2013 local elections

Nationally, the big story was the surge in UKIP support. Of course, they gained about 140 councillors, while Labour gained 291 (undoing the losses from 2009). And I have seen claims – and no evidence to disprove them – that UKIP didn’t take any Labour seats. In the South Shields by-election, the ‘shock’ was UKIP coming second, but it was a distant second to the Labour victor.

The big losers were the Tories, who are either calmly putting it down to mid-term protest votes or panickedly urging the government to tack rightwards and bash Europe and immigrants. The Lib Dems had a bad time, but more so in the areas they don’t do that well in, and where UKIP were not so active. The Greens made gains around the country.

But as these are Shire county elections in the main (with a couple of Mayoral elections – two gains for Labour there), they are not necessarily going to reflect the national picture, so even trends compared to 2009 may be distorted compared to other local elections years. Still, putting the projected national vote share from the Beeb (Lab 29%, Con 25%, UKIP 23%, LDs 14%) into UNS seat predictors for a General Election gives Labour a slim majority – a feature of First Past the Post that will perhaps have Tories ruing their opposition to AV two years ago.

But, Rugby. Well, Warwickshire before that. The Tories lost control to a hung council, seeing seats in the north of the county fall. Labour gained 12 seats from the 2009 result to be not far behind, but far enough that it would be difficult to try and run the council in coalition. The Lib Dems lost a few to go down to 9 seats, and could hold the balance of power, but I hear that neither of the main parties wants to treat with them. The Greens gained two (one from the leader of the Tories up in Nuneaton, one from Labour in Leamington), and there were two new independents to add to the one already there.

UKIP didn’t put many candidates up, although they did get about 20% or so of the vote when they did – but that wasn’t enough to win a seat, just get some second places. I was surprised that they didn’t have candidates across all of the areas affected by HS2, given their stance on it and how they’d been claiming last week it would make a difference in Warwickshire. Are they not well organised around here, or perhaps better at vetting candidates than other UKIP branches?

The pattern seems to show that Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats are very likely to go back to Labour in 2015. Leamington & Warwick and Rugby seem a little more tenacious.

In Rugby, UKIP were somewhat of a factor, perhaps – and they may be wishing they had stood elsewhere or had more candidates. Labour gained three seats in the town, partly perhaps due to Tory defectors to UKIP, but also it has to be said due to a fairly consistent swing across the town of 9-10% from Tory to Labour. I would say that the main difference UKIP made was to increase the size of Labour majorities there.

I know Labour were hopeful of winning Admirals back, having lost it in 2009, but it is an area that has changed a lot since last being won by a Labour candidate – Cawston Grange having been developed greatly in that period). Had UKIP stood and got the 20-25% they did elsewhere, however, it could easily have been another Labour gain.

In places where Labour has in recent times been in third place – such as the two-seat divisions of Hillmorton & Eastlands and Caldecott, they are right in the mix. The Lib Dems comfortably won in Hillmorton & Eastlands, but one of the Labour candidates was third ahead of the Tories (and while the other Labour candidate was sixth, the combined Labour vote was higher than the Tory vote). Caldecott saw the Tories hold, but with a cut majority and with Labour and Lib Dem candidates so close they alternated places. Caldecott may be another seat where a UKIP candidacy might have had a major impact.

Outside the Town, the Tories saw their majorities hit, but even in Fosse where UKIP took a chunk these are pretty solid seats for blue. The exceptions, as for last year’s Borough elections, were ex-Tory Howard Roberts winning as an Independent in Dunchurch (causing some mean-spirited comments from some jilted Tories) and Labour taking a seat from the Tories in Bulkington – Dunchurch is in Rugby Borough but not the Parliamentary seat, Bulkington is in Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough but is in the Rugby Parliamentary seat.

In my own race, the by-election for Bilton in the Borough Council, I came third, behind a safely re-elected Tory and a strong showing from UKIP. I did manage to come above the strong local Lib Dem candidate Bill Lewis, which was my main aim. It would have been nice to come second and reduce the Tory majority, but it was not to be.

So what does it tell us? Well, if Labour are to retake the Rugby seat in the General Election, it seems there is more to do. However the swing was large (and larger than the national average), which is better than the 2011 and 2012 Borough elections. The Lib Dems appear to be spent as a force outside the Eastern corner and Overslade/Caldecott, and so their 2010 support appears to be moving away. The Greens and TUSC are still putting up candidates but at the end of the day not really making many inroads – Green share of the vote fell where they stood in Rugby (even if they are doing rather better in other parts of the County). So it seems that the problem of a ‘split left vote’ is less acute for Labour than before. The Tories have been until now successful at holding their vote, but this time did see it slip, especially when the ‘split right vote’ problem emerged in the form of UKIP.

If UKIP in and around Rugby start to build up to the level of activity they have in other areas, they could well be a major headache for the Tories – next year sees Borough elections for the least secure seats won in 2012 and the European elections. But it’s still very uncertain whether that would carry through to a General Election. For Labour, it does have to be about getting a good candidate (and there should be one in place soon) and trying to win on our own terms.

Police and Crime Commissioner isn’t supposed to back policies that risk more crime

The Tories have unveiled their candidate for the Warwickshire Police & Crime Commissioner. It is Fraser Pithie.

There are currently two major issues around crime and policing in the county. First of all the 20% funding cuts from central government have already led to decreasing numbers of officers, affecting community (and beat) policing. In the last year, burglary rates have shot up in Rugby, and it can’t be ruled out that there is a link.

Fraser Pithie supports these cuts, which seem to be leading to more crime. Read the rest of this entry »

Mast Site plans

Last night I went to the Eastlands & Hillmorton Community Forum meeting at the Hillmorton school. These are organised to bring together the County Council, Borough Council and Police to discuss issues with local people. Every three months, for example, the local beat officers present updates on their work and there’s a discussion about the three areas they should prioritise for the next three months.

There were a lot of people there who wanted to talk about the proposals for development to the East of the town, on the old radio mast sites. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Byles MP – did he benefit from Lobbett’s claims?

When I looked up the Tory candidate in the 2010 General Election, the one who won by a margin of 54 votes and who was being backed by Barry Lobbett, who was getting Warwickshire council tax payers to subsidise his campaigning, I found that he was being highlighted for his election spending last year.

Then, it was a question over whether buying a new hoarding with his name, face and the 2010 election slogan should be fully charged to his 2010 election campaign or (as he actually did) only a third of it need be – with the remainder to be charged to future campaigns we assume. The difference was between £1600 and about £500, and had the larger figure been used, he would have been in excess of his allowed spending.

In the end, there was no action taken against Dan Byles on the basis that it is ok to shift the cost over future campaigns, and he remains the MP for Warwickshire North and Bedworth.

However, we now know that during the same ‘short campaign’ period, claims were being made to Warwickshire CC for a councillor to drive to events in support of the election campaigns for that councillor and for Dan Byles. Given that Cllr Lobbett feels he should be recompensed, what would be the effect if Byles’ campaign paid the costs? Would it tip the amounts over the legal limit?

At the very least, Byles could do worse than distance himself from the penny-pinching councillor.

Two kinds of fraud?

Keen Green activist Keith Kondakor has for the second year running pulled his fine-tooth comb through the County Council’s member expenses. Last year he doggedly pursued Martin Heatley over the irregularities in his very large expenses claims (first class travel, curiously long journeys between home and Shire Hall, double claimed journeys). This year he’s obtained via a FOI request another year’s worth of claims by Warwickshire County Councillors.

Along with a very expensive hotel break (£2,500 for five councillors to spend three days in Bournemouth!) and I’m sure a few other inconsistencies, there’s one particular scandal.

It seems that Cllr Barry Lobbett is being told to repay over £600 he claimed for travelling around to do election campaigning. This is clearly a breach of the rules of councillors’ expenses, because election campaigns are not council business. I expect Keith Kondakor will be pressing for more action than just getting the money back and a symbolic rap on the knuckles, as happened with Heatley.

However, there emerges another question. What about Cllr Lobbett’s notification for election expenses? By law all candidates have to declare how much has been spent on their campaigns. So did he include this cost? Because if he didn’t, that would be another matter. If it puts the total over the allowed limit, then he’s in a serious breach of the rules.

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

Another threat to local care homes

On top of Warwickshire County Council closing Abbotsbury, its last remaining care home for the elderly in Rugby, it appears that some of the privately-run homes in the area are in trouble:

Unions warn of financial threat to Coventry and Warwickshire care homes (Cov Telegraph)

Hopefully something will be done to avoid this company going under, or if that can’t happen, to prevent the people who rely on them (residents and any day-vistors) from losing a vital service.

If the worst does happen, it will cost families and the taxpayer more money to sort out.

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