ONE of South Somerset’s few remaining Tories has said it would be a ‘grave mistake’ to blame Brexit entirely for this month’s poor election turnout.

Sue Osborne retained her seat in the Windwhistle ward, and was one of 15 Conservatives voted onto the district council.

While Cllr Osborne compared the party’s current national situation to the ‘meltdown’ suffered in the 1990s, she said Brexit is not the only reason candidates suffered at the polls.

After receiving 57 per cent of the 979 votes in her ward, Cllr Osborne said: “I was very pleased, relieved and grateful to be re-elected, and that people took the time and trouble to go an vote for me.

“It is an honour and a privilege to represent a ward like Windwhistle, which I love very much."

Despite success in her ward, Cllr Osborne was quick to acknowledge the party’s failures across the county, and across the country.

“I don’t think there’s any amount of spin can hide it - it was pretty dreadful really for the party,” she said.

“At a local level, local politicians and candidates work very hard, but austerity has gone on for a very long time. It has been very hard.

“For someone who has been on the receiving end, I am aware of some of the impact.”

Despite Michael Gove claiming that Tory councillors had ‘lost their seats because Parliament has not yet delivered Brexit’, Cllr Osborne believes there is more to the story than that.

She added: “We know there are local issues, every area has their local issues, and Brexit has compounded that and probably been a last straw.

“It is a grave mistake to think Brexit is all to blame.

“Those of us that survived are those that are held in trust by the electorate.

“There are other things than Brexit, like how they implemented austerity and how they are funding local government.

“It is very tempting to just brush everything under the carpet as just Brexit, but that would miss the point.”

As well as Brexit and austerity, Cllr Osborne said a lack of support from the party for local councillors could be to blame.

She said: “There is a lot of very disappointed local candidates and hard working councillors and I suspect they will be asking for an explanation from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

“To be honest, the candidates I know were working incredibly hard.

“Back in the 1990s was the last time we had a Tory meltdown on the national spectrum, with John Major and William Hague, where it seems that no matter what you do on the ground you are going to feel the result of that.

“It is the local candidates that are the closest to the electorate, that go to parish council meetings regularly.

“I think CCHQ has to have a little look at itself and how well is it supporting candidates.”

The South Somerset Conservatives will now have to regroup, and have already elected Neroche district councillor Linda Vijeh as the regional leader.

Cllr Osborne added: “The only consolation is South Somerset has 15 Conservatives when others only have 10, so we have the benefit of being able to provide some opposition - albeit if we are only meeting in a telephone box now.

“We are still there to try and hold them to account.

“The risk when you have an overriding landslide majority is they become overpowered and overconfident.”

“I actually proposed Linda, and I am delighted that the remains of the group had the wisdom to accept that proposal.

“She has got the qualities to bring people together, maybe bringing a different approach and hopefully unite different ends of the party.

“We might be limited in what we can do as an opposition, but in terms of building up grassroots morale I think she will be very good at that as well.

“She works hard for her residents and I know she will work hard for us as a group.”