"Labour's representation on the council has now been reduced to one out of 81"
11 April 2017 12:00 AM

Lone Ranger: Surrey's solitary Labour councillor takes on 81 opponents

11 April 2017

By Richard Heller

The English county of Surrey has never been a hotbed of socialism, but it has now been reduced to just one Labour councillor facing off against 81 political opponents. The decks are stacked against him, but Robert Evans is holding his own in a sea of blue – helping give Jeremy Corbyn his only PMQs victory and masterfully exploiting Conservative anxiety over the return of grammar schools. This is the story of how you fight and win political battles with no support, no organisation and very little local backing.

"You could say that the whipping is not intense," he says, sitting back in the members' lounge. "And I don't have to give myself a disciplinary hearing for anything I say or do."

His current lonely status is the result of decades of chipping away at the Labour vote in the area. He is the last red flag standing.

Surrey's present territory has only once elected a Labour MP. In the high tide of 1945, George Pargiter won Spelthorne. In 1950, when the boundaries changed, he decamped for the safer seat of Southall in west London, where he stayed securely berthed on the backbenches until he went to the House of Lords in 1966.

A more celebrated Surrey Labour figure was James Chuter Ede. During the 1930s he simultaneously represented Epsom on the county council and South Shields, Durham, in Parliament. In those happy times MPs were expected to visit their constituencies only once or twice a year. They were often treated as royalty, greeted with a red carpet on the railway platform by the local stationmaster.

During the war Chuter Ede was Rab Butler’s number two and a key architect of his great Education Act of 1944. He then served throughout the postwar Attlee administrations as a reforming home secretary, abolishing whipping and penal servitude for prisoners.

In 1965 Surrey lost five boroughs to the new Greater London Council and became even less promising Labour territory. The Liberals grabbed occasional seats from the Tories and took over from Labour as the main opposition party. Even in the Blair landslide of 1997, Surrey seats resisted Labour. It took a long time on that election night for any Tory seats to appear on the board but the first few came from Surrey. When the second was declared Cecil Parkinson on election night television said: "I'm glad we've got two, we can have a leadership contest now."

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