June’s by-election summary

Thirteen local authority seats were up for grabs in June’s by-elections. Being such a small sample there is only so much one can read into these results. As always, I feel that a good indicator of the health of a party is the number of candidates it puts up. In this respect no-one managed a full slate, although it should be noted that UKIP fielded more candidates than the Liberal Democrats.

Despite the size of the sample it is nice to see Labour on top.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Labour 42.1 4 11 +1
Conservative 21.0 3 11 0
UKIP 10.9 0 9 0
Independent 8.3 2 8 -3
Liberal Democrat 6.3 2 8 +1
Green 2.1 0 4 0
others 9.4 2 3 +1

MMXV

This is my first look at next year’s local elections in Southend–on-Sea.

ward defending in 2015 winner in 2010 (last GE)
Belfairs Con Con
Blenheim Park Con Lib Dem
Chalkwell Con Con
Eastwood Park Con Con
Kursaal Lab Con
Leigh Lib Dem Lib Dem
Milton Con Con
Prittlewell Ind Lib Dem
Shoeburyness Ind Con
Southchurch Con Con
St Laurence Con Lib Dem
St Luke’s Ind Con
Thorpe Ind Ind
Victoria Lab Lab
West Leigh Con Con
West Shoebury Con Con
Westborough Lab Lib Dem

The current situation in Southend-on-Sea has the Conservatives as the largest party with 19 councillors, some 7 shy of the 26 needed to have a majority of one. The Independent Group (13), Labour (9), and Liberal Democrat (5) have a Joint Administration. UKIP, on 5, are also in opposition.

The Joint Administration has a majority of 3. To survive beyond a year they have to keep their majority, if not actually increase it. How likely is this? Well here are the facts, and a few guesses.

Next year will see the local elections held at the same time as the General Election. This means that turnout will increase (probably double). It will also see the three main parties dominate the news agenda, and possibly a fourth in the guise of UKIP will join them. The way our democracy works at the moment means that UKIP have an almost impossible task in getting any MPs, and the Prime Minister will come from either Conservative or Labour ranks.

So, let’s look at the wards. The Tories should hold Belfairs, Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and West Leigh. However, as this May showed surprises can happen and none of these will be held without concerted effort – the days of super-safe Tory wards in Southend are over. Note that these wards are all in the West.

The Liberal Democrats are only defending one ward, and whilst I imagine the Tories will push hard here, the Lib Dems will, almost certainly, concentrate their dwindling resources here.

Labour is defending three wards. I think victories in Victoria and Westborough should be straightforward enough. Kursaal has been quite unpredictable in recent years – I was predicting a Labour success here this year; this was taken by UKIP (with a 36 vote majority).

Labour will be hoping for the hat-trick of successes to be completed in Milton. The Tories will be hoping their vote will be boosted for the General Election. Expect a tight contest.

My home ward, Blenheim Park, is now represented by three different parties. This is almost always a marginal.

The Independents are defending four wards, and only in Thorpe is success assured. Prittlewell is another ward represented by three different parties and promises an intriguing contest. Shoeburyness and St Luke’s are currently an all Independent Group preserve, but the Tories will be hopeful in Shoeburyness, and Labour is a well-placed second in St Luke’s.

Southchurch is one that the Independent Group will be hoping goes to them. The challenge for them will be how to make their voice heard in a General Election year. The results in the last General Election year show that they struggle when the turnout goes up.

The Tories will hope that they can hold St Laurence and West Shoebury, a far from certain prospect.

It is all quite unpredictable, but the Tories will be lucky not to make further losses. I think Labour will make progress, the Liberal Democrats remain static, and the Independent Group will stutter. This will mean the Joint Administration will get another year at least (and I suspect quite a few years more).

Another take on that West Shoebury result

On a personal level I get on very well with the former West Shoebury Conservative Councillor, Tony Cox. Our politics are some distance apart, although there will be some things we can agree on. I like him because it is easy to know where you stand with him – he speaks his mind. This does not endear him to everyone, but at least you cannot accuse him of saying one thing whilst doing another.

For some he has become a bogeyman because his portfolio, when in office, covered sea defences and the CCTV enforcement vehicle. This attracted all sorts of ire, some of it justified. This is cited as being the principle reason why he was unseated. I disagree with this analysis, although I accept that this was a contributing factor.

I think his fall came about largely because of the unpopularity of his party in Southend-on-Sea, and in large measure this is driven by the poor record of the David Cameron-led Government. Austerity and cuts to public services, in my experience, have not gone down well with voters. Add into the mix the switching off of supporters once their party achieves power nationally, and you begin to understand what really happened in West Shoebury (and this will explain Tory losses across the borough too).

The graph shows the votes attracted by local government candidates in West Shoebury in 2010 and since.WestShoebury2010-2014

Two obvious things stick out: the steady decline of the Conservative vote, and the steady rise in UKIP’s fortunes. Tony Cox managed to turn around the decline in the Conservative vote, although this is likely to be caused by his hard work as any real increase in love for his party.

If you add together the 2010 votes for UKIP, BNP and the Independent you will see they collectively attracted 1265. The BNP and the Independent did not stand in West Shoebury this year; and whilst it may be speculative, there is some logic in assuming that their votes transferred en bloc to UKIP in their absence. UKIP’s James Moyies (now Cllr Moyies) got 1226 – which in context is not as wonderful as first appears. True, it is a significant improvement on their previous polling, but given my assumption about vote transfers you could credibly claim his vote has gone backwards.

My analysis is crude and should really be backed up by some proper fieldwork. However, I am attempting to show that some assumptions about what happened last month can at least be challenged. My analysis is crude, but is it any cruder than other claims about what happened and why?

My obvious preference is for a Labour victory in West Shoebury, and this is something we will continue to work for. Ordinarily I would cheer a Conservative defeat, but not here. This has nothing to do with Mr Cox, and everything to do with the fact that I see UKIP as being far worse than the Tories.

No overall control

Nine local authorities in Essex had elections last month, and six of them ended up with no single party commanding a majority in their respective council chambers (and Harlow’s Labour administration saw its majority reduced to one). For a county that completely embraced the Conservative message in 2010 this is some significant change. Seventeen of the county’s eighteen Members of parliament sport the blue rosette, and the Liberal Democrats in Colchester means a clean sweep for the Government parties at Westminster.

Since 2010 there has been a steady nibbling away at the Conservative councillor base, and NOC was likely this year in one or two places before the UKIP surge. UKIP did not just eat into Conservative support; Labour had realistic dreams of taking Basildon, and UKIP have removed Labour’s majority in Thurrock.

In Southend-on-Sea three of UKIPs five successes came at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, two from the Conservatives. Labour may have held them at bay here, but it would be wrong to suggest that our vote was not affected. Besides, in Kursaal ward it may have been a UKIP win at the expense of the Conservatives, but Labour were the favourites having won the ward in the previous two elections.

No overall control means either a coalition or a minority administration, and either way there will be challenges. It will be four years before UKIP can be removed from local government in Essex, although the next set of elections for these authorities is less than twelve months away, and I am sure UKIP high command will be dreaming of more success.

The coincidence of the next set of elections with the General Elections will certainly influence local election voting patterns, if for no other reason than it should more than double turnout. If UKIP is a protest from those fed up with the traditional parties then this influence will be drowned out. If there is a systemic change to four party politics (something that I personally see little evidence of) then we could see all sorts of strangely formed administrations in the council chambers of Essex.

The picture for the nine local authorities in Essex who held elections this year is as follows:

Con UKIP Lab Ind LD Grn Others
Basildon NOC 17 12 10 2 1
Brentwood NOC 18 3 1 11 4
Castle Point NOC 20 5 15
Colchester NOC 23 8 3 25
Epping Forest Con 37 2 1 2 3 1 12
Harlow Lab 11 5 17
Rochford Con 27 3 1 3 2 3
Southend-on-Sea NOC 19 5 9 13 5
Thurrock NOC 18 6 23 2

Castle Point has one vacant seat in Canvey Island East and there is an imminent by-election. Colchester also has one vacant seat, and was NOC prior to this May’s elections.

Victors, and their majorities

Here are the winners in the local elections in Southend-on-Sea.

ward winner party majority second*
Thorpe Martin Terry Independent 1606 Conservative
Chalkwell Nigel Folkard Conservative 382 Independent
West Leigh Fay Evans Conservative 349 Liberal Democrat
Shoeburyness Nick Ward Independent 334 Conservative
St Luke’s Caroline Endersby Independent 302 Labour
West Shoebury James Moyies UKIP 300 Conservative
Belfairs Mo Butler Conservative 270 Independent
Milton Cheryl Nevin Labour 266 Conservative
Westborough Kevin Robinson Labour 244 UKIP
St Laurence Lee Burling UKIP 219 Conservative
Eastwood Park Andrew Moring Conservative 197 UKIP
Westborough Mike Royston Labour 191 UKIP
Victoria Margaret Borton Labour 186 UKIP
Leigh Carole Mulroney Liberal Democrat 173 Conservative
Southchurch Derek Kenyon Independent 146 Conservative
Blenheim Park Floyd Waterworth UKIP 123 Conservative
Prittlewell Tino Callaghan UKIP 121 Conservative
Kursaal Lawrence Davies UKIP 36 Labour

(*Both Westborough’s majorities are calculated against the third placed candidate.)

It is difficult to say what this all means as these were unusual elections. Kursaal is very marginal again, it has a history of delivering narrow victories. Thorpe looks like nothing short of an earthquake will shift the Independents.

For Labour our safest ward delivered the smallest majority, and our most marginal the biggest. I do not believe there has been a big change in demographics or our support – the strong showing for UKIP obviously changed the electoral dynamic.

The hopes for the Liberal Democrats in West Leigh were not realised as January’s narrow by-election Tory victory was turned into a pretty handsome margin this time around.

European elections – the Southend-on-Sea result

I attended the European count in Southend-on-Sea tonight, and here is the result:

UKIP 15967 36.8%
Conservative 11523 26.6%
Labour 6711 15.5%
Green 3387 7.8%
Liberal Democrats 2645 6.1%
An Independence From Europe 1073 2.5%
English Democrats 704 1.6%
BNP 457 1.1%
Christian Peoples Alliance 375 0.9%
No2EU 191 0.4%
spoilt 337 0.8%

A good night for UKIP and a poor one for the Conservatives. Labour did pretty well, as did the Greens who relegated the Liberal Democrats to fifth spot.

A lot of spoilt papers, most of which were entirely blank. This, I believe, was because some voters only wanted to vote in the local elections yet were told they had to take a European ballot paper as well.

Two-thirds red – Cheryl wins it for Labour in Milton ward

In my victory speech in 2012 I said: “one down, two to go”. This could have been said in reverse by Cheryl Nevin in her speech in the early hours of Friday morning, her fabulous victory means that wonderful Milton now has two Labour councillors.

Cheryl has worked very hard for her success, and whilst she has had the support of Southend’s Team Labour, Cheryl has lead from the front for months and months.

It was obvious from the start that Cheryl was having a real impact, and I have no doubt this will continue now that she is Councillor Nevin, and I am absolutely delighted to have a Labour comrade in Milton to assist in making Milton better.

A big thank you to all who voted Labour this year – I hope we can repay your trust. However you voted, Milton’s Labour councillors are there for you.

The result:

Cheryl Nevin Labour 848 36.1%
Vic Lee Conservative 582 24.7%
Edward McNally UKIP 486 20.7%
Mark Sharp Independent 259 11.0%
Bob Howes Liberal Democrat 156 6.6%

The numbers in south Essex

This table shows the percentages gained by the main parties in yesterday’s local elections in south Essex. It is a mixed set of results – UKIP performing very well in Thurrock and Basildon, respectably elsewhere. The Conservatives are third in Thurrock, and first everywhere else. The Liberal Democrats are struggling.

For Labour it was a good night in Southend-on-Sea, they are back in Rochford, did well enough in Thurrock. It was poor in Castle Point and little better in Basildon.

  Lab Con LD UKIP Green
Thurrock 30.0 28.1 2.5 39.0  
Basildon 22 34 5 39  
Southend-on-Sea 19.0 30.3 13.0 19.1 1.2
Castle Point 15.9 33.9   26.9  
Rochford 13.5 38.5 7.4 23.2 10.1

Elections – Southend-on-Sea 2014 – a first attempt at analysis

Many will have their personal story of the night, of last night’s election results in Southend-on-Sea.  The Liberal Democrats winning in Leigh, yet losing four councillors, in what can only be viewed as electoral payback for the Coalition. It may not be fair that local councillors are punished for the sins of their Westminster colleagues, but this is what is clearly happening.

The Liberal Democrat’s plight pales, in my opinion, in comparison to the disaster that befell the Conservatives. In the east of the Borough they suffered a complete wipe-out; they also lost in Rochford and Wakening, ensuring that James Duddridge has not one success to enjoy this year. In the west they held four seats, which will not give them a great deal of cheer, but they will be grateful that it was not worse.

It was a good night for UKIP. They can now boast five councillors; it remains to be seen whether 2014 was a one-off for them, or will they build on this next year. It will depend on what targets they set for the General Election – although Essex must now be on their radar for potential 2015 success.

The Independents gained four and lost one.  All their victories came in the east; their loss was in the west (Westborough).  They now hold all the seats in three wards.

Labour made three gains, and just missed a fourth by 38 votes. Not winning in Kursaal is a blow, but this ward has a history of delivering shock results.  We are second in St Luke’s too, and the gap between us and the Independents saw a modest narrowing. Labour now has a presence in four wards – all in or near the town centre.

There is a picture emerging of a borough of two halves. The Tories and Lib Dems are seeing some success in the west. The east is seeing the inexorable replacement of Tories by Independents, with the principal opposition being Labour. UKIP’s presence has come from gains over the Liberal Democrats (3), Labour (1), and the Conservatives (1).  UKIP are clearly a protest vote – a protest that will see a presence in the Civic Centre for four years (if they all last the course).

party vote % wins gain +/-
Conservative 30.29 4 -7
UKIP 19.10 5 +5
Labour 18.99 4 +3
Independent 17.50 4 +3
Liberal Democrat 12.96 1 -4
Green 1.23 0 0
National Front 0.04 0 0

Blenheim Park and Prittlewell now both boast representation by three different parties each.  For the first time since 2010 Labour are not second on vote share. It is the lowest vote share for the Conservatives and for the Liberal Democrats that I have records for (from 1996 onwards).

The overall composition of the chamber is

19 Conservative
12 Independent Group
9 Labour
5 Liberal Democrat
5 UKIP
1 Unaligned

Chalkwell hustings

With just three hustings on offer this year, what were the chances of a clash? Chalkwell and Westborough both had theirs on Wednesday evening – I plumped for Chalkwell.

Unlike the Shoeburyness shambles of two night’s previously, all five candidates were present, allowing for the possibility of a decent debate and a chance to see what all the contenders were like. In the end there were no real fireworks and the affair was pretty sedate. The liveliest it got was when the subject turned to education.

All spoke for about five minutes about themselves. I do not understand why the Conservative candidate felt obliged to read out something rather than just speak off the cuff like the others did. I do not expect councillors to be great orators (although some are very good) but the simplest subject to speak about is yourself, and if you cannot manage this comfortably then it can only go downhill from there on in – and for Nigel Folkard it did. His obvious experience (he was a councillor up to 2012) was not on show.

Labour’s Lars Davidsson’s softly spoken Swedish lilt is full of quiet humour and understated intelligence. He was not afraid to challenge Southend’s ruling administration, nor make the case for social awareness and inclusion. His point that success cannot be measured by fiscal number-crunching alone, and that outcomes should also be measured was well made.

Colin Davis came across reasonably well too. He rather let himself down when he claimed the Liberal Democrats had saved Westcliff Library. He tried valiantly not to give the impression that he was just making up the numbers. I expect he will struggle to get many votes next week, but I would say he was about the third best act on show last night.

UKIP’s Leonard Stanley began well. His five minutes on himself came across quite well, but he rather let himself down when it came to answering questions. On too many occasions he either agreed with previous speakers or did not know – I cannot recall a single occasion when he had a unique thought. I may be doing him a disservice – I did not record the event – but that was the impression I was left with. He was fighting it out with the Tory for the wooden spoon as regards to last night’s performance – which may be in contrast to their showing at the ballot box.

I am not one to praise any Independent candidate, but I have to admit that Lucy Courtenay came across well. She is articulate and was quite comfortable answering questions. I am no fan of the Independents – especially as those in Southend claim to against party politics yet behave just like a party. Lucy claims she is not part of the Independent Group – if she is elected we shall see whether she opts to be non-aligned or not.

The questions to the candidates broadly covered parking, cycling, drug taking and drinking along the London Road, reduced A level lessons at Southend grammar schools, looking after vulnerable people, and the Cabinet system. On that last subject only the Conservative candidate wanted to maintain the status quo; the others wanted a return to the Committee system. It does appear that this issue is highly significant for a number of candidates, which I find peculiar. Can it be that the mechanics of how the Council takes decisions is really more important than the decisions themselves?

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