Key election battle in Wirksworth may be settled by a handful of votes

The election contest over a Derbyshire town may well come down to a handful of votes v.1

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 10:19 am
File photo dated 6/5/201 of a voter placing a ballot paper in the ballot box. Council leaders are demanding Scotland's political parties commit to a "menu for change" in the run up to May's Holyrood election - insisting this must include "fair funding" for local government. Issue date: Monday February 22, 2021.

The election contest in a Derbyshire town may well come down to a handful of votes.

Wirksworth in the Derbyshire Dales is at the centre of a five-candidate fight over one of the county’s key towns.

In the last county council election, in 2017, the current incumbent, Labour’s Cllr Irene Ratcliffe, a stalwart of Derbyshire politics for more than 25 years, retained the seat by just 28 votes.

Cllr Ratcliffe is now stepping out of politics after nearly three decades, having also stepped down from the district council in 2019.

This leaves the seat free for a new holder and has seen each major party – the Conservatives, Green Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – field a candidate, along with an independent.

The five candidates for the Wirksworth seat live in Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock.

The order in which candidates have been referred to in this article is the order in which they are listed on ballot papers – alphabetically by surname.

The independent candidate standing in Wirksworth is Cllr Richard Bright, a former Conservative and current district councillor for the Hulland ward who recently left the party in undisclosed circumstances.

He contested the Wirksworth seat in 2017, as a Conservative, losing by the closest of margins. He also previously contested the police and crime commissioner role in 2017, also for the Tories, losing by just over 1,600 votes.

Cllr Bright, an Ashbourne resident, will be facing off in the county council contest for Wirksworth against Dermot Murphy, a former Conservative party colleague, who lost his district council seat in 2019.

Cllr Paul Cruise, who is currently a Matlock district councillor, is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Wirksworth.

He said: “The Wirksworth Division needs fresh thinking that takes us away from the ‘Blue’ v ‘Red’ battles that have hampered our local and national politics.

“In order to help the recovery of our county following the Covid pandemic I will press for action from the council on climate change and loss of biodiversity; I will champion local independent shops; will work hard to seek solutions to air quality and road safety concerns, and importantly push hard to make schools, social care and mental health a priority.

“My aim is for a fairer, greener and more caring Derbyshire.

“This will be a very open campaign with lots of new candidates and a fragmented Tory offer to the electorate.”

Diane Fletcher, Labour and Co-operative candidate for Wirksworth and a National Education Union official, from Matlock, said: “My priorities as a county councillor will be environmental protection, opportunities for young people, social care, high quality education for all, affordable housing and safer roads.

“Community groups such as Wilder Wirksworth, the Skatepark Project and the ‘20’s Plenty’ campaign are raising important local issues.

“I will use my position on the county council to support their work and help bring successful results.”

Outgoing Labour Cllr Ratcliffe said: “I shall be retiring after many years as your elected representative but know that I am handing over to a very capable and dedicated successor.

“Diane will bring energy, skills and experience to this role and is certainly worthy of your vote.”

Dermot Murphy, Conservative candidate for Wirksworth, previously a district councillor for Ashbourne, said: “Irene Ratcliffe has chosen to stand down at this election and I would like to go on record thanking her for her years of service.

“I am passionate about making sure that everything is done to make Wirksworth the best it can be.

“I am sure all political party candidates stand because they want to see their area improve, but the difference between me and other candidates at this election is that the Conservatives have a fully-costed, common-sense action plan to deliver on our promises.

“My plan for Wirksworth offers solutions to many of the common issues, such as parking, speeding, digital connectivity, and an action plan to make our area greener, including planting one million more trees in Derbyshire.

“With only a handful of votes between the Conservatives and Labour last time, with local support and a lot of hard work Conservatives have a real chance of winning.”

John Ward, Green Party candidate for Wirksworth, who lives in Bakewell, said: “I have no interest in historic party politics or the dynamics between the current right wing candidates.

“My focus is on the climate emergency, ecological crisis and social justice.

“We must take immediate and significant action on these three key issues, everything else is just fiddling while Rome burns.”

Cllr Richard Bright, independent candidate, did not wish to contribute to this article.