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Local Elections: 24 seats uncontested across Kent

At least 24 candidates for the upcoming local elections in Kent are set to win their seats without a fight.

Ashford Borough Council ranks sixth in England for the highest amount of councillors being elected without any voting taking place, according to the Electoral Reform Society.

Councillors in six wards are running unopposed at the elections on May 2.

24 councillors are guaranteed a win
24 councillors are guaranteed a win

This means the Conservatives already have a six seat head start against their opponents.

Among the "fortunate" candidates are two county councillors, Clair Bell and Paul Bartlett, and four current borough councillors.

Cllr Bell said: "I'm supporting my colleagues as much as I can, as we all are, but I do have my KCC duties as well.

"It's a team effort and I'm sure all parties are working to get as many members at the council as possible but we have a head start."

Cllr Bell is unsure why she has no opponents at the upcoming election but added "it's up to them to put someone up themselves".

Claire Bell - Ashford councillor (8801852)
Claire Bell - Ashford councillor (8801852)

She added the boundary changes could have been a factor following the creation of four new wards.

However, the agent for the Ashford Labour group, Brendan Chilton, said timing was more of an issue.

He said: "We had planned to have a full slate of candidates but time was not on our side.

“Ideally I would like people to have the most choice as possible but unfortunately we were not the only ones who were unable to put someone forward for these seats."

Mr Chilton added the uncontested wards are in rural areas, which he claims made it harder for prospective candidates to collect 10 nominations from residents.

Despite this, he remains positive about the upcoming elections with 27 Labour members standing for 47 wards.

"We had planned to have a full slate of candidates but time was not on our side...." Brendan Chilton, Ashford Labour

He said: “Thankfully we have a great field of candidates and we are expecting a significant number of gains at this election.

“There seems to be a lot of apathy with Conservative voters at the moment because of Brexit.

“Labour is the only party which can take over the council from the Tories if all our candidates were voted in.”

Another council in Kent hitting the charts for lack of choice is Sevenoaks District, with 11 Conservative councillors guaranteed a seat due to lack of candidates from other parties.

On top of that, five Conservative councillors are running completely unopposed and only one of the five uncontested seats will be filled by a new face.

Brendan Chilton
Brendan Chilton

Deputy chair of the Young Conservatives, James Osborne-Jackson, will be joining Sevenoaks District Council for the first time.

Despite not running in this year's election, Labour's only councillor in Sevenoaks Michael Hogg remains positive about his party's chances.

He said: “We have more Labour candidates than ever before running for the district council.

“We have candidates for Sevenoaks town centre, which we never have done before.

“We haven’t got enough volunteers to fight for all wards especially since some of them are almost non-starters as they are massively Conservative.”

There are two Conservatives candidates in the Tonbridge and Malling borough, which have secured a seat without an election.

“I am helping other councillors out even more than I would have because I feel a sense of duty to go out and campaign..." Cllr Piers Montague

Cllr Piers Montague (Con), who is standing in county councillor Matthew Balfour's former seat, said: “It’s not uncommon for this to happen but it’s not what I expected.

“It is convenient to not have to knock on doors in my ward and I can help my colleagues by wearing out my leather soles in their wards instead.

“I am helping them out even more than I would have because I feel a sense of duty to go out and campaign.

“I’m sure the opponents would rather have an election and the residents to have a choice but we can’t make them stand, it’s something they have to do themselves.”

Parish chairman for Larkfield, David Thornefield (Lib Dem), says few people volunteer themselves to stand for election and they have to be persuaded.

Piers Montague
Piers Montague

He said: “We find it difficult to find anyone willing or suitable to stand, particularly in rural areas.

“I think all of the parties find it hard to find candidates. We don’t often get people coming forward but we have to approach potential candidates ourselves.”

He explained his group often reach out to members of the Liberal Democrats or activists before Christmas so they have enough time to campaign for the seats.

Mr Thornefield added this problem is far more prevalent in parish and town councils where there are empty seats.

He said: “There are also a lot of parishes struggling to fill the vacancies as there are not enough volunteers.

Voters will take to the polls in two weeks time
Voters will take to the polls in two weeks time

“It is such a shame because parish councils are the bedrock of local government.”

He added there is still a chance to be co-opted into the parish council if people write to the parish clerks.

Chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Darren Hughes, said there are "large part of England at risk of becoming 'democracy deserts'".

He said: “Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy.

"Yet hundreds of thousands of people are being denied the chance to exercise their most basic democratic right and have their say on who represents them.

“It is such a shame because parish councils are the bedrock of local government...” David Thornefield (Lib Dem)

“For these potential voters, democracy has been cancelled, and they are going totally unheard.

“Large parts of England are at risk of becoming ‘democracy deserts’.

"The result is councillors who have no proper mandate from the people they serve.

"This lack of democratic competition is bad for scrutiny, bad for local services and bad for democracy."

His team are now calling for a change to the electoral system as he claims first-past-the-post is "broken" but a proportional system could "open up our politics at last".

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