You do meet Conservatives on the doorstep in Westborough, occasionally, still determined to vote blue come what may. More often you will meet Conservatives supporters who are unsure whether to stick with the blues, to vote elsewhere, or to sit on their hands. Whilst it matters little in Westborough, it does illustrate the Tory conundrum. The Tory Westborough campaign is going to be a token effort at best, even in a good year they cannot really hope for a Westborough victory. But, what you see on the doorstep in Westborough is repeated in doorsteps across the borough.
I do not believe that every wavering Tory supporter is on the brink of switching to UKIP, but clearly there are a number who will. I actually think that most will choose abstention. Parties in Government usually see their supporters switch off in large numbers, and what we are seeing today in Westborough is this, in part at least. I also sense something else though. There is disillusionment amongst their supporters, and this comes, in my experience, from their view that Cameron is weak and subject to sudden and frequent policy changes. As one lifelong Westborough Tory admitted to me: “I really am not sure what I will do in May. I have always voted, you can’t complain if you don’t. But Cameron is all over the place. He is not a strong leader.” (This is not verbatim, but certainly conveys the gist of our conversation.) I suggested that they might consider Labour – I got an unconvincing ‘maybe’ in reply.
You also meet Liberal Democrats, in greater numbers than are found in Milton ward. There is a small but significant loyal band. I have not found enough to make me (as Labour’s campaign coordinator across the borough) panic, but I think they will do better than the 5.4% they got in Westborough last time (2012). I am not sure whether they will improve on the fifth place they got in 2012 – this will depend on who else is standing. Now that there are two slots to be voted for the minor places are quite unpredictable. It will be interesting to see how much effort the local Liberal Democrats expend here as they will also be fire-fighting in three other wards. They will do well to hold St Laurence, Blenheim Park and Prittlewell, and this May will be a test of their local organising capability.
Voters still loyal after four years of coalition are unlikely to switch at this late date, not in Westborough anyway where the Lib Dem support has already evaporated. Those that I spoke to were certainly not minded to shift, but it was still worthwhile to point out just how much ground they have to make up here.
I met someone who was forming his own party. I asked that they email me details, and I will write something as and when that happens. I met many who did not realise just how close things were last time in the ward (38 votes separated the Independent from second-placed Labour), although quite a few were aware of just how volatile this ward can be.
News of Cllr Martin Terry’s dash for Thorpe ward was not greeted with surprise, even by those still unaware that this had just been announced. This left me to imagine that Westborough voters were attuned to this idea already – which made me wonder that Independent disatisfaction was very entrenched. There were voters who still declared themselves as Independent voters, but my limited sampling suggests that their appeal continues to shrink.
It is always interesting to see what response you get when you ask residents when was the last time one of their councillors knocked at their door – I met no-one who could recall when this last occurred. Ask them who their councillors were and the most common response was Dr Vel. Martin Terry was also named – even Lib Dem supporters could not name their councillor, which did surprise me. As for candidates, Mike Royston is clearly becoming better known as a number responded to my opening salvo with “oh yes, we know Mike”.
I have done quite a few doorstep sessions over the last in year in Westborough. It feels like Labour will have a good win here. I expect the Indies to run us close second – although their image has clearly been tarnished. Based on the responses I have received the Tories will again better the Liberal Democrats in Westborough – and if UKIP were to suddenly show an interest here then third spot could be a close contest.
As to issues: Westcliff library, dislike of the Tory administration, parking, jobs, and bills. Surprisingly not one mention of litter or alleyways.