Who’ll win the UK’s second biggest election?
The picture is of part of Manchester tramway system which is set to be expanded provided voters in the region back a controversial Congestion Charge scheme. Voting by post is taking place at the moment and closes in a week’s time. This is the UK’s second biggest election this year with 1.94m voters involved.
The vote covers Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Salford, Bolton, Bury, Manchester and Wigan â€“ with most ballot papers already despatched. The charge will only be brought in only if people vote `yes’ to the proposals in at least seven boroughs.
A key factor in the C-Charge’s favour is that if it’s accepted then there’ll be a massive “bribe” of investment in the regional transport infrastructure – Â£1.5 billion from the Government’s Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) linked to Â£1.2 billion of borrowing to be paid back through a mix of congestion charging and public transport revenues.
So the YES campaign has a very powerful case that will be attractive to non-drivers and non-motoring commuters. The NO campaign is aimed mostly at motorists.
The congestion charge would be payable if drivers crossed an outer ring (the M60 motorway ring road) or inner ring (surrounding the city centre) on weekdays travelling in during the morning rush hour or out in the late afternoon/early evening.
Trafford, Stockport and Bury councils are publicly opposing the plan while a number of major employers and businesses calling for a â€˜noâ€™ vote. Surprisingly, given Cameron’s green rhetoric, the Tories are on the NO side while the Lib Dems and Labour are split.
A number of opinion polls have been conducted. The most recent of which shows a slender majority of voters – 51.4 per cent – in favour. The figures came from canvassing of 5,003 people between October 27 and November 20. But the research – commissioned by the Yes campaign – found the `yes’ vote winning in only six of the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.
A MORI poll of more than 5,000 people back in August showed 41% either that they`strongly supported’ or `tended to support’ it, while 39% were `strongly opposed’ or `tended to oppose’ it. Again, there were majorities in favour in six of the boroughs.
The only precedence for such a congestion charge referendum is Edinburgh in February 2005. Despite complaints that the question was biased, referring to the council’s “preferred” strategy, voters rejected the proposals. With a turnout of 61.7% (179,643 votes) from a potential electorate of 300,000. there were 133,678 votes against and 45,965 in favour. The rejections amounted to 74.4% of the votes cast.
Mike’s betting view. On the markets the Ladbrokes price on a YES has moved out to 7/4 while the NO price is 2/5. I think that the election, like the polling, is very much a 50-50 chance so the value bet is the 7/4 YES price which is where I’ve put my money. This is made even more the case because the market will be settled on the basis of the total of votes cast for each option irrespective of how many council areas go for it.
The Local Government Chronicle is producing daily updates on the number of ballots returned and it’s clear that the turnout is going to be high. As of Thursday there’s been a return rate of about 30%.
Alex Williams and Mike Smithson
Alex Williams in a Conservative Councillor in the Borough of Trafford and a former parliamentary candidate for the party in Bury South.