfolio holder for environment and found himself at the forefront of the controversial state of the borough's waste bin collection service, still managed to get the evening's second largest tally of votes.

Cllr Andrew Jefferies.

His 1,014 ballot papers of support was enough to beat Labour's Gary Watson by 175 votes.

Mr Watson had been trying to join his wife on Labour's benches, while third-placed Independent group candidate Ross Byrne trailed in well behind on third and missed out on the opportunity to join his dad in the chamber.

Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park ward councillor Allen Mayes had spoken publicly of his doubts about being able to hold onto his seat and that proved prophetic.

The man who infamously pledged in public that he would never switch sides without resigning and calling a by-election – only to do just that when he quit the Independent Group for the Tories – found himself the victim of karma and the Labour revival.

Also thrown into the mix was strong non-aligned independent candidate Craig Austin and the long odds that Mr Allen gave himself proved justified as he trailed a poor third.

Mr Austin finished just 35 votes behind Cici Manwa, who became the council's youngest member.

And in her speech after the vote outcome was revealed she paid an emotional tribute to her family and grandmother, who has died in the weeks leading up to the election.

The final Independent Group member to step up for the returning officer's verdict was its leader, Homesteads ward councillor Gary Byrne.

Never far from controversy, the outspoken councillor has negotiated some tricky situations through his years in office and now finds himself on his own after losing colleagues Jennifer Smith and Chris Baker. Whether he keeps the 'Independent Group' tag remains to be seen.

Gary Byrne contemplates life on his own after winning Homesteads convincingly.

He can reflect though on a strong election performance, polling 942 votes to outstrip the Tories' Shamim Miah who was second with 603 votes.

Labour's Tony Benson got a creditable 544 and Reform UK's Bill Poskitt trailed in a distant last - though 124 votes will be some reward for his efforts.

During the course of his time on the council, Cllr Byrne has frequently clashed with his former colleague Shane Ralph, another of those who switched allegiance.

However, that clash is no more - at least as competing councillors - as Mr Ralph was dumped by the Stanford East and Corringham Town electorate.

Many onlookers expected that another former Independent Group member Roy Jones might win his way back onto the council benches, standing as a non-aligned candidate but he found himself overtaken by another Labour resurgance.

John Cecil swept into office by 99 votes in front of his Tory rival's 568. Mr Jones ended up nine votes back in third place.

That took the evening and early morning count to its last dramatic moment - which came after a recount.

Returning officer Ian Wake delivers the result - a close call for senior Tory Deborah Arnold.

Cllr Deborah Arnold managed to hold on from the Independent Group challenge of John Fox - but only by ten votes.

At the conclusion of the evening Labour's group leader Cllr John Kent delivered his verdict on the outcome of the election.

And Conservative borough MP Jackie Doyle-Price, partner of deposed leader Mark Coxshall reflected on a tough evening.

Speaking to the BBC's Simon Dedman she said: "We've had very financially challenging circumstances here in Thurrock that crystallised on our watch, so naturally the electorate have given us a beating.

"I have to say that the problem has been a long time coming and frankly extends way beyond us but thems the breaks.

"We've changed the leadership, we've got rid of the senior management and started doing the things to get us back on track.

"But the electorate are not impressed and we have to recognise that we don't have a mandate to run Thurrock any more.

"We have to take a message from the electorate today, they clearly don't want the Conservatives to run the council."

Nevertheless, they still have the majority and the responsibility of leadership and will have to sort out a new leadership before the first full council meeting at the end of the month.

Ward-by-ward

Aveley and Uplands

Jacqui Maney (Conservative) 928

Cathy Sisterson (Labour) 834

Majority 94

Belhus

Abbie Akinbohun (Conservative) 433

Chris Baker* (Thurrock Indpendents) 299

Mark Hurrell (Labour) 765

Michael Keal (UKIP) 79

Majority 332

Chadwell St Mary

Daniel Chukwu* (Labour) 1256

Sophie Corcoran (Conservative) 462

Majority 794

Turnout 23.79

Chafford & North Stifford

Mark Coxshall* (Conservative) 639

Vikki Hartstean (Labour) 741

Sue Truman (Reform UK) 129

Majority 102

Turnout 27.13%

Corringham & Fobbing

Ngozi Alike (Labour) 324

Deborah Arnold* (Conservative) 555

John Fox (Thurrock Independents) 545

Majority 10

Turnout 32.50%

East Tilbury

Alastair Craft (Labour) 245

Fraser Massey* (Independent) 980

Daryle Palmer (Conservative) 83

Majority 735

Turnout 25.22%

Grays Riverside

Emily Folorunsho (Conservative) 386

Valarie Morris-Cook (Labour) 1191

Majority 805

Turnout 19.38

Grays Thurrock

Elizabeth Alo (Conservative) 343

Rev Roy Grayson (Reform UK) 183

Catherine Kent* (Labour) 1151

Majority 808

Turnout 25.45%

Little Thurrock Rectory

Russell Cherry (Thurrock Independents) 332

Tom Kelly* (Conservative) 580

Enayet Hussain (Labour) 550

Majority 30

Turnout 32.32%

Ockendon

Ross Byrne (Thurrock Independents) 248

Andrew Jefferies* (Conservative) 1,014

Gary Watson (Labour) 839

Majority 175

Turnout 25.32%

Stanford East & Corringham Town

John Cecil (Labour) 667

Roy Jones (Independent) 559

Shane Ralph* (Conservative) 568

Majority 99

Turnout 28.59%

Stanford-le-Hope West

Shane Hebb* (Conservative) 511

Phillip Smith (Labour) 532

Neil Speight (Independent) 643

Majority 111

Turnout 30.54%

Stifford Clays

Jack Beauchamp-Stansfield (Green Party) 64

Gavin Holland (Conservative) 476

Mark Hooper (Labour) 610

Jennifer Smith* (Thurrock Independents) 340

Majority 134

Turnout 29.92%

The Homesteads

Tony Benson (Labour) 544

Gary Byrne* (Independent Group) 942

Shamim Miah (Conservative) 603

Bill Poskitt (Reform UK) 124

Majority 339

Turnout 34.96%

Tilbury Riverside & Thurrock Park

Craig Austin (Independent) 451

Cici Manwa (Labour) 486

Allen Mayes* (Conservative) 144

Majority 35

Turnout 22.44%

West Thurrock & South Stifford

Aaron Green (Labour) 1098

Tunde Ojetola (Conservative) 765

Majority 333

Turnout 21.24%

*Incumbent councillor.

     

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