The “deals” set to push the Conservatives out of power in West Oxfordshire have been branded as “wrong” by current leader Michele Mead.
The Tories lost seven of the 11 seats they were defending in Thursday’s district elections leaving them with 20 – more than any other party but five short of a majority.
The Liberal Democrats won five seats, increasing their share to 15 with Labour and the Green Party adding one each to reach nine and two, respectively.
Liberal Democrat leader Andy Graham confirmed his party would seek to form a three-way alliance similar to the one seen at Oxfordshire County Council to take power. The trio would have 26 seats out of 49 with a former Labour member among three independent councillors.
Councillor Mead acknowledged national politics had played a part in the Conservatives losing control of a council they had held a majority in since 2000, saying it was heard about “every time we went out” to canvass, but argued that parties not putting forward candidates for certain seats in order to harness the power of the protest vote was not democratic.
“Clearly I am not happy but I believe a lot of people voted in protest and it is a great shame the opposition did deals, not putting up candidates in every seat,” she said.
“National politics has not helped and the Liberal Democrats and the Greens did deals, 100 per cent. We saw the letters to residents saying so.
“It is wrong. It does not necessarily give the voter the opportunity to choose the party they want.”
Councillor Mead conceded the Conservatives would now likely find themselves in opposition but added: “That is a good place to be because we can fight back from there.
“We will continue to work hard for our residents, that is what we have always done and my main priority has always been the health and wellbeing of our people. I will challenge the other side constantly on that.”
She also felt her party could have done nothing more to alter the outcome.
“I think it was all about circumstances that were out of our control,” she said.
“My whole team worked tirelessly for this election, day and night for months and months and I am proud of every single one of them.”
Asked whether the furore over prime minister Boris Johnson had been the main driver of the defeat, Cllr Mead replied: “It is people’s perspective. They hear one thing when they have not looked at the bigger picture.
“We have had Brexit, we have had Covid and the vaccine, our leader was the first to go to Ukraine but people don’t look at that, they look at one thing and take issue with it. I think that is reflected here.
“I support him, I think he is a good leader, it is one of those things. He has apologised and that’s that.”
Asked whether she had faith that the Tories could bounce back in West Oxfordshire with Mr Johnson still in Downing Street, Cllr Mead replied: “Absolutely, I am very confident we can do that.”