Martin Terry has resigned

I can confirm that Martin Terry has resigned and that a by-election has been called in Westborough.

This means we are, once again, a fifty-member council, and will be so until the after May 22nd. Martin is no longer a councillor, cannot participate in council meetings (beyond what an ordinary member of the public can do), and loses his badge, computer, email account etc.

For a month at least the Liberal Democrats become the largest opposition group in the chamber.

Martin: will he, won’t he?

As I write this Cllr Martin Terry has yet to resign from his Westborough seat. Martin, it will be remembered, has declared that he intends to stand in Thorpe this year – in spite of having a year left on his tenure in Westborough.

This highlights an anachronism – a sitting councillor can contest elections. Only on victory will he or she be forced to resign from their previous seat. Cllr Terry could hedge his bets – remaining a Westborough councillor whilst contesting Thorpe allows him to continue in post. It also ensures that he remains a councillor should he lose the Thorpe contest. Resignation will mean he ceases to be a councillor, albeit only until May 22nd (if successful in Thorpe).

I think it inconceivable that Martin Terry will not win in Thorpe. Whatever his personal attributes, his victory is almost guaranteed owing to the opprobrium Cllr Alex Kaye attracted when switching sides last year.

So, we are left with the following possibilities.

1, Martin remains a Westborough councillor whilst contesting Thorpe. This would mean that the first full council, when the Leader and post holders are appointed, will be a fifty-member council. This could be crucial if the votes are close. The mayor has a casting vote, and the mayor for the next civic year will be Eastwood Park Conservative Chris Walker.

This scenario also subjects council tax payers to the expense of an extra, probably June, by-election.

You could even envisage the Tories holding on in a drawn chamber, only to become a minority administration after the by-election.

2, Martin resigns, but too late for a by-election to be called. See above for what this means.

3, Martin resigns in a timely manner, allowing for the by-election to be called. This saves money, allows for Westborough to have three councillors in the chamber for the first full council of the civic year, and means one more non-Tory come those crucial votes.

I expect Martin will resign, but leaving it to the last possible moment could be a case of foot-shooting if two electors are not given enough time to call that by-election. Oh, what an irony if Martin is the cause of his group failing to seize power!

February and March in by-elections

Notwithstanding the random, and unrepresentative, nature of local by-election snapshots, the set of results for February and March 2014 will provide a little cheer for the Conservatives. No overall losses (although they gained four, and lost the same number), top of the votes acquired, and fielding more candidates than their opponents in the 48 by-elections, they can feel some justifiable satisfaction.

The Tories nudged ahead of Labour largely because Labour (again) failed to field a full complement of candidates. This is always a source of frustration for me; everyone should have the opportunity to vote for democratic socialism.

The Green Party are struggling, and nowhere is this more evident than in the number of contests they feature in.  For some time they have been the fifth party nationally, with isolated pockets of success. UKIP have galloped past them, and UKIP’s vote share suggests third place – although they struggle to convert this into wins. UKIP also struggle for candidates, which casts a large shadow over them being anything beyond a fringe protest group. However, this is an improving picture for them.  These results include nine runner-up spots for UKIP, and to make a real breakthrough in local government then it is clear that this has got to change.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Conservative 30.4 18 42 0
Labour 28.2 10 31 -1
Liberal Democrat 13.9 9 33 3
UKIP 12.8 0 26 0
Independent 4.8 4 17 -3
SNP 2.5 1 1 0
Plaid Cymru 2.2 0 2 0
Green 1.8 0 10 0
Others 3.5 2 11 1

What does this mean for the local elections? Probably not much. I say this because I suspect that the general picture will be of one where the European elections (and debate) swamp everything else, although good local campaigns will seemingly buck trends. Those councillors and candidates with a solid record of working for their residents should be rewarded. Those that rely on the local popularity of their party only may find this is not enough this time around.

Candidates and Agents Briefing

I do not often go to the Candidates and Agents Briefing put on each year by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, despite my heavy involvement in local elections for many years. I did go yesterday.

This briefing, effectively the starting gun for the short campaign, is a chance for the local authority to re-state the rules that govern elections, and for candidates and agents to collect nomination papers. It also is a chance to see how the various party teams are shaping up.

The largest block of councillors, candidates, and agents belonged, unsurprisingly, to the Conservative Party. Whatever happens on May 22nd it is almost certain that they will remain the largest party in the chamber. Amongst their number was Denis Garne, coy in his conversations with me regarding his new allegiance (despite my knowing this for over a year). Denis was a Labour councillor in Kursaal at one point and he was a leading light in the local Labour and Cooperative movement. It looks like he will be contesting Victoria for the Conservative Party in an attempt to unseat Labour Cllr Margaret Borton. It seems some leap to go from Socialist to Tory – I leave it to Denis to explain.

Labour had a significant presence too. We will have the youngest team in May (five candidates are under 30 years old: Gray, Jess, Matt, Matt and Sean). We are hopeful of gains.

The Independents and Liberal Democrats had about equal numbers. I am curious as to whether the Independent Group will field a candidate in Westborough, but since UKIP have already expressed an interest there then perhaps we already know the answer to that particular question. Undemocratic-SKIPP Independent candidate Mark Sharp sat with Brian Ayling and the Independent Group, thus questioning his claim to be ‘truly independent’.

I recognised one UKIP person, although he was sat with someone I did not recognise and so they may have had two present. This rather mirrors there campaigning so far – almost non-existent.

This blog does influence somewhat the local political scene, and this was in evidence again last night. The Chief Executive talked about photograph-taking at the count and the fact that he has to approve it – I think this was prompted by something I wrote earlier this year (An ill-advised photo).

The Blenheim Park analysis

BlenheimparkThis graphic shows the percentage of votes gained by the parties in Blenheim Park ward from 1996 to 2012. (Note that boundary changes in 2001 created the modern Blenheim Park ward; prior to this there was a bigger Blenheim ward.)

All elections in this period have seen the Tories and Lib Dems occupy the top two slots. Of the fourteen contests the Liberal Democrats have won a dozen, although there has been a number of very close contests. Recent years has seen declining support for these two with the Labour and UKIP trending upwards. It will be interesting to see whether this continues this May, and whether the gap narrows enough to be able to declare Blenheim Park a three or four-way marginal.

Churn

The following Conservative councillors will not be seeking re-election in May:

Richard Brown – Chalkwell
Louise Burdett – Kursaal
Maria Caunce – Milton
Brian Kelly – Southchurch
Nigel Holdcroft – West Leigh

A mix of reasons for their retirement has been given, such as ill health, work commitments and motherhood. I have no reason to doubt any of these.

In addition Gwen Horrigan (West Leigh) retired in January, and Fay Evans is moving wards (from Belfairs to West Leigh).

Barry Godwin (Liberal Democrat, Leigh) has been de-selected, and Martin Terry (Independent) is resigning his Westborough seat in order to stand in Thorpe.

Notwithstanding the reasons given, I cannot help but believe that the realisation that re-election in some of these instances is problematical to say least has made their decisions a lot easier to take.

A total of nine councillors going or moving this year without a vote having been cast (I know there was a West Leigh by-election, but Mrs Horrigan stood down) seems quite a high attrition rate to me. Do I detect retreat?

Think your vote doesn’t count? Think again

It often falls to me to persuade people that voting matters. At times I also have to convince that their vote can change things. Of course, there are wards in Southend-on-Sea where nothing short of a political earthquake will change the status quo, although these are diminishing in number.

Increasingly, owing to rise in the number of candidates standing as well as a desire for change, we are seeing contests where the gap between success and failure is shrinking. In these places every vote does count – the ‘nothing changes around here’ argument is provably untrue.

In the 2012 election seven wards had majorities of less than a hundred. In four the majorities were less than sixty – thirty voters switching could have turned these around.

The following is a list of all wards with majorities of less than a hundred since 2002.

ward year majority winner runner-up
Kursaal 2004 4 Labour Conservative
Kursaal 2008 6 Conservative Labour
Blenheim Park 2008 16 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Westborough 2010 17 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Luke’s 2007 17 Conservative Labour
Kursaal 2010 24 Conservative Labour
Westborough 2002 27 Labour Independent
Southchurch 2011 29 Conservative Independent
Westborough 2012 38 Independent Labour
St Laurence 2002 47 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Southchurch 2012 51 Conservative Independent
Blenheim Park 2003 53 Liberal Democrat Conservative
West Leigh 2014 55 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Milton 2012 58 Labour Conservative
Blenheim Park 2011 58 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Blenheim Park 2012 59 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Luke’s 2003 65 Labour Conservative
Prittlewell 2008 72 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Prittlewell 2012 73 Liberal Democrat Conservative
West Shoebury 2012 73 Conservative UKIP
Belfairs 2012 73 Independent Conservative
Milton 2003 90 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Prittlewell 2007 96 Liberal Democrat Conservative
St Laurence 2011 98 Conservative Liberal Democrat

Blenheim Park holds the distinction of most appearances in this list. Four times out of a maximum of ten. Kursaal, Westborough and Prittlewell appear three times. Eleven different wards are in this list – from a total of seventeen in the borough.  Of the six that do not appear only three have seen no change in presentation since 2002 (Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and Victoria).

January in by-elections

There were fourteen seats up for grabs in local authority by-elections in January, and here is a summary of what happened in those contests:

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Labour 30.6 5 11 +1
Conservative 22.6 2 11 -6
UKIP 15.4 2 9 +2
Liberal Democrat 12.1 2 10 +1
Independent 10.7 3 3 +2
SNP 6.3 0 2 0
Green 1.8 0 3 0
others 0.2 0 2 0

As always, the caveat is the unrepresentative nature of random by-elections, especially true in such a small sample. However, there is a couple of things that are worthy of noting.

A net loss of six Conservative councillors suggests a tough year ahead for them. As Labour found out (from 1997 through to 2010) being in Government means an erosion of one’s councillor base. This means fewer activists, less exposure in the local media, and generally makes it tougher to win elections.

The Liberal Democrats will take some solace from these numbers – they can still hold onto what they have, and even make the occasional gain. As we head towards the European elections the big question is: will they have any MEPs afterwards?

UKIP have a small but steady lead over the Liberal Democrats and that third spot has been theirs for a few months now.  Expectations are for a good 2014 for them, although their rather colourful collection of candidates makes them susceptible to bad headlines from time to time. I think a big breakthrough is unlikely – I think they are the home of dissent and the protest vote and this only has strength in low turnout elections.  Conservative HQ strategy, IMHO, should be aimed at getting high turnout.

As for Labour, winning more seats and getting more votes than the other parties means it is good news at the moment for us. It remains to be seen whether this can be maintained all the way through to May 2015.

Vote harvesters

Since 1945 there have been fifty-two occasions when a party has achieved a million or more votes in a General Election. These have been the exclusive domain of the big three: Conservative, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (in a number of guises). The nearest another party has got to joining this select club was in 1997 when the Referendum Party polled 811,849 votes.

Not once have the Liberal Democrats beaten any previous vote tally for the either Labour or the Conservatives. Their biggest vote, as the SDP-Liberal Alliance, did see them come within half a million votes of second place though in 1983. That they were held off is seen by many within Labour as Michael Foot’s finest achievement. He managed to hold a warring Labour Party together, despite the longest suicide note in history.

Michael Foot’s 1983 tally is just ahead of what William Hague got as leader of the opposition. Mr Hague suffered from contesting an election which was seen as a foregone conclusion by many in the country – which also, in part at least, accounts for the four million votes lost by Tony Blair over the preceding four years.

Gordon Brown holds the distinction of having the lowest vote for any Prime Minister.

Labour’s biggest vote came in an election they lost. Clement Attlee in 1951 out-polled the Conservatives, yet got less seats – a reverse of the current situation which sees Labour’s vote more efficiently spread nowadays.

Tony Blair’s huge 1997 landslide only sees him in seventh place, and David Cameron may consider himself unlucky in that his 2010 vote was only just lower than that which delivered a second Blair landslide.

It is noticeable that the despite a growing electorate the recent elections do not always deliver the biggest votes for the major parties, and this is a phenomena of the growing strength of the minor parties.

Year Party Votes Leader Position

1

1992 Conservative

14093007

John Major

1

2

1951 Labour

13948385

Clement Attlee

2

3

1987 Conservative

13760935

Margaret Thatcher

1

4

1959 Conservative

13750875

Harold Macmillan

1

5

1951 Conservative

13717850

Winston Churchill

1

6

1979 Conservative

13697923

Margaret Thatcher

1

7

1997 Labour

13518167

Tony Blair

1

8

1955 Conservative

13310891

Anthon Eden

1

9

1950 Labour

13226176

Clement Attlee

1

10

1970 Conservative

13145123

Edward Heath

1

11

1966 Labour

13096629

Harold Wilson

1

12

1983 Conservative

13012316

Margaret Thatcher

1

13

1955 Labour

12405254

Clement Attlee

2

14

1959 Labour

12216172

Hugh Gaitskell

2

15

1970 Labour

12208758

Harold Wilson

2

16

1964 Labour

12205808

Harold Wilson

1

17

1964 Conservative

12002642

Alec Douglas-Home

2

18

1945 Labour

11967746

Clement Attlee

1

19

Feb 1974 Conservative

11872180

Edward Heath

1

20

Feb 1974 Labour

11645616

Harold Wilson

2

21

1992 Labour

11560484

Neil Kinnock

2

22

1979 Labour

11532218

James Callaghan

2

23

1950 Conservative

11507061

Winston Churchill

2

24

Oct 1974 Labour

11457079

Harold Wilson

1

25

1966 Conservative

11418455

Edward Heath

2

26

2001 Labour

10724953

Tony Blair

1

27

2010 Conservative

10703654

David Cameron

1

28

Oct 1974 Conservative

10462565

Edward Heath

2

29

1987 Labour

10029270

Neil Kinnock

2

30

1997 Conservative

9600943

John Major

2

31

2005 Labour

9552436

Tony Blair

1

32

2005 Conservative

8784915

Michael Howard

2

33

1945 Conservative

8716211

Winston Churchill

2

34

2010 Labour

8606517

Gordon Brown

2

35

1983 Labour

8456934

Michael Foot

2

36

2001 Conservative

8357615

William Hague

2

37

1983 SDP-Liberal Alliance

7780949

David Steel and Roy Jenkins

3

38

1987 SDP-Liberal Alliance

7341651

David Steel and David Owen

3

39

2010 Liberal Democrat

6836248

Nick Clegg

3

40

Feb 1974 Liberal

6059519

Jeremy Thorpe

3

41

1992 Liberal Democrat

5999606

Paddy Ashdown

3

42

2005 Liberal Democrat

5985454

Charles Kennedy

3

43

Oct 1974 Liberal

5346704

Jeremy Thorpe

3

44

1997 Liberal Democrat

5242947

Paddy Ashdown

3

45

2001 Liberal Democrat

4814321

Charles Kennedy

3

46

1979 Liberal

4313804

David Steel

3

47

1964 Liberal

3099283

Jo Grimond

3

48

1950 Liberal

2621487

Clement Davies

3

49

1966 Liberal

2327457

Jo Grimond

3

50

1945 Liberal

2177211

Archibald Sinclair

3

51

1970 Liberal

2117035

Jeremy Thorpe

3

52

1959 Liberal

1640760

Jo Grimond

3

An ill-advised photo

PCollinsblogI have been to a few counts, quite a few. Photos are taken, usually by the press, although some party workers take the occasional snap. Always, always always, these are of candidates either giving declaration speeches or being surrounded by joyous supporters celebrating success. Never are photos taken of the council staff who conduct the count, or of the count itself, which is why I was so surprised to see that Cllr Paul Collins (Westborough, Liberal Democrat) chose to put a picture of the West Leigh count taking place on his blog. I accept that the ballot papers themselves are indistinct, but you can see them. You also see council staff conducting the count.

Admission to the count is strictly controlled – tickets are issued to the candidates’ partners and count scrutinizers only, although councillors do gain admittance. Never is it open to the general public. We have a secret ballot, and its integrity is sacrosanct. Taking photographs of ballot papers being counted does undermine this.

I do not recall seeing Cllr Collins at the count, and I presume the photo was either grabbed from a news site, or taken by one of his acquaintances. Whatever its source it is a lapse of judgement to reproduce it. It also disregards the rules, rules that are there to protect local democracy.

(I have included a screen grab here, but I have lowered the resolution so as to make it as fuzzy as possible without losing the capacity see what it actually is. I did think of including a link to the photo on Cllr Collins’ blog, but then decided that this would only compound this error.)

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