On being squeezed from both extremes

There are two sets of elections in Southend-on-Sea on May 7th. As voters go to polling stations to decide who they want to represent them in Parliament, they will also cast votes in the council elections. This introduces a few thoughts. Will the increased turnout radically affect the vote in the council elections? Will the alignment with the General Election affect how people vote in the local elections? Will the rise of UKIP and the Greens affect outcomes? It is ‘yes’ to all three.

In 2001 Labour had councillors elected in five wards: Kursaal, Shoeburyness, St Luke’s, Victoria, Westborough. By 2010 that had reduced to one: Victoria. Since then there has been some revival in Labour fortunes locally, although we have still to fully recover in some former strongholds.

Last year (2014) Labour won in three wards, and narrowly missed out in a fourth.

2014 was UKIP’s year. Then they won five wards in Southend-on-Sea in what was actually a pretty hit-and-mss operation. It made some of us wonder what a decent campaign would have delivered, and we expected to find out this year. Except.

Except that they have spent more time fighting amongst themselves as opposed to fighting for their residents. I still expect to see a full slate and some decent results, but I also suspect that their tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory may yet come into play. I think it quite possible they will draw a blank this year, but equally they could do well. They will benefit from the swamping of local stories by national news as election day draws ever nearer, which for them is just as well.

Who do UKIP damage in Southend? It is tempting to repeat the mantra that they damage the Tories more than anyone else. However, their five seats came at the expense of two Tories and three Liberal Democrats. To muddy the waters here a bit, the UKIP gain in Kursaal, whilst nominally at the expense of the Tories, was seen by most commentators as a victory over Labour (certainly Labour were second, and 36 votes behind). So, whilst they do take Tory votes, in Essex they also hit an element of traditional Labour support.

Labour are also under attack from the Greens, who seem to direct more of their ire at Labour than they do elsewhere. The Greens have always struggled in south Essex, although their brand of NIMBYism clearly resonates in Hullbridge. Whilst it is always possible that we could see a Green councillor or two in Southend-on-Sea, this would constitute a significant improvement in their fortunes. Where the Greens will make an impact is in Labour wards, for Labour’s hold is always tenuous. I hope that the Green’s shift to the far left will not see mass desertion, but should this happen then they will be cheered on by the Tories who will be the gainers from this scenario.

I expect UKIP and the Greens to put up full slates. Throw in a smattering of independents and you will see many wards were the choice is of six candidates. With six candidates inevitably the bar for success lowers – expect to see winners on or around 30% of the vote.

It is going to be tight in many wards – only the very solid Tory wards are likely to see handsome majorities. However, since every vote also counts towards the General Election then we are going to see some surprises in the council elections. Whilst a Labour vote in Thorpe may be seen as wasted in normal years, this year it could elect a Labour MP – and voters will know this.

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