Julian Ware-Lane calls on the council to ensure access for disabled voters at the general election

Southend West Labour election candidate Julian Ware-Lane has written to the chief executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to ask what steps are being taken to ensure disabled voters are able to participate in the general election and exercise their right to vote.

Local authorities have a duty to ensure polling stations do not disadvantage disabled voters. A range of measures is also available to support disabled voters, including large print versions of ballot papers and tactile voting devices. Election staff should be properly trained to meet the needs of disabled voters

Julian has asked Southend-on-Sea council for a report on access to polling stations in Southend West constituency and what steps are being taken to inform disabled people of the different ways they can exercise their vote.

Julian said: “Ensuring disabled people are able to exercise their vote is an essential part of a healthy democracy and fundamental to their rights. The Electoral Commission has issued guidance on making registration and voting accessible to disabled people. I’ve written to Southend-on-Sea council to ask for assurance that every disabled voter in Southend West constituency will be able to get to a polling station and get the assistance they need if they want to vote in person, and to have information about alternative voting methods, such as by proxy or post.

“Disabled voters also need information about how to register to vote. If you want to register, or check whether you’re on the register, contact Southend-on-Sea Borough Council (01702 2150000) – whether you’re a disabled voter or not.”

Notes:

Local authorities have to take proactive steps to ensure that polling stations don’t disadvantage disabled people. Under the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, every local authority is required to carry out an audit of its polling places by 31 January 2015. In reviewing its polling places, the Council is required to consider any representations from local residents in its area, including any issues regarding access to premises or facilities for persons with disabilities.

All voters have a right to vote independently and in secret. A person who is registered to vote or who has been officially appointed as a proxy voter cannot be refused a ballot paper or the opportunity to vote on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity.

Polling station staff must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters and should be able to explain what assistance is available to disabled voters wishing to vote in person at a polling station.

Disabled voters are also entitled to:

The right to request assistance to mark the ballot paper

Disabled voters may request the assistance of the Presiding Officer to mark the ballot paper for them. Alternatively, they can bring someone with them to help them vote (this person must be an immediate family member over 18 years old or a qualified elector).

Tactile voting device

This is a plastic device that is fixed onto the ballot paper so visually impaired people or those with limited dexterity can mark their ballot paper in secret.

Large-print version of the ballot paper

A large-print version of the ballot paper should be clearly displayed inside the polling station and a copy can be given to voters to take with them into the polling booth. A voter can’t vote on the large-print version, but it can be used for reference.

Assistance to electors unable to gain access to the polling station

It is the responsibility of the relevant council to designate polling places within their area and to keep these under review. In designating polling places, the council must have regard to accessibility for disabled voters. If an elector is unable to enter the polling station because of physical disability, the Presiding Officer may take the ballot paper to the elector.

The electoral commission guidance can be viewed at www.electoralcommisison.org.uk

Almost a prediction – the local elections for Southend-on-Sea in May

The last time the local and national elections coincided was in 2010. This was the General Election that saw David Cameron elected as Prime Minister, it also saw the Clegg bounce. Gordon Brown’s outgoing Government was thumped, although somehow they managed to stop an overall Conservative majority.

On the same day, in the seventeen wards that make up Southend-on-Sea, we saw the following numbers elected:

10 Conservative
5 Liberal Democrat
1 Labour
1 Independent

Those elected in 2010 are not seeking re-election, they were up last year. However, there is one very important statistic in these numbers – the single Independent elected.

In the elections either side of 2010 we see a different picture. In 2008 four Independents were triumphant, and in 2011 the same again, four elected.

This campaign will be dominated by the General Election, and local voices are marginalised. Whilst I know that the national electoral landscape has changed, I still expect the major parties to dominate. I also expect a good showing by UKIP, whose rise in the polls and popularity in Essex mean that there is potential for their group of councillors to grow. However, their internal bickering is not helping their cause.

I will not make an exact prediction, but I feel confident enough to say that I do not believe the Conservatives will win anywhere near what they managed in 2010 (and I expect a couple of losses), the Liberal Democrats are in trouble and will do well to hold on in Leigh, and my party will do better than its single victory in 2010. As for the Independents, I cannot help but think this will be a tough year for them.

The 23 most marginal seats in Parliament

These are the twenty-three most marginal seats in Parliament, based on the results in 2010. These seats all have a majority under one per cent of those who voted.

constituency majority Winner Runner-up
Fermanagh 4 Sinn Fein Independent
Hampstead 42 Labour Conservative
Warwickshire North 54 Conservative Labour
Camborne and Redruth 66 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Bolton West 92 Labour Conservative
Thurrock 92 Conservative Labour
Oldham East 103 Labour Liberal Democrat
Hendon 106 Conservative Labour
Sheffield Central 165 Labour Liberal Democrat
Solihull 175 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Oxford West 176 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Ashfield 192 Labour Liberal Democrat
Southampton Itchen 192 Labour Conservative
Cardiff North 194 Conservative Labour
Sherwood 214 Conservative Labour
Dorset Mid and Poole North 269 Liberal Democrat Conservative
Norwich South 310 Liberal Democrat Labour
Edinburgh South 316 Labour Liberal Democrat
Stockton South 332 Conservative Labour
Lancaster and Fleetwood 333 Conservative Labour
Bradford East 365 Liberal Democrat Labour
Broxtowe 389 Conservative Labour
Truro and Falmouth 435 Conservative Liberal Democrat

A movement of a mere half a per cent towards the party in second place would see these seats change hands. It will be noted that eleven of these are Conservative, whereas seven are Labour held.

A further fourteen seats have a majorities between 1% and 2%.

November and December’s by-election summary

There were forty-two local authority by-elections in the final two months of last year, of which thirteen resulted in seats changing hands.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Conservative 30.5 15 38 1
Labour 24.5 13 37 -5
UKIP 18.8 4 31 3
Liberal Democrat 9.5 3 24 1
Independent 7.0 2 18 -2
SNP 5.9 3 4 2
Green 2.7 0 18 0
Plaid Cymru 1.1 2 3 1
Others 0.2 0 6 -1

Nationalists parties certainly appear to be the flavour of the month(s) with UKIP, SNP and PC making six gains between them. The minus five number against Labour is worrying; there were actually six losses (offset by one gain) – two to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and sole gains for the SNP and an independent.

Otherwise it is a story of no real change.

October’s by-election summary

There were thirty-six local authority by-elections in October, of which eleven resulted in seats changing hands.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Conservative 27.5 15 36 0
Labour 22.8 9 29 1
UKIP 18.6 3 27 0
Liberal Democrat 13.2 4 20 2
Independent 8.6 3 17 -2
SNP 5.6 2 2 1
Green 3.5 0 15 0
Others 0.7 0 6 -1

The Conservatives are back on top after a good September for Labour. Hats off to the Tories for contesting every one of them, and I am still frustrated by our failure to contest the lot.

The vote share is clearly affected by the number of contests you are in, and whilst you cannot predict what it would have been if every seat had been contested by Labour, using these figures as a guide a Labour candidate in all thirty-six contests could have seen a 28.3% vote share.

#6monthstowin – a look at the prospects in Southend

With six months to go we are starting to get a picture of who is standing in Southend in the coming General Election.

For Rochford and Southend East we have four declared candidates:

James Duddridge‘s Conservative Party are in decline in the east of the borough, and things are not going so well in the two wards that form part of Rochford District. His party failed to win any of the ten wards that make up Rochford and Southend East, and they came second in total votes garnered. The Independents were first, and since it is unlikely they will have a candidate their vote will likely be shared by Labour and UKIP.

UKIP’s candidate is Cllr Floyd Waterworth. His selection was a surprise, and I honestly do not know what type of campaigner he is, for even though he represents the ward I live in I have not seen him outside of the council chamber. UKIP will do well, although I suspect theirs is likely a respectable third place.

The Green Party’s Simon Cross is a Kursaal activist and contested that ward in May. They will figure only on the margins, and in a tight contest their vote will matter insofar as to where it comes from. If you assume that Green supporters tend to come from the Left, then he will eat into the Labour vote.

Labour’s chances rest with Cllr Ian Gilbert; and 2015 in the east looks to be our best hope for success since 1980 and the by-election that saw Teddy Taylor scrape in. With the Tories set to lose more councillors in the east in May this is a contest that must be close. It really comes down to how much of the independent vote can be grabbed, and what the doubling of turnout will do.

The Liberal Democrats have yet to select. They will struggle and may even lose their deposit; certainly that was where their vote share was earlier this year.

As for Southend West:

David Amess is on surer ground than his colleague in the east, and he will console himself that the Conservative can still win a few wards here. However, he will be aware of UKIP’s presence and the west is increasingly looking like a four-way marginal. Mr Amess will still be the favourite, but he is in for a bumpy ride.

I (Cllr Julian Ware-Lane) am Labour’s candidate. Labour will do much better in 2015 than they did in 2010; it would be difficult to not improve on a dreadful national performance, and this will lift support locally. This seat has been Conservative since 1906, and whilst victory is possible the challenge will be to convince Labour supporters that it is so; and to persuade those who want the Tories out to back me.

UKIP’s Brian Otridge is the only other declared candidate at the moment. He will be cheered by the thought that had his party put up a full slate in the west in May they may well have garnered more votes than the Tories.

The Liberal Democrats have no candidate at the moment, which speaks volumes in itself. They will have a runner in the race, whose job it will principally be to distance themselves from the dirty deeds of the coalition.

The following table shows the vote shares (%) in each constituency extrapolated from the local election results of May just gone. General Elections are not like local elections, and the turnout in May will be about half of what it will be next year, and so you can only read so much into these figures.. But, the data does show the challenges facing both sitting MPs. We appear to be in an era of four-party politics in England, and if this carries through to the General Election there really is everything to play for in both halves of the town. As it stands, James Duddridge looks to have about a quarter of voters behind him at the moment, and David Amess a third. If the electorate gathers behind the most likely candidate to eject either of them then we could see the first Parliamentary change in the town since 1906.

Rochford and Southend East Southend West
Independent Group 27.5 7.1
Conservative 26.1 34.1
Labour 20.5 15.7
UKIP 16.7 22.5
Liberal Democrat 3.2 20.0
Green 1.5 0.8

 

Canvey East

I remember canvassing in sub-zero temperatures in the last Canvey East by-election (December 2009). It was not as bad as it sounds – I was wrapped up, and many winters on the football pitches of Essex had helped to inure me to the cold. It was a poor result for Labour then, and yesterday it was poor for us too. Once upon a time Canvey Island was a very good place for the Labour Party. Nowadays we really struggle. Our nemesis has been the Canvey Island Independent Party, yet I wonder whether their best days are behind them. Last night saw them defeated. Maybe hitching onto the UKIP bandwagon was not such a good idea after all.

The result

Colin Letchford Independent 389 39.1%
John Payne Canvey Island Independent 323 32.4%
Chas Mumford Conservative 208 20.9%
Jackie Reilly Labour 76 7.6%

 

The Labour candidate in 2009 was also called John Payne – not the same person as the CIIP candidate above!

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