WITH less than 24 hours to go before polling stations across the town open their doors to voters, The Observer has spoken to the leaders of the political groups in Malvern to get their thoughts ahead of the district council election.
THOUSANDS will be heading to the polls tomorrow (Thursday) to make a decision which could change the balance of power at Malvern Hills District Council.
The Conservative Party has been making the key decisions at the Council House since 2007, holding 21 of the 38 seats.
But Julian Roskams, leader of the Democratic Group, which contains members of the Green Party, Independent and UKIP, believes the current administration could come to an end.
With ten candidates on the council, the group, formed in 2013, seems unlikely to claim enough seats to threaten the Tories’ grip.
But Mr Roskams said it was not ‘out of the question’ his group could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which has seven candidates looking to retain their seats, in a bid to oust the Conservative Party.
“As the Democratic Group, we are not going to gain more seats than the Tories,” he said. “But with the Lib Dems we do expect to have the majority.
“We talk all the time, we compare notes and we have got a very common understanding on how the council should be run.
“There are no differences between us so we would have no trouble working together.
“In theory two switching from the Tories would split the council in half, so three more would give us the majority.
“Our current calculations are that between the Democratic Group and the Lib Dems I expect us to make it 24-14, so between us I think we would get a majority.”
The Mayor of Malvern said he would also consider working with the Labour Party if they managed to get one of their nine hopefuls elected.
The Independents form a large part of the Democratic Group and having fielded 13 candidates this year, Mr Roskams said they had put together a strong case to get more on the council.
“In past elections an Independent candidate in one place would mean something completely different to an Independent in another,” he added.
“Now they have come together under the guise of the Democratic Group they are all saying the same thing and I think that’s been a really powerful message.”
Among the Independents standing is Sarah Rouse who is expected to provide stiff competition for David Hughes, the leader of the district council, in Alfrick and Lusley.
Mr Hughes, who has been the area’s ward councillor since 2007, said he was hopeful of holding onto his seat and that he was also ‘optimistic’ at seeing his party strengthen their position, admitting he would be disappointed if they did not gain a further four seats.
“The council is in a very strong financial state now and I think people appreciated that,” he said.
“Having been out canvassing I get a fairly positive feeling from people. If it was a negative feeling and people were critical at this stage I would be far more concerned.”
Due to the interest in the general election, Mr Hughes said he was confident of a higher turnout, which he believed could make a huge difference to the outcome.
“Normally in a local Government election you would be pleased if you get 45 per cent turnout,” he added.
“But I think the turnout for a general election is more likely to bring 70 per cent, so who knows what that extra 20 per cent is going to do and how that will actually affect the overall outcome. It is going to very interesting.”
According to opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats are expected to struggle in the general election, however, Tom Wells, leader of the group in Malvern, said he remained ‘upbeat’ as he believed the town would buck the national trend.
“What we are finding on the doorstep is that some residents are telling us that they are disappointed the Liberal Democrats entered a coalition with the Conservatives,” he said.
“However, we are also hearing that local people are voting for Liberal Democrat local councillors because they know them and they are very appreciative of the work they have done locally.
“People are quite sophisticated now, so they are able to differentiate between the national situation and the local situation and I think the same is true for the Conservative.
“I think quite a lot of people may well be voting for Harriett Baldwin on Thursday, but I also think many of them will not be supporting the local council candidates.”
Within Malvern, the Lib Dems currently have three councillors in Pickersleigh and two in Dyson Perrins and Mr Wells backed his party’s hopefuls to do well in Priory, Chase and Link.
“We have two very strong candidates in Priory Ward – Graham Myatt and William Chaundy who is a young guy with a physical disability, but his mind is as sharp as a knife and he is really passionate about Malvern,” he said.
“Also in Malvern Link, we have a chap who has lived in Malvern for more 40 years called Kwai Hung Chan from China.
“I am really excited about that as I think he would be the first ethnic minority councillor to represent Malvern.”
Although refusing to say whether he would join forces with the Democratic Group, Mr Wells said he would be interested in working with ‘genuine Independent’ councillors.
“We have taken a deliberate decision not to contest a ward where we know there are strong local independent candidates,” he added.
“There has been no deal or pact, but where we recognise there is a good local independent candidate we believe the council benefits from such people who don’t have to follow any party whip.
“We want the council to look different and sound different and be more representative for the people of Malvern.”