Local By-Election Preview : 2 Con, SNP, Lab and 1 Green Defences

Local By-Election Preview : 2 Con, SNP, Lab and 1 Green Defences

Leith Walk on Edinburgh (SNP and Green defence)
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 20, Scottish National Party 18, Conservatives 11, Greens 6, Liberal Democrats 3 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 10)
Result of ward at last election (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,674 , 937 (33%)
Scottish National Party 1,735, 502 (29%)
Green Party 1,593 (20%)
Conservatives 637 (8%)
Liberal Democrats 400 (5%)
Independents 109, 91 (3%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist 109 (1%)
Liberal Party 69 (1%)
Candidates duly nominated: Marion Donaldson (Lab), Mo Hussain (Lib Dem), Tom Laird (Libertarian), Alan Melville (UKIP), Gordon Murdie (Con), Susan Rae (Green), Natalie Reid (SSP), John Ritchie (SNP), John Scott (Ind), Bruce Whitehead (Left Unity)

When Edinburgh first became unitary in 1995, Labour had a very good election indeed polling 41% of the vote across the city and winning an overall majority of 10. Things however very quickly turned sour for Labour as by 2003 they came within 405 votes of losing the popular vote in the city (to the Liberal Democrats) and whilst they managed to retain control it was only by two seats. So the introduction of STV in 2007 couldn’t come fast enough for Labour and sure enough Edinburgh’s split political personality was revealed. In those elections Labour polled 22.93% of the vote, the Conservatives 22.08%, the Liberal Democrats 21.99% and the Scottish National Party 20.33% with the Greens on 8.23%.

Thanks to the proportional system used the Conservatives won 15 seats, Labour and the SNP 14 seats, the Liberal Democrats 12 seats and the Greens got their first ever seats on Edinburgh council winning 3 leaving the council completely hung. So what happened at the 2012 elections to make Labour the largest party? Answer, a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote. Compared with 2007 the Labour vote rose 5%, the SNP vote rose 7%, the Conservative vote fell by 1% and the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed to just 9% with the Greens overtaking them on 11%. Of course since then the SNP have been on an absolute tear but unlike in Glasgow (where the Green vote in 2015 was just 3% compared to 2%) the Greens polled 6% of the vote in Edinburgh East and a very respectable 5% in Edinburgh North and Leith (where this ward is located) so do the Greens have a chance of sharing in the spoils of the SNP surge? I think it’s very likely indeed.

Midlothian West on Midlothian (SNP defence)
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 8, Scottish National Party 8, Greens 1, Independent 1 (No Overall Control, Labour and Scottish National Party short by 2)
Result of ward at last election (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Scottish National Party 930 , 789 (40%)
Labour 762, 776 (35%)
Conservatives 462 (11%)
Liberal Democrats 246 (6%)
Green Party 226 (5%)
Independents 103 (2%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist 41 (1%)
Candidates duly nominated: Jane Davidson (Lib Dem), Daya Feldwick (Green), Ian Miller (Lab), Kelly Parry (SNP), David Tedford (Non Party Independent), Pauline Winchester (Con)

If Edinburgh is remarkably cosmopolitan in it’s politics, Midlothian is quite boring by comparison. Before the introduction of STV it as a Labour heartland but following the introduction of the electoral system it’s become a true Labour / SNP battleground which naturally poses the question “If the SNP surge continues, will the SNP gain Midlothian in 2017?” and I think it’s almost certain to (especially when you consider that in 2011 the constituency of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale which this ward is a part recorded an increase of 11% in the SNP vote and at the general election in Midlothian, the SNP achieved a 23% swing from Labour)

Fant on Maidstone (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 25, Liberal Democrats 20, Independents 6, Labour 2, United Kingdom Independence Party 2 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Conservative 1,255 (30%), Liberal Democrats 930 (22%), Labour 860 (20%), United Kingdom Independence Party 742 (18%), Green Party 434 (10%)
Candidates duly nominated: Keith Adkinson (Lab), Matt Broughton (Con), Mike Hogg (Ind), Rosaline Janko (Lib Dem), Stuart Jeffery (Green), Colin Taylor (UKIP)

If the Lib Dem #fightback (which has seen the party gain four seats since the election of Tim Farron as leader) is going to make a real impact in local government, then this is the council. Despite everything the Lib Dems endured whilst in coalition, Maidstone’s electors never rejected them in the same way that other councils did as the Lib Dems only lost three councillors net during the elections between 2010 and 2015 and as they only need a 4% swing to gain this ward, there’s a very strong chance that could well happen.

Blackheath on Sandwell (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 72, no opposition
Result of ward at last election (2014): Labour 1,090 (39%), United Kingdom Independence Party 1,003 (36%), Conservative 573 (21%), Green Party 111 (4%)
Candidates duly nominated: Shirley Ching (Con), Ben Groom (Green), Ian Keeling (UKIP), Danny Millard (Lab)

And if the Lib Dems are enjoying a fightback in Maidstone, then UKIP need to take a leaf out of their books. Since the general election only Rush Green on Tendring (in Clacton constituency) has returned a UKIP councillor and with only a 1.5% swing needed to gain, if UKIP cannot gain a seat on a council without any opposition then perhaps Nigel Farage should not only un-unresign as UKIP leader, but also as an MEP and as a party member. Then, perhaps, the UKIP party structure may finally realise that in order to capitalise on their 13% of the vote at the general election, they need someone who doesn’t polarise opinion in the way that Mr. Farage does.

Southborough North on Tunbridge Wells (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 42, Liberal Democrats 3, Labour 2, Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 36)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Conservative 790 (59%), Labour 233 (17%), United Kingdom Independence Party 219 (16%), Liberal Democrat 181 (13%)
Candidates duly nominated: William O’Shea (UKIP), Trevor Poile (Lib Dem), Joe Simmons (Con)

The phrase “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” has often been coined to describe someone who believes that everything is wrong with the world, to which I would reply that (at the local level anyway) it appears to be the Conservatives who benefit from this view. Although they did suffer a downward trend from their peak in 2008, the Conservatives are still miles and away the most favoured party in the district (never falling below 33 councillors since 2003).

That’s not to suggest though that there isn’t an opposition and with Labour not fielding a candidate in this by-election, that opposition to the Conservatives comes from the Lib Dems and UKIP (but can either of them manage to defeat the Conservatives?)

West Thurrock and South Stifford on Thurrock (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 18, Conservatives 17, United Kingdom Independence Party 13, Independent 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 7)
Result of ward at last election (October 2014 by-election): Labour 903 (50%), United Kingdom Independence Party 621 (35%), Conservative 270 (15%)
Candidates duly nominated: Helen Adams (UKIP), Tony Coughlin (Con), Cliff Holloway (Lab)

The general election for UKIP was nothing short of a triumph. They polled just under four million votes, gained 120 second places and although they only managed to get one MP (Douglas Carswell in Clacton) they managed to create two marginals and a very tasty looking three way marginal. That three way marginal was Thurrock where the Conservatives polled 34% (-3% on 2010), Labour polled 33% (-4% on 2010) and UKIP polled 32% (+25% on 2010) and as Thurrock is a council that votes every year you can see why this by-election is being fought just as keenly.

All UKIP needs between now and the next general election is a mere 12 gains (four each year in 2016, 2018 and 2019) and they gain control and with one third of the council up for election next year (8 Labour, 7 Conservative, 1 Independent and 1 UKIP) the right combination of four gains would see UKIP become the largest party on the council (and allow them to claim that they now are able to run two councils in the UK, Thanet and Thurrock). But will this enthusiasm be able to dispel a problem that UKIP have consistently had. Yes, they can gain council seats at elections and by-elections, but they have a very poor track record of holding them.

Harry Hayfield

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