The shrinking blues
August 19, 2013 7 Comments
One of the things you know as a political activist in Southend-on-Sea is that the Conservatives are the biggest political party in the town. With two MPs, more councillors that all their opponents combined, and a membership base that we believed was two or three times the size of Labour’s in the town, this was accepted fact, certainly in all the years up till very recently. There was some guess work involved in trying to work this out, as there is today when we now try to figure out whether we are on the brink of seeing the unthinkable, a local Labour Party that matches the Conservatives in terms of activist numbers.
There are some things we know to be true. We know that Conservative Party membership is shrinking, as we know that Labour Party membership is growing. There is no precipice here, but this movement, if unchecked, will see Labour as the biggest party in the town in terms of its membership at some unspecified point in the future. The real question is: when? I cannot foresee Labour having more money than its main rival any time soon, and as treasurer of one of the Labour Parties in the town I do know that it is a more-or-less hand-to-mouth existence for us.
The Radio Five phone-in this morning was on the subject of whether Ed Miliband is the right leader for Labour. This is silly season reporting because from where I am standing it is David Cameron who has all the problems at the moment. My conversations with Conservatives suggest a great deal of dissatisfaction with the coalition. There are significant numbers flirting with UKIP, and next May’s local elections will be as good for UKIP (if not better) than those held earlier this year. To top it all it seems that they are seeing a large decline in membership (The number of full-time Conservative members registered with the electoral commission last year was 58,884).
It seems almost inevitable that the Tories will lose control of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council next May and the intelligent betting will be on how many councillors they will lose, not on whether they can defy gravity and hang on. They will do well to win any ward in the east of the town, and I am hearing confident mutterings about wards in the west. Whilst I do not see this as a crisis for them, I imagine that Tory planning will be less about what they will lose in 2014 than about when they will get back. They appear to gambling on 2015 being a good year for them as they are still intent on all-up elections to coincide with the General Election. I think the three opposition parties will do Cllr Holdcroft a favour when they see this proposal off because I think their best chance for gains comes after 2016. The one thing that guarantees Tory party success at ward level is Labour Government, and whatever experts may think of Ed, polling strongly suggest he will be the next PM.
Conservative campaigning in the Borough is very patchy at the moment, and their ability to do basic leafleting is coming under scrutiny in many wards – even in places where they have representation. I think their complacency, reckless spending on barmy projects, and the disappointing performance of their Government have not helped. In the past many Labour members have been quite wistful about Tory resources; now we may start seeing the reverse as Tory may have to start thinking about campaigning with reduced resources – the Labour Party in Southend has had years of practise when it comes to smart campaigning.