Photograph: Paul Marriott/Shutterstock

Written by Ricky Thake

Despite Conservative unpopularity nationwide, it’s inevitable that some seats across the UK will still return Conservative MPs in the next General Election in regional England, spanning as far East as Norfolk, to as South as Surrey and Hampshire.

Surrey is very much considered the ‘blue wall’. Many Conservative majorities there are upwards of 15,000 and they represent every one of the 11 seats in the county. Prominent Conservatives represent them, including Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove. Despite growing unpopularity, there will surely be Conservative MPs representing this county following the General Election, even if majorities will be decreased.

But is this historic voting trend for the Conservatives in the county reflected in local government politics?

Seemingly not.

Following the May 2023 local election, Reigate & Banstead was the only local authority in Surrey with a Conservative majority. In March 2024, a Conservative councillor defected to be an Independent, leaving the Conservatives with no majority on any council in their historic ‘blue wall’. The Liberal Democrats control Guildford and Surrey Heath and increased their majorities in Woking and Mole Valley. Other councils are run by residents’ parties or coalitions, whilst Runnymede is technically led by Conservatives but in a minority administration, having to bargain with other parties to pass policy.

What’s more striking is how quick the fall has been. As recently as 2015, the Conservatives had majorities on 10 of the 11 councils in Surrey and under a decade later they have conceded every single one.

Why is this happening?

Following the local elections in May 2023, polling of Surrey voters stated that they felt Rishi Sunak was ‘out of his depth’ and they disagreed with Conservatives using ‘culture wars’ to stoke division to win votes. Surrey voters cared more about the cost-of-living crisis than the ‘war on wokeness’ and thought the Government had their priorities wrong. It is possible the Government took Surrey votes for granted and expected them to continue to support them indefinitely. While, so far, the impact of this has only been felt at a local government level, this will likely cause a change in strategy from the Conservatives in the General Election to regain their support as many now will look elsewhere to support politically.

Local authorities’ political control (top) versus constituency representation (bottom)

Image credit: Ricky Thake

What role does planning play?

Local authorities in Surrey have heavily politicised planning and development. Epsom and Ewell’s draft local plan was paused in March 2023 due to residents’ protests about too much greenbelt land being released for development (it has since resumed). 26 borough councillors represent a Residents’ Association, a strong majority of the 35 councillors, some of which were accused of proposing a ‘NIMBY’s Charter’ which placed severe constraints on development in the borough.

Despite the charter being rejected by councillors, it demonstrates how passionate Surrey councillors, and voters, feel about development on greenbelt. If the Conservatives campaign on this issue, they will politicise it further and win votes and protect their historic ‘blue wall’.

How will this translate into the General Election?

Many Conservative MPs in Surrey will be anxious about losing their seat. They may not hesitate to turn developments in their constituencies into political footballs to win votes.

Developers will have to be weary of this and ensure the benefits of schemes outweigh any potential harm caused to the greenbelt in order to win support of officers and planning committee members.

However, as MPs of different parties will likely be voted in across the county in the next General Election, these views of Surrey MPs may change course.

With all this, it is unsurprising that Surrey Conservatives will likely be feeling the blues.

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