Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Sean Fear’s Friday slot

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    Are Labour Planning to Get Rid of the County and District Councils?

In my last year as a borough councillor, in 2003/4, there was much speculation that Labour would seek to get rid of the County and District councils, and replace them with single-tier Unitary Authorities.

Some of the powers of County and District councils would be transferred to the new Unitary authorities. Others would be transferred upwards to elected regional assemblies. Although this never materialised, I now understand that this idea is being given serious consideration again in government circles, perhaps as one of the new initiatives that Gordon Brown will announce when he becomes Prime Minister.

    The advantages of such a scheme from Labour’s point of view are obvious. Currently, there are 6,100 Conservative County and District councillors, 2,500 for Labour, and 2,700 for the Liberal Democrats. Almost certainly, the number of Labour district councillors will be reduced still further in May.

Obviously, the abolition of County and District councils, and their replacement by Unitary Authorities, would have the effect of sharply reducing the number of Conservative councillors. It would also reduce the number of Labour councillors, but Labour has far fewer councillors to lose.

Many constituency associations are dependent on local councillors to keep going, and cutting councillor numbers will reduce the number of local activists. Such a move might also put Conservative councillors at loggerheads with one another, as they sought selection for a much smaller number of seats, and argued over the boundaries of the proposed new authorities.

    New Labour has consistently shown it will try out all sorts of constitutional innovations, in order to strengthen its own position relative to that of its opponents, and this would be an obvious move to make.

Last night’s results were generally good for the Conservatives, and poor for Labour.

Cumbria CC – Brampton and Gilsland:
Con. 717, Lab.363, BNP 88. Con. hold.
Isle of Anglesey CC – Llanfihangel Esceifiog: Independent 449, Plaid Cymru 273, Lab 56. Independent gain from Plaid Cymru. How on Earth is this seat pronounced?
New Forest DC – Barton: Con. 990, Lib Dem 426, Ind 277, Lab 48. Con. hold.
Nottinghamshire CC – Hucknall: Con. 1597, Lab 1554, Lib Dem 1007, UKIP 413, Green 350. Con. gain from Lab. This was a particularly good Conservative performance, in the light of quite a strong vote for UKIP.
West Oxfordshire DC – Witney Central: Con. 417, Lib Dem 207, Lab 87, Green 68. Con. hold. Labour won this seat as recently as 2002, and is a further sign of their difficulties in the South of England.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist

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