MAYORAL elections are rarely contested – but the politicking again came to the fore as Haslemere Town Council’s various factions jockeyed for the town’s ceremonial leadership last Thursday.

In an open vote, mostly but not entirely confined to party lines, Councillor Simon Dear just edged independent Nikki Barton by ten votes to seven in the race to become Haslemere town mayor for 2021/22.

Convention dictates that, as deputy mayor for the past two years following the cancellation of last year’s mayor-making, Cllr Dear was mayor-elect before last week’s formalities.

However, in a statement published in full below, Cllr Barton explained Cllr Dear’s opposition to the Haslemere Neighbourhood Plan and the council’s diverse political make-up compelled her to break with tradition and force a vote-off.

And when it came to the vote, the council was typically divided, with Haslemere’s two Green members and two independents voting for Cllr Barton, its seven Conservatives voting en bloc for Cllr Dear, but the seven Lib Dems split with three members voting for each candidate, and one abstaining.

Immediate past mayor Cllr John Robini voted for Cllr Barton – but his wife and consort Jacquie Keen voted for Cllr Dear. And Cllr Dear, a Tory, was even nominated by Lib Dem member for Hindhead, Jerome Davidson.

The unorthodox mayor-making ceremony, in which the victor had to collect and lift the mayoral chains over his own head, was held at Haslemere Hall following the government’s refusal to extend the allowance for council meetings to be held remotely.

Cllr Dear said on his election: “I thank Cllr Davidson for his generous words and Cllr Round for seconding, and also pay tribute to Cllr Robini for the work he’s done as mayor for two years now.

“His tenure has taken in the horrors of Covid and its limitations, but he has carried out the task with dignity and diligence.”

He also presented the outgoing town mayor and mayoress with a selection of small gifts, including a photo album of the highlights of their two years as the town’s ‘First Couple’.

And Cllr Dear announced he will support the Prison Phoenix Trust during his mayoral year, bringing the disciplines of yoga and meditation into prisons, as well as a local charity – which to be confirmed.