Rugby set to go to the polls as parties battle for control of council

Rugby Borough Council is no longer under Conservative control for the first time in 20 years
The parties will be battling for control of Rugby Borough Council -Credit:Google Maps

There is a lot at stake when voters head to the ballot box on Thursday (May 2) for Rugby Borough Council’s elections. As usual, a third of the borough’s seats will be up for grabs with each of the winners taking their place in the corridors of power at Evreux Way.

The Conservatives currently run the council but as the largest party under no overall control.

Three out of six members of the current cabinet – the panel of Tory councillors in charge of major service areas – are up for election this time, while a fourth, the long-serving Councillor Carolyn Robbins (Coton & Boughton), the borough’s portfolio holder for finance, performance, legal and governance, is not standing this time.

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How it works in Rugby

Each of the borough’s 14 wards are represented by three councillors with one seat elected each May, except for the years when Warwickshire County Council holds its elections.

The seats up for grabs this time were elected in 2021, a year later than planned and unusually at the same time as the county elections, after the 2020 ballots were delayed due to the Covid pandemic.

The numbers

To command a majority at Town Hall, a party needs to have more than half of the 42 seats – the magic number to reach is 22.

As things stand, the Conservatives hold 20, Labour has 12 and the Liberal Democrats are on 10 having taken a seat from the Tories in a by-election for two seats in Dunsmore in December 2023.

The Conservatives are defending nine seats this time, Labour two and the Lib Dems three, meaning the Tories have more to lose than gain in this part of the cycle.

Behind that is the base of seats not being contested, established through the results from the past two years.

The Conservatives enter this election with 11 seats, Labour 10 and the Liberal Democrats seven, meaning it would take a landslide for either of the biggest two parties to command a majority – it is impossible for the Lib Dems to reach halfway as they are not standing in every seat in 2024.

The Tories would get back to leading with a majority if they could add two seats but doing that on top of defending nine out of 14 would be no mean feat.

It would take five gains from the Tories for the balance of power – albeit shared power – to swing Labour’s way but even then, compromise and collaborative working would still be necessary to get decisions through.

Recent history

The Conservatives gained two to reach 25 when these seats were contested in 2021 but they have lost five of those since.

Four of those have gone to Labour, two in each of the 2022 and 2023 elections, and they all came from the same two wards – Admirals & Cawston and Coton & Boughton.

Defeat in Coton & Boughton saw then-leader Seb Lowe lose his seat in 2023 with deputy Councillor Derek Poole (Wolston & the Lawfords) stepping up to the top job.

The 20 that the Tories currently hold is the party’s lowest tally since 2003.

Ones to watch

Those two wards that have gone from blue to red in recent years will be particularly interesting.

The borough’s portfolio holder for operations and traded services Councillor Carolyn Watson-Merret (Con, Admirals & Cawston) faces a five-way fight this time with Labour’s Amanda Henderson, Lee Chase of the Lib Dems, Jennifer Farley from the Green Party and Alan James of Reform UK.

Dapo Awotunde stands for the Tories instead of Cllr Robbins in Coton & Boughton and faces Labour’s Claire Edwards, Lib Dem Edward Blackburn, Christopher Mawby of the Green Party and Reform’s Jamie Pullin.

Current portfolio holder for leisure and wellbeing Councillor Adam Daly (Con, Hillmorton) goes up against Jenny Offordile (Labour), Julie Douglas (Lib Dem) and Daruisz Kowalczuk (Green), while portfolio holder for communities, homes, digital and communications Councillor Tim Willis (Conservative) takes on Adam Holst (Labour), Victoria Saxby-Edwards (Lib Dem), Phil Hemsley (Green) and John Birch (Reform) in Wolston & the Lawfords.

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