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.

January and February’s by-election summary

There were eleven local authority by-elections in the first two months of this year.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Conservative 28.8 6 11 0
Labour 28.4 4 10 +1
UKIP 12.8 0 10 -1
Liberal Democrat 10.3 0 8 0
SNP 8.6 1 1 0
Green 7.2 0 6 0
Plaid Cymru 1.8 0 1 0
Independent 1.6 0 4 0
Others 0.5 0 1 0

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.

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