Chelmsford Tories pay heavy price

CONGRATULATIONS and commiserations were in equal supply for Chelmsford Borough Council's Conservative leader as the local election results were declared.

CONGRATULATIONS and commiserations were in equal supply for Chelmsford Borough Council's Conservative leader as the local election results were declared.

For although under his tactical guidance Paul Hutchinson saw the Conservative group sweep into power, making extraordinary gains, he lost his seat on the council.

The Conservatives swept aside the ruling Liberal Democrat-Independent alliance, gaining 13 seats to secure a comfortable 35 seats in the 57-seat council chamber.

All three Independents lost their seats, Labour's presence was decimated to just two members – the party previously had five seats – and the Lib Dems lost six, leaving the group with 20.

But although 52-year-old Mr Hutchinson was buoyed by his party's extraordinary performance, he was brought crashing back down to earth by the loss of his seat.

As the newly-elected Conservative councillors woke up yesterday, relishing their upcoming four years of power, Mr Hutchinson found himself without group leadership, without portfolio and without membership of the council.

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"I'm just an ordinary guy again now. I am still getting over the fact that having taken the group to an overwhelming victory, that's it for me," he said.

Mr Hutchinson added his Trinity ward – formerly named Cathedral – was traditional a marginal Conservative/Lib Dem seat.

He thought the electors had voted tactically for the Lib Dems after perceiving a collapse in Labour support and did not believe the pressure of managing the election campaign had led to his own seat suffering.

"I tried to apportion my time fairly to my ward. I don't feel I neglected it," said Mr Hutchinson.

He had only realised his own seat was in danger at the count itself, while other Conservatives were delighted to see their own piles of ballot papers beginning to grow above those of competitors.

"I could see as they were counting the votes it wasn't going my way. I was a bit numb to realise I was leaving. I almost thought there must be a mistake, but it was not to be," added Mr Hutchinson.

Simon Burns, the Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, sent congratulations to the jubilant local Tories, describing their success as "spectacular".

But he added: "My only deep disappointment on a night of universal joy and success is that the architect of that victory, councillor Paul Hutchinson, was not re-elected in his highly marginal seat. He will be sorely missed."

New state of power on the council: Conservatives 35 seats (+13), Liberal Democrats 20 seats (-6), Labour 2 seats (-3) and Independents 0 seats (-3).

roddy.ashworth@eadt.co.uk

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