Friday, February 4, 2011

Swale Elections - Preview

A member of Plaid Cymru once criticised my blog for saying too much about ‘a tiny part of Kent’. Maybe so but I did run for parliament in that ‘tiny part’. So here’s my warning – this entry is all about Swale in Kent.

In May, we have the Swale Council ‘all-out’ elections. Both the Conservative and Labour groups decided to move to all-outs rather than thirds in terms of electing the Council. This of course gives the Liberal Democrats and other small parties a lot of difficulties (probably not a coincidence) who don’t have the resources of the big two – hence can only run very limited campaigns.

The current composition of Swale council is Conservatives 33, Labour 10, Lib Dems 3 and Independent 1. There are 25 wards returning one, two or three councillors. For the Conservatives to lose control, they need to lose ten seats.

The Conservatives are mainly strong towards the Faversham area and rural parts of Swale and have controlled the council for many years now. They have not impressed with lethargy combined with long-term plans lasting a short while before the next long term plan comes along.

The local party may well repeat their ‘do nothing’ campaign which has been very successful over the last few years. They have every county councillor, dominate the borough council and won the parliamentary seat (to be fair, our new MP did work very hard in the election campaign last year – but no other Tories were seen).

If the Tories do have a strategy, it will be to hang on to their many safe seats. They can expect to lose a few marginals that they were surprised to gain - but can plan for governing with a reduced majority.

After a quiet general election campaign, the local Labour party are expected to campaign hard across the area. They’ve started to knock on doors already!

Labour are strong on the Isle of Sheppey and the town areas of Sittingbourne. To get control, Labour will need to gain 14 seats. There are areas where they will comfortably regain seats, and they will no doubt target the Lib Dems, but to get control of the Council they will need to work in some Conservative strongholds as well.

Around the UK, there have been some strange by-election results lately, with Tory votes crashing, the Lib Dems holding their own against the Tories and collapsing to Labour, and Labour’s candidates winning in places like Gloucestershire and Cornwall. Ed Miliband’s future as Labour leader is often debated but the votes have definitely been going his way. Labour may well surprise all of us (and themselves) in winning some unexpected seats.

The Liberal Democrats’ three councillors each have the advantage of a personal vote gained over many years of work locally but the disadvantage of the national poll rating. Our strategy will simply be to battle hard and defend the seats. With a bit of luck, we will add to our total, but I think it is fair to say we are unlikely to be the biggest party!

Other parties will put up some candidates – we have an active UKIP party buoyed by the recent visit of Mr Farage himself, the BNP are about, and there is a rumour of a Green or two. The local Loonies and their bananas will be present. But of course all small parties are punished by the electoral system. Under any other system, UKIP might get a few seats.

So what will the result be? My money is on a reduced Conservative majority.

However if Labour do well against the Tories, and the Lib Dems can hold on, then there may be a hung council! Then there is the possibility of a Lab-Lib Dem administration and the Tories gone at last. (Although it is possible that Labour would prefer to see a Tory council than do any deal with the Liberal Democrats).

My own campaign will be in the ward of Murston, a two-seater ward to the east of Sittingbourne. The current councillors are my colleague Dave Banks and a Tory but last year Labour were only just behind – so Murston will be interesting as it is Swale’s only three-way marginal. I am looking forward to talking to the voters again. We will do our best in this campaign and see how we get on.

On top of that, we have the AV referendum so there is much to do!

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