Local elections 2014: ‘Anyone of any party can stand against me, they just haven’t’

Jamie Merrill visits the uncontested Tory ward of Otmoor, Oxfordshire, to see if it is a ‘blight on democracy’

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Indy Politics

Conservative district councillor Timothy Hallchurch wasn’t nervous on election day. He didn’t press the flesh or kiss any babies.

That’s because the former soldier, every inch the country gentlemen in red trousers and a blazer, didn’t have any challengers in his ultra-safe ward of Otmoor in Oxfordshire.

The long-time local politician was one of a handful of councillors nationwide confirmed in their posts without the bother of an election.

Outside his local polling station in the village of Shipton-on-Cherwell, where he turned out to vote in the European elections, he didn’t seem concerned about his lack of opposition.

“Anybody else of any party can stand against me. They just haven’t,” he told The Independent. “I don’t necessarily like it, but what can I do? Not stand? That would be undemocratic and defeatist in itself.”

That hasn’t stopped the Electoral Reform Society calling elections of unopposed councillors, such as Mr Hallchurch, a “blight on democracy” this week. With seven wards uncontested yesterday – including Page Moss and Halewood West in Merseyside, where Labour are dominant – 38,000 people were effectively disenfranchised.

Mr Hallchurch freely admits he hasn’t had a challenger at district level “in quite some time”. “As far as I know the local Labour chap is standing as a paper candidate elsewhere in the county, and the potential Liberal candidate is, I expect, getting on a bit.”

The local Labour Party blamed its failure to run a candidate on a “mix-up”, insisting that they are gaining in strength in Oxfordshire, while the Greens, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats either could not find a candidate or decided not to field one.

Mr Hallchurch said there was a major problem in the lack of “good-calibre people coming forward to be councillors”, adding: “It is a very difficult for somebody without a business background and some new councillors are just out of their depth.”

Down pretty country lanes at nearby Islip, few of Mr Hallchurch’s constituents seemed to even know he was standing unopposed. They were more concerned with the latest rumour that the local Conservative MP in Henley, who boasts a more-than-healthy 16,588 majority, might be stepping down to make way for former local MP and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

At the village’s community shop Gwyn Scott admitted it “was a little strange” that Mr Hallchurch “is standing unopposed”, before adding that she’d have voted for him anyway, after he helped bring faster broadband to the area.

But that’s not a view shared by Labour supporter Adam Humphrey, 32, out walking his dog Foster by the polling station. He said: “It’s quite poor that none of the other parties put anyone forward. Even though they would have lost as this area is True Blue, they should have at least tried.”

He added: “Yes, this is a very rich village and I’m comfortable enough myself, but we’re not all millionaires like many of the people who live here. We shouldn’t just have government for that minority.”

Few other voters were happy to speak to The Independent. But one elderly village stalwart said she just voted Conservative by tradition. The country had gone “downhill since Churchill and Thatcher”, she added.