Last week’s local elections were hard for West Berkshire Conservatives. We lost many good Councillors and whilst maintaining control of West Berkshire Council we lost control of Newbury and Thatcham Town Councils. I congratulate all candidates who stood in these elections and all the Councillors who were elected. I will continue to work with all of them regardless of their political party.
It was clear from many conversations on doorsteps across West Berkshire that a general dissatisfaction with Parliament’s seeming inability to secure a Brexit deal meant that many Conservative voters were going to stay at home. Others were going to find parties with whom they could express a protest vote. It is worth noting that some who had voted “leave” and were still pro Brexit told me they were voting Liberal Democrat or Green to “give you lot a message” despite both those parties being against the UK leaving the EU. Whatever the permutations of voting intentions, this was a very clear message of dissatisfaction.
I am fiercely proud of the work done by Conservative Councillors in recent years. West Berkshire Council has been rated as the best Council in the UK for the provision of social care, 95% of our schools are rated “good” or “outstanding” by OFSTED, great work has been done to protect homes from flooding and we are in the top 25% of councils for recycling. This was undoubtedly a factor in the Conservatives still enjoying a majority on the Council, but I accept that national issues also hold sway in local elections.
Since the elections I have received letters and emails saying that these elections mean we must stop Brexit and others saying we must redouble our efforts to deliver Brexit. Some say they want to see a change of Prime Minister and others that I should continue to give my support to allow her to deliver a deal before her already announced departure.
I remain of the view that we must leave the EU in an orderly manner. I have supported the withdrawal agreement and regret that we were not able to leave on 29th March as planned. If we had, we would have been able to spend more time in these elections talking about local issues. I will reflect on the results of these elections and will continue to work with people across Parliament to try to secure a sensible deal that reflects the result of the referendum, but which starts the process of bring our country back together. On this key issue of our time Parliament is no different to the country: it is split down the middle. We need to find degrees of compromise that have hitherto eluded us. I reject those who say Brexit is only Brexit if they say so and that it has to be the most ideologically purist version of Brexit. I also reject those who say we must now stop the process. There is a way forward and Parliament must raise its game to reflect the mood in the country.