The south of England is home to all variants of the political firmament, from true blue authorities defending thumping majorities, through to an array of rainbow coalitions, and parties hanging on to control by a thread. The national picture is not the sole driver of voting patterns and sweeping predictions across whole regions are a fool’s errand without consideration of local factors.
But there are some interesting battles looming and we’ve looked at a few of the most interesting.
Plymouth City Council
Plymouth sits in a state of flux, with the Conservatives running a minority administration against Labour and Independent councillors. Disaffected councillors from both sides of the political spectrum have resulted in a boost to the number of independent members of late, culminating in a vote of no confidence in March which the previous Tory council leader failed to beat.
With Labour expected to do well in the local elections, they could pick up the popular vote here. However, the electoral arithmetic gives them very little room to make gains and means they are largely on the defensive this time round. The Tories are therefore more likely to end up with a majority, which could result in another leadership challenge (less than three months after the last one!).
For more on the contest in Plymouth, The Guardian recently took a trip down to the seaside, to see on which side the political see-saw might land.
Castle Point Borough Council
Opposition to a new Local Plan means that Castle Point finds itself dealing with a geographic north-south divide as it heads into the local elections.
To the north of the council area the Conservatives dominate amidst a small number of independent councillors, and indeed the Tories hold overall control of the authority. To the south, resistance to planned new housing means that all but one of the seventeen seats on Canvey Island have been taken by the local Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP).
CIIP’s influence meant that when the new Local Plan was up for adoption in March councillors – including the Conservatives who had driven the plan forward – voted the plan down. Whether this will be enough to appease voters in allowing the Conservatives to keep control of the Council remains to be seen, especially as one of the seats they are defending is the only seat on Canvey Island held by them, which the Conservatives hold with the slimmest voting majority possible – one.
Elmbridge Borough Council
A coalition of various residents’ associations, the Lib Dems, and independent councillors rule Elmbridge at present. This keeps the Tories out of power, despite being the largest single political grouping and with Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister as the local MP.
The coalition means that there is everything to play for as polling day approaches, with the Tories hoping they can form an administration of their own and the Lib Dems hoping to strengthen their position. However, the local Conservatives have suffered several defections in recent years, including two councillors resigning in the run-up to polling day. One defector has even gone as far to encourage his supporters to back the Lib Dems instead, lashing out at ‘Dominic Raab’s Conservative Party’ for ‘spreading lies’ and ‘creating division’. A good Lib Dem result here augurs well for them in the parliamentary battle to come. Like Chesham and Amersham before it, Elmbridge is fertile ground for the Lib Dems’ anti-development campaigns.
Woking Borough Council
No single party holds control of Woking, with the Tories currently running a minority administration and the Lib Dems not far behind. Both parties are seeking to gain seats and take overall control of the Council, with local Lib Dem activists said to be quietly confident that they can take the Council for the first time since 1996.
The Lib Dem campaign has focused on concern on the state of the Council’s finances and the Conservatives’ failure to deliver a masterplan for the area whilst in office. Painting a picture of skyscrapers dominating the skyline under the Tories, the Lib Dems will be hoping that their vision for Woking, combined with voters seeking to punish the national Conservative party, will be enough to turn things in their favour.
Much like Elmbridge, a Lib Dem Woking after May 5th will signal that the Tories remain damaged by an earlier – even if now abandoned – commitment to planning reform.