Shaftesbury’s youngest councillor knows that he is very lucky to gain a position on the Town Council. Matthew Welch polled the exact same number of votes as another candidate following last Thursday’s election, but there was only one remaining seat available.
The 21-year old says that waiting for the tiebreaker result was a ‘nerve-wracking’ experience he would not wish to repeat.
It was a councillor recruitment banner displayed from the Town Hall balcony that encouraged Matthew Welch to stand for election in the first place. “I saw the big sign outside the Town Council and I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a go’. I came to a few of the meetings and saw what it was about and I thought it would be something that I’d enjoy,” said Matthew.
Some people are motivated to become a councillor because they disagree with policies or because they are championing a cause. Matthew says that there is not one specific issue that encouraged him to stand, but he does want the Town Council to be more visible across Shaftesbury and not just in the town centre.
“One of the main things that I think that needs to be done is involving the whole town, because I feel sometimes the Town Council can just sort of be in this area,” said Matthew, as we chatted in the Town Hall.
He says that young people and older residents can be ‘in the dark’ concerning the Town Council and that means some locals are not engaged with local politics. “I know people who said they would never usually vote in local elections until I spoke to them about it. I think just pushing the fact that we are here and we can help is what I would want to do.”
And as young councillor, Matthew hopes that he can encourage younger residents to take an interest in decision and policy-making. “Hopefully, other people around my age group will see it and think, ‘I could do that as well’ or ‘I could do that better’ and they would want to go for it,” said Matthew.
Politics in a small town can be challenging and it sometimes gets personal. Even so, Matthew says none of his friends or family discouraged him from standing. “My dad said, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ and I said ‘I just want to make a difference in the town I live in’. And he said ‘Okay, fair enough’. He has supported me from then on,” Matthew said.
Matthew works for a Wincombe-based company that manufactures air filters. He doesn’t have a longstanding interest in political affairs. “I’ve only really started getting interested in politics since about four or five months ago, when Brexit started going into a shambles. I suppose I’m a typical young person who doesn’t really pay much attention to what happens in politics in the country,” he said.
“I think a lot of people will understand Brexit and will look into it and see what’s happening. But a lot of people don’t look at county-level politics or town council-level politics. I think pushing that forward is the best thing that you can do, rather than national politics at the moment,” said Matthew.
Matthew stood for election as part of the ‘Proud of Shaftesbury’ grouping of new and former councillors. He hasn’t given much thought to national party politics yet. “I’m not really too sure at the moment, to be honest. I would say I’m a Conservative. I am, at the moment, trying to focus on local politics rather than county or national.”
Whilst most Town councillors do not officially represent the Westminster parties, party affiliation dominates Dorset Council politics and Matthew says he might consider standing for that authority in the future. “It depends how this goes, to be honest. I do think I will really enjoy this.”
And he doesn’t rule out putting himself forward in a parliamentary election as a potential MP in the future. “That would be in ten or fifteen years time, so I really don’t know where I would be in my life at that point. If the opportunity arises, and it gets to that point, I would do it but only under the right circumstances. It’s obviously a huge commitment. It is a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.
Matthew attended the Shaftesbury Town Council election count in Weymouth on Saturday. He exclaimed ‘Oh Crikey’ when I asked him to recall the experience of receiving the same number of votes as fellow Proud of Shaftesbury candidate, Virginia Edwyn-Jones.
“The election count started for Shaftesbury and I was watching the screen as it ticked up,” explained Matthew. “I saw my name go between sixth and seventh. It was very stressful.” Matthew said the position of each candidate was displayed as the votes were counted. Only the top six candidates for Shaftesbury East were elected.
“It got to the last line of votes and I ended up tied in sixth place with Virginia. I couldn’t believe it. I was pacing around not knowing what was going to happen. I was asked to look at rejected ballot papers and whether I accepted or rejected them. I accepted them all. The rest of them were just scribbles or blank pieces of paper. I was told that two names would be put in a ballot box and they would pull one out. It just so happened that my name was pulled out.”
Matthew says that he called Virginia straight afterwards to let her know what happened. “I said thank you for helping out during the campaign and told her I was sorry that it had to be like this’. It was just one of us two and it was a 50:50 chance. It was a very nervous experience for me. I would never want to do that again. I’d rather lose outright than have a tie again,” Matthew said.
When there is a dead heat, it is down to the Returning Officer to break the deadlock and he told the candidates that Saturday’s situation was unusual. “In his 19 years of going to counts, he has never had a tie. But on that day he had two. It was a very bizarre evening,” said Matthew.
One his way home from Weymouth he says he considered extending his luck by buying a National Lottery ticket. “I said to my girlfriend that I was going to but I didn’t in the end,” Matthew laughed.
Your new Shaftesbury Town Council is made up of the following councillors:
Piers Brown, Tim Cook, Jeanne Loader, John Lewer, George Hall and Philip Proctor have all been Town councillors for the last four-year term and have been re-elected. Also elected to the Town Council are Andy Hollingshead, Alex Chase, Julian Prichard, Simon Pritchard, Matthew Welch and Peter Yeo. They were not councillors during the last Council.
Two former councillors, Lester Taylor and Andy Perkins, stood for re-election but they were unsuccessful.