On 6th May Reading voters elected a third of the Borough Council in every ward except the single member Mapledurham ward. There were 15 seats contested of which the Labour Party were defending 6 wards, the Conservatives 6, Lib Dems 2 and one independent (elected as Labour but resigned the party whip).
Before the local elections the Council was hung with no party holding an overall majority. Labour ran the Council as the largest party with 19 seats; the Conservatives had 18 seats; the Lib Dems 8 and one Independent.
After last night’s Parliamentary election results I had high hopes of an improved Conservative position but unfortunately that did not prove to be the case. I have summarised some thoughts on each ward results below:
Abbey – our candidate was the hard-working and dynamic Andrew Waters who contested the seat for us in 2008. Labour clearly sensed they were under threat as they published the most despicable leaflets of the campaign. They claimed that Conservatives and Lib Dems would abolish the first free residents’ parking permit. Result: Labour hold
Battle – a safe Labour ward which had its first non-Labour Councillor when Tony Jones resigned the Labour Whip to sit as an Independent. Tony decided not to seek re-election and the Labour candidate was the daughter of sitting Labour Councillor Chris Maskell. Result: Labour regain from Independent
Caversham – Conservative Group Leader Andrew Cumpsty was seeking re-election for the second time, after first gaining the seat from Labour in 2004. The Lib Dems decided to put in an effort into the ward for the first time and even had tellers on one of the polling stations. Result: Conservative hold
Church – a highly marginal Conservative/Labour ward captured from Labour in 2007. Labour put in an experienced campaigner in former Councillor Malcolm Powers. Tim Harris was defending the seat for the Conservatives, having won in a by-election in 2007. Result: Conservative hold
Katesgrove – a very marginal Labour/Lib Dem ward which the Lib Dems have won in the last two years. Labour Councillor Richard Stainthorp had stood down and Matt Rodda (who was also Parliamentary candidate for Surrey East) was selected. We came third but with a strong showing. Result: Lib Dem gain from Labour
Kentwood – Conservatives have now gained all three seats in this once Labour ward. The first Conservative to win was Jenny Rynn who was up for re-election this year. She won in 2006 when the ward was still seen as a three-way marginal. Result: Conservative hold
Minster – this has been a hard fought ward between the Conservatives and Labour for the last four years since Terry Byrne (Cons) won by just 19 vote in 2006. Labour have won in the last two elections and it was one of their top targets to regain this year. Result: Labour gain from Conservative
Norcot – This has been a safe Labour ward for a very long time. Strong showings from Conservative and Lib Dem candidates. Result Labour hold
Park – Probably the most interesting ward electorally in Reading. It was a safe Labour ward from 1984 to 2007 when it was won by Conservative Wazir Hussain with a margin over Labour of just 7 votes. In 2008 it was won by Labour by a margin of 2o votes over Rob White of the Greens who seems to have fought the longest continual election campaign in Reading’s history. This year fierce campaigns were fought by Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems and Green. Labour stood former Councillor and big hitter Richard MacKenzie in the hope of holding the seat. Result: Green gain from Labour
Peppard – this formerly safe Lib Dem ward used to be the base for the Lib Dem Group Leader and Deputy Leader. However, since the election of Conservative Mark Ralph in 2004 it has become progressively safer for the Conservatives. Mark was re-elected in 2006 and was standing again this year. Result: Conservative hold
Redlands – A formerly Labour ward which the Lib Dems have won in each of the last three elections. It remains reasonably marginal as the Lib Dems have struggled to pull away from Labour. However, this year the popular Daisy Benson was up for re-election and achieved a majority of more than 700 votes over Labour. The Conservatives put in a good showing with a strong third place only just behind Labour. Result: Lib Dem hold
Southcote – A ward that has been held by Labour since 1988 but has seen the Conservatives closing in at recent local elections. Result: Labour hold
Thames – This is a safe Conservative ward and although it had extensive boundary changes in 2004 it remains so. David Stevens was up for re-election for the second time, having been first elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2006, and was re-elected with a majority of over 1,300. Result: Conservative hold
Tilehurst – This has always been a safe Lib Dem ward until 2008 when Conservative candidate Sandra Vickers came within 85 votes of winning. This year we had high hopes and we won the ward in the Parliamentary count. However, in the local elections the Lib Dems managed to hold on. Result: Lib Dem hold
Whitley – A long-term safe Labour ward which has seen the Conservative vote share grow in recent years. Result: Labour hold
Labour – held 4 wards, gained 1 from Independent, gained 1 from Conservatives, lost 1 to Lib Dem, lost 1 to Green – 19 seats
Conservative – held 5 wards, lost 1 to Labour – 17 seats
Lib Dem – held 2 wards, gained 1 from Labour – 9 seats
Green – gained 1 from Labour – 1 seat
Independent – lost 1 to Labour – 0 seats
It was interesting to note the difference between the voting in the local election and the general election in each ward. Clearly some people do vote differently in general and local elections but I suspect that some of the higher Lib Dem vote share seen in the local vote was due to the postal votes being issued a week before those for the general election, immediately after the first leaders’ debate. The Lib Dems almost certainly benefitted from the hype for Nick Clegg that followed that first debate.
Across the country it was not a good night for Conservatives in local elections, despite the success in the General Election. We lost over 100 Councillors and control of a number of Councils. However, we remain the biggest party of local government with more Councillors than Labour and the Lib Dems combined.
Reading Borough Council remains hung with Labour as the largest party.