Richard Willis's Blog

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A New Relief Road for East Reading

tree4My “First Person” piece is in today’s Reading Post:

Transport has long been one of the most contentious subjects in Reading. Some of the most pivotal political debates on the Council in the last ten years have been about transport issues. Who can forget the debate about Labour’s ill-conceived plans for the one-way IDR and their wasting of over £1m on the proposal?

Back in 2008 the Reading Conservative Group published our transport manifesto which included plans for a major cycle hire scheme, a review of traffic lighted junctions, a new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames, and a new relief road between Reading Station and the A3290 and Thames Valley Business Park. The first three were started when the Conservatives led the Council in 2010/11, and whilst Labour has halted the review of traffic lighted junctions, it has continued with the cycle hire scheme and the pedestrian/cycle bridge. The fourth scheme however has not really progressed since Labour resumed control, with a reduced scheme being considered for a public transport link between the Station and the A3290. While this will benefit the business in Thames Valley Park and the people who work there, it will do nothing to relieve the pressure on one of Reading’s most congested and polluted parts of town.

The Kings Road and Cemetery Junction is a congestion and pollution hot-spot. The queues of stationary traffic ensure that the air quality is poor and the delays for car users and businesses vehicles are costly and frustrating. Only bus users can usually speed past the queuing traffic up Kings Road until they reach Cemetery Junction itself.  There is no opportunity to widen the road at Cemetery Junction without destroying many houses and shops and therefore an alternative solution is needed. Sadly there have also been many accidents on the Kings Road in recent years. What is needed is something which relieves the pressure on this over-used route.

The solution, as we set out in 2008, is a relief road linking the Station and A3290, with segregated cycle lanes running alongside. This new road would be open to all traffic and not just public transport and would not only improve things for people working in Thames Valley Park but would also provide a better route for those needing to get from Caversham and the town centre out of Reading to the east. Most importantly though, it would relieve pressure on the Kings Road and Cemetery Junction area. As well as the new road, a Park and Ride scheme would need to be provided for people coming into Reading off the A329(M)/A3290 and this is already planned in the more limited proposals which have been under discussion between Reading and Wokingham Councils.

To be effective in relieving congestion at Cemetery Junction the new road link would have to be open to private vehicles and would require a new bridge over the Kennet Mouth. This could be constructed in a way which protects the listed Horse Shoe Bridge and does not damage the ecosystem in the Kennet Mouth area. As a town like Reading develops it is important to provide the infrastructure that allows efficient movement between key locations. To invest almost £1bn in an upgraded Reading Station without linking it effectively to one of our largest business parks and the A329(M) would be perverse.

Reading is a thriving shopping and business hub but it also has a reputation for being a congestion hot spot with long delays and poor air quality at peak times. If Reading is to continue to grow and succeed it needs new and effective transport links. Our proposed new link road, segregated cycle lanes, and park and ride, would provide much needed capacity, reduce congestion and pollution at Cemetery Junction and directly link the Station with some of the biggest employers in the area.

In partnership with Wokingham Borough Council, this plan can be delivered.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Local | 3 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Labour Fall to Lowest Level Since 2010!

There is a new ComRes telephone poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which shows Labour falling to their lowest level of support since Ed Miliband became leader and a corresponding rise in UKIP support:

                                        Conservative            30% (down 2%)

                                        Labour                      34% (down 4%)

                                        Lib Dem                     10% (up 1%)

                                        UKIP                          17% (up 4%)

The news continues to get worse for the Leader of the Opposition. Not only is Ed Miliband maintaining the narrowest lead over the Conservatives but almost every recent poll shows that Labour is losing support. This poll suggests that Labour has lost 4% directly to UKIP. The Conservatives are down 2% this month but it is noteworthy that last month the party was UP 4%. However,  it is not all good news for David Cameron as a majority of the public now see the Conservatives as divided (56%), and just 29% think that he has the leadership qualities to win the next General Election. Conservative MPs should reflect on this before they launch any future public spats!

In further findings:

The Conservatives under David Cameron are more divided than they were under John Major:

Agree 56%

Disagree 23%

Don’t know 21%

David Cameron has the leadership qualities required to win a majority at the next General Election in 2015:

Agree 29%

Disagree 61%

Don’t know 10%

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,000 GB adults by telephone 24 – 26 May 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment

Freedom vs Extremism

freedom_wall_quoteI deliberately didn’t post in the immediate aftermath of the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week. News reports in the immediate hours following such an emotive event are often misleading and sometimes inaccurate. However, some facts are now becoming clear. The two murderers were British residents and at least one of them was born in this country. They appear to have been converted to their extreme brand of Islam after listening to so-called radical preachers in this country.

We have become used to the necessity to deal with external threats but it seems that we have a new problem of a few people who are British born and bred but who become “radicalised” following contact with extremist preachers and teachers in the UK. They then often head overseas to undergo jihadi training and sometimes also take part in combat operations against British and allied forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Under the last Labour government there was a huge increase in net migration to this country. Immigration surged, and while emigration also increased a bit, there was a significant overall increase in net immigration from under 100,000 a year to around 300,000 a year at its peak. Some estimates put the total number of immigrants during Labour’s time in office at 2.2m people, a large number of whom came from the new EU accession states in Eastern Europe. To make matters worse Labour completely lost control of the borders with large numbers of migrants also coming into Britain illegally during the period 2000-2003. Labour left a backlog of around 750,000 immigration cases with piles of letters unopened and boxes of “lost” files being uncovered in various cupboards of Whitehall departments. The huge numbers who came into the UK under Labour proved impossible to manage effectively and led to a collapse in morale amongst those charged to protect our borders. Anyone who doubts Labour’s failure should read this article.

The overwhelming majority of all migrants came to work hard and contribute to their new country and few could argue that Britain has not benefitted from their talents, cultural variety and experience. However, amongst the many decent law-abiding migrants came a minority of extremists who quickly infiltrated themselves into places where they could spread their hate amongst impressionable young people. Security services have identified a worrying number who have accessed British Universities to preach revolution and jihad to students. Some of them have also been given platforms in certain well known mosques.

The problems arising from such mass immigration and the extremist preachers who came with them are being acknowledged by some in the Labour Party. There is now an internal debate going on in the party about to what extent they should accept that such high levels of immigration caused problems, with some advising Ed Miliband to concede that mistakes were made while others prefer to skirt around the matter. But Labour is still torn between attacking people who want to see net migration reduced as “racists” and at the same time its spokemen call for “radical” preachers like Abu Qatada to be deported, despite having failed to do this throughout their 13 years in office.

David Cameron and the Coalition Government are right to seek to restrict net migration to this country. They have succeeded in reducing the numbers by around a third in the last couple of years. It is important at the same time to ensure that those coming into the UK only have honorable intentions and that extremists (of any type) are weeded out and refused admission. Theresa May’s reforms of the Borders Agency are a good start to recreating a system which can effectively control our borders and keep all our citizens safe.

The government is also, rightly in my view, stepping up attempts to identify and tackle both the extremist preachers and their disciples. However, it would be wrong to jump into knee-jerk responses which could affect and damage the freedoms which we have come to expect in a democratic and free society. This would only play to the agenda of the BNP and EDL. It has been sickening to see the attacks on law-abiding Muslims and Mosques following the murder of Lee Rigby. All communities must come together now to identify and report extremists in their midst to the security forces and to refuse to give them the platforms they desire to spread their hate. That is in the interests of all decent law-abiding people. However, the government must also ensure that its response is measured and consistent with our democratic traditions.

The most high profile suggestion in recent days is to reintroduce the Data Communications Bill to compel internet providers to store records of email and internet browsing activity in order that security agencies can access these. It is known by opponents as “the snoopers charter”. The government and the security services already have sweeping powers to intercept communications of all types when they can demonstrate just cause to a Judge. I am not convinced that widening the ability to monitor internet communications is either right or necessary.

In responding to the appalling events on the streets of Woolwich last week it is important that we do not undermine the freedoms that we have come to take for granted in our democracy and which members of our Armed Forces are there to defend. That balance between freedom and extremism is a delicate one and it is vital that we do not compromise what makes our democracy work and the extremists do not win by default. If the extremists win, the rest of us lose!

May 27, 2013 Posted by | National | 4 Comments

Conservatives Welcome New Caversham Free School

tree4Conservatives have welcomed the announcement that the bid for a new free school to serve the west of Caversham has been given the go ahead by the Department for Education. “The Heights Free School” will be a 2-form entry primary with 50 pupils per year group and will open in September 2014.

Cllr Isobel Ballsdon, Conservative Group Education spokesman, said, “This is fantastic news. At last families in Caversham Heights will have a realistic chance of getting a local primary school place. The part of Caversham Heights which I represent (Mapledurham Ward) always has parents who are disappointed, because they are unable to get their child into their designated local school. For many years parents have been forced into their cars to drive their children to schools on the other side of Caversham or even out of Reading Borough.”

“I’m particularly thrilled for the parents who have worked so hard on the bid to get to this point. Their dedication and commitment is inspirational and I look forward to helping them get the school up and running for next September.”

Cllr Tim Harris, Leader of the Conservative Group said, “This is fabulous news and I congratulate the parents involved who have been supported throughout by Cllr Isobel Ballsdon and Reading East MP Rob Wilson. They have embraced the opportunity provided by the Conservative-led Government’s reforms and galvanised local support for their Free School bid. They have achieved what the Labour Council over the last decade has failed to deliver: a new school for Caversham.”

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

New ComRes Poll – Labour Fall to 35% as UKIP Rise

There is a new ComRes online poll published in today’s Independent on Sunday which shows UKIP rising as Labour’s lead is cut to just 6%:

           Conservative            29% (down 1%)

                                        Labour                      35% (down 3%)

                                        Lib Dem                      8% (no change)

                                        UKIP                         19% (up 4%)

All recent polls show Labour’s lead falling and UKIP up, which suggests that the proposition that UKIP takes support mainly from the Conservatives may be false.

In further findings:

Leadership

Which of the following party leaders do you think would make the best prime minister?:

David Cameron 32%

Ed Miliband 24%

Nick Clegg 6%

Don’t know 38%

Of UKIP supporters, 29% say David Cameron would make the best prime minister, 6% Ed Miliband, 3% Nick Clegg and 62% don’t know.

David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister:

_____________Dec 2010   Today

Agree                  38%     26%

Disagree             41%     51%

Net Agree             -3      -25

The proportion who agree, 26%, is the lowest recorded by ComRes.

Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party:

_____________Dec 2010   Today

Agree                 17%          31%

Disagree            32%          42%

Don’t know       50%         27%

Net Agree          -15          -11

The proportion who agree, 31%, is the highest recorded by ComRes.

Two-thirds, 66%, of Labour voters agree that Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the party, but one in seven, 15%, disagree.

Ed Miliband is likely to be Prime Minister after the next election:

Agree: 31%

Disagree: 37%

Don’t know: 32%

Although 59% of Labour voters agree, 10% disagree and 31% don’t know.

Europe

If a referendum were held on Britain’s membership of the EU, I would vote for Britain to leave the EU:

_____________May 2012   Jan 2013   Today

Agree                    46%            43%          46%

Disagree               30%            31%          24%

Don’t know          23%            26%         30%

Net Agree           +16             +12         +22

UKIP voters are the most likely to agree with this statement (85%). Conservative voters are more likely to agree (49%) than disagree (19%). Labour voters are divided: 37% agree they would vote to leave while 36% disagree. Lib Dems are most pro-EU: 44% disagree and 30% agree.

If some EU powers are restored to the UK then I would vote in a referendum to stay in the EU:

Agree: 43%

Disagree: 24%

Don’t know: 34%

Conservative (54%), Labour (48%) and Lib Dem voters (67%) are all more likely to agree with this statement than disagree. Only UKIP voters are more likely to disagree (46%) than agree (23%).

If a party wants my support at the next general election, it is important to me that they offer a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU:

Agree: 49%

Disagree: 27%

Don’t know: 24%

Older voters are more likely to agree with this statement than younger voters. Two-thirds (67%) of those aged 65 and over agree compared to just a third (35%) of those aged 18-24. Conservative voters support the Prime Minister’s position with more than half (56%) saying that they agree compared with 23% that disagree. Labour voters are divided on this issue, 36% agree whilst 39% disagree. Of UKIP voters, 87% agree and only 6% disagree.

The Conservative Party is more divided over Europe now than it was when John Major was Prime Minister:

Agree: 57%

Disagree: 14%

Don’t know: 29%

Even Conservative voters are more likely to agree (43%) than disagree (26%). Three-quarters (74%) of UKIP voters agree.

David Cameron has the authority over his party that he needs to be an effective Prime Minister:

Agree: 28%

Disagree: 48%

Don’t know: 24%

Two-thirds of UKIP voters (65%) disagree with this statement as do one in five (18%) current Conservative voters.

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,001 GB adults online 15 – 16 May 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Polls | 2 Comments

New Ipsos MORI Poll – Labour Collapse to Just a 3% Lead!

There is a new Ipsos MORI poll reported tonight for the London Evening Standard showing Labour’s support dropping dramatically to just 34% as the Conservatives recover:

      Conservative               31% (up 2%)

                                                        Labour                         34% (down 4%)

                                                        Lib Dem                       10% ( no change)

                                                        UKIP                            13% (down 2%)

To be just 3% ahead of the main governing party during the mid-term of a government implementing austerity is nothing short of sensationally bad for Labour. This is the lowest reported support for Labour since the 2010 General Election.

As ever when a single poll shows dramatic changes I would urge caution until we see whether this is repeated in other polls. However, it is broadly in line with a narrowing Labour lead in the last month or so.

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,010 aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 11-14 May 2013.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Conservatives Take Control of Woodley Town Council from Lib Dems

tree4For as long as I have lived in Reading the nearby Woodley Town Council (in Wokingham Borough) has been under Lib Dem control. Indeed when I moved here in 1995 the Conservatives only had a single Councillor on the authority, in Loddon Airfield. At the last local elections in 2011 the Lib Dems held onto control with a slender majority of 13 seats to the Conservatives’ 12. Since then 1 Lib Dem and 1 Conservative have gone Independent leaving the Council as 12 Lib Dem, 11 Conservative, and 2 Independent. At tonight’s Annual Meeting of the Council the 2 Independents sided with the Conservatives to ensure a change of control for the first time since Woodley Town Council was formed.

Woodley TC is not like most Town Councils. It has power and a sizeable budget. The average precept on the Council Tax is around £115 and overall expenditure is just under £2m per annum. With 26,000 residents, the Council provides leisure facilities and deals with the lower level issues which are delegated by the Conservative controlled Wokingham Borough Council. The 25 Town Councillors are unpaid.

At the Annual Meeting Cllr Bill Soane was elected to be Mayor of Woodley for the next year. Bill is a fantastic guy, who has been deeply involved in Woodley for many years. He is a local businessman and a key organiser of the Woodley Carnival Committee, the biggest single event in the town. Cllr Keith Baker was elected to be Leader of the Council dynamic local politician who has worked his way up to his current position the hard way, helping local residents with their issues and campaigning for many local Conservatives across Woodley and Earley. Keith with be well placed to take up the reins from Cllr Kate Haines who has ably led the Conservative Group for the last several years. He will be the first Conservative leader of the Council in 39 years!

I wish Keith and his team well. I am sure that they will do a great job!

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Local | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – Tories Cut Labour’s Lead to 7%

There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing the Conservatives trimming Labour’s lead back to just 7%:

                   Conservative               31% (up 1%)

                   Labour                          38% (down 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                        10% (no change)

                                                     UKIP                             14% (no change)

UKIP remain at a high level following their local election gains. However, Labour are failing to regain the lead they enjoyed at the start of this year which was consistently in double figures. I suspect that after a few days time lag the Conservatives will start to pick up some support from UKIP following tonight’s news about an EU Referendum Bill to be tabled in Parliament.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 10 May.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Polls | | Leave a comment

New ICM Poll – Labour Lead at 6% as UKIP Doubles to 18%

There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow showing Labour’s opinion poll at just 6% but UKIP surging to a record high of 18%:

         Conservative              28% (down 4%)

                                                    Labour                        34% (down 4%)

                                                    Lib Dem                      11% (down 4%)

                                                    UKIP                            18% (up 9%)

This is a sensational result for UKIP following their gains in the local elections and the coverage which they have attracted since!

All three of the bigger parties have lost support equally meaning that Labour’s lead remains at the low level it dropped to last month. UKIP can take considerable comfort from their 18% rating as ICM is the most respected pollster according to a vote of readers of Political Betting. More worrying is the fact that the BNP has risen from 1% last month to 4% this month. Not enough to make any real electoral impact but it seems that they have benefitted from UKIP’s rise and the drop in support for the other parties.

UKIP should enjoy the surge while it lasts because any big change in polls should be treated with caution and the history of opinion polling is littered with minor party surges which quickly dissipate. The test for UKIP now is how well they can covert their protest vote support into a longer lasting base. With several of their elected Councillors facing internal and Police investigations I suspect that UKIP support will drop away over the summer and rise again in the run up to the Euro Elections in June 2014.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,001 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 10-12 May 2013. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

ICM Poll - May 13

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Polls | | Leave a comment

New YouGov Poll – UKIP Fall Back

There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sun newspaper showing UKIP losing some of their recent gains and Labour’s lead again in single figures:

                   Conservative               30% (up 1%)

                   Labour                          39% (down 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                        10% (up 1%)

                                                     UKIP                             14% (down 2%)

We will have to see whether the recent UKIP rise is a flash in the pan or one which delivers a more longer lasting boost in the polls.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 7 May.

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Polls | | 2 Comments

Labour Splits Causes Loss of Harrow Council

HarrowCouncil logoJust days after the County Council elections and as we begin to look forward to the 2014 elections, which include all of the London Boroughs, one of the ruling Labour Groups in London has split. Harrow is one of those authorities which has switched between Labour and Conservative control.

In 2010 Labour won back majority control from a Conservative administration which had been in place since 2006. However, the ruling Labour Group has long been riven with factions and personal feuds. This has culminated in “a significant number” of Labour Councillor resigning from the ruling Group to form an “Independent Labour Group” including the Leader of the Council Cllr Thaya Idaikkadar. This break follows a successful Group leadership challenge from Cllr David Perry who was elected Labour Leader last month.

The Independent Labour Group claims to hold true to Labour value and principles but the personality clash which has led to the split surely means that the two rival Labour Groups will not work together and that the Council must now be considered under “no overall control”. Before the split Labour had 34 Councillors, Conservatives 25, Independents 3, and the Lib Dems just 1.

It is not clear how many Councillor have formed the breakaway Independent Labour Group but my sources tell me it will be “between six and ten”. It will also be interesting to see what happens in next year’s London elections. Will the Independent Labour Group run candidates against the official Labour candidates?

UPDATE: I have been sent this link which indicates that NINE Labour Councillors have resigned to form the new Independent Labour Group. The Official Labour Group therefore has the same number of Councillors as the Conservatives!

May 8, 2013 Posted by | National | 1 Comment

New YouGov Poll – UKIP Rise to 16%

There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing UKIP rising to 16%, their highest figure with YouGov:

                   Conservative               29% (down 4%)

                   Labour                         40% (down 1%)

                                                     Lib Dem                         9% (down 1%)

                                                     UKIP                             16% (up 5%)

This UKIP rise is not surprising following the publicity around their gains in the County Council elections last Thursday.

Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 16 April.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Polls | | 1 Comment

Reflections on the Elections

Polling StationThe elections on Thursday were the subject of much speculation in advance and the post-result analysis has not been any less comprehensive. I set out my thoughts and predictions here. So how did each of the parties do?

Overall it is UKIP which grabbed the headlines with its gain of around 140 seats, well ahead of what most pundits (including me) predicted. The average expectation was for gains of 40-50 seats, but the gains in three authorities alone busted through this number. UKIP did especially well in four Councils in Eastern England: Lincolnshire (16), Cambridgeshire (12), Norfolk (15) and Kent (17). They also did well in Hampshire (10) and West Sussex (10), Suffolk (9), and Essex (9) but failed to gain a single seat in Bristol, Cumbia, Derbyshire, Durham, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, and Warwickshire. They put in a very creditable performance in the South Shields  by-election, coming in second place with 24%, but failing to match the 28% they achieved in Eastleigh.

English_local_elections_2013_results_svgThe Lib Dems did about as badly as expected, losing around 130 seats. They managed to hold on reasonably well in some of their stronger areas such as Cornwall but were badly depleted in Bristol (-10), Cambridgeshire (-9), Northumberland (-15), West Sussex (-13) and Durham (-18). They had no outright control of any of the Councils up for election and ended the count with none. Of more significance in the longer term is that they have lost their largest party status in Bristol and Northumberland, and their position as the official opposition party to UKIP in Buckinghamshire, Kent, Norfolk, and West Sussex. In the Parliamentary by-election in South Shields the Lib Dems were pushed into a humiliating SEVENTH place, behind the BNP and some Independents.

Labour made modest gains, with a net increase of just 291 seats. This was fewer than even the most pessimistic forecasts suggested. The independent local government analysts Professors Ralling and Thrasher suggested around 350 gains would be the minimum Labour needed to suggest that they were making decent progress from their 2009 nadir. I expected around 400 gains, and others predicted 500-600 gains. Labour was expected to at least regain the four Councils they lost in 2009, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire, with Cumbria being a possible bonus. In the event they only managed to gain Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, the latter with the narrowest possible margin. Cumbria remained No Overall Control, Lancashire went to No Overall Control, and, most surprising of all, Staffordshire remained Conservative with a decent majority. The only authority where they swept the board was Durham where they already had a majority. Labour made small advances in most Councils but still ended the count with fewer than 10 Councillors in most southern authorities. Labour won the South Shields by-election with a reduced majority and also won the two Mayoral elections in Doncaster (Gain from Ind) and North Tyneside (Gain from Cons).

The Conservatives were expecting a kicking in these elections from both Labour and UKIP. Rallings and Thrasher predicted losses of 024around 310 seats, I expected losses of around 400, and others predicted losses of over 600 seats and all but 2 authorities. In the end the net seat losses were constrained to just 335 and the Conservatives retained most of the Councils they were defending. In those they lost to No Overall Control most have the Conservatives as the largest party and will therefore likely retain control as a minority administration or as part of a coalition. There were a number of surprises in all respects: the Conservatives kept control of Somerset and Staffordshire against all expectations but lost Lincolnshire and Norfolk to No Overall Control as a result of the UKIP surge. They even managed to increase their Councillor numbers in Surrey and Northumberland! The Daily Mail produced the swingometer (right) which suggested that losses of around 300-350 would be mildly dangerous for Cameron but well below the level which would be considered a catastrophe. The black spot for the Conservatives was the loss of the North Tyneside Mayoralty where Linda Arkley had done an excellent job and was a useful example of a Conservative winning in a northern urban area.

At the end of the counting process the Conservatives won over 1,100 Councillors (-335) and 18 Councils (-10), Labour won 538 Councillors (+291) and 3 Councils (+2), Lib Dems won 352 Councillors (-124), Independents won 165 Councillors (+24), UKIP won 147 Councillors (+139), and the Greens won just 22 Councillors (+5). The BNP were wiped out with zero Councillors elected. Conservatives control County Councils in all parts of England, North, South, East and West, while Labour has just two in the northern Midlands and one in the North.

Undoubtedly UKIP did very well on a turnout of just over 30%, but is it a “breakthrough”? We have seen similar surges before which have turned to dust. We only have to think of the SDP in the 1980’s, the Greens in 1989, the BNP in the last 10 years, and previous UKIP gains in Euro elections. Almost certainly UKIP will come first or second in next year’s Euro elections but to make a real impact on British politics UKIP will need to gain control of a number of higher tier Councils (town and parish councils don’t count!) and/or several MPs. It is therefore premature to talk of a “four-party system” or Nigel Farage taking part in a series of Parliamentary Leaders debates in a General Election.

Of more interest is the debate over how the major parties should respond to UKIP’s success. I profoundly disagree with friends like Dan Hannan and Nirj Deva who argue for some sort of electoral pact. Even if that were possible what could UKIP bring to the party? They have no MPs and are not likely to win any in 2015. Such a pact would mean the end of the current coalition and would alienate some Conservative members and supporters without delivering any tangible benefit.

The best thing that David Cameron can do is to stake out clear and consistent policy positions which unite the Parliamentary Party and the wider membership and stop pursuing policies which alienate our natural supporters. There are signs that this is the path which will be followed in the run up to the General Election with tougher stances on immigration, law and order, and welfare benefits. He could do more on making an EU Membership referendum a guarantee rathen than an aspiration, and he must stop allowing the Chancellor to cut Defence spending while wasting it on Overseas Aid. He must also swiftly ensure that Equal Marriage proposals get onto the Statute Book and avoid picking any more fights with his own side. It is also time to say thankyou and goodbye to Kenneth Clarke who has long outlived his usefulness. If he combined this with a Cabinet reshuffle which reduced the number of people attending the weekly Cabinet meetings he might lead a more focussed and coherent government.

Overall I am optimistic following last week’s local elections. Labour has failed to make any meaningful recovery from the dark days of Gordon Brown’s administration and the Lib Dems are greatly weakened. UKIP will prove to be an irrelevance come the General Election when the turnout will be much higher than last Thursday. A revitalised and emboldened Conservative Party can therefore win the next General Election with a working majority provided that the leadership leads and the Parliamentary Party unites and stops bickering in public. There is everything to play for!

UPDATE: There is a really sensible and reflective piece by Martha Andreasen here.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | National | 13 Comments

2013 Council Elections

Polling Station 2There are a number of elections taking place tomorrow. They are being held in 27 traditional County Councils in England, 8 Unitary Authorities in England and 1 in Wales (Anglesey), 2 Mayoral elections (Doncaster and North Tyneside), and one Parliamentary by-election in South Shields.

There are over 2,300 seats up for election. In the same Council elections in 2009 (minus Anglesey) the Conservatives had a landslide winning 1,531 seats, Labour won just 178, the Lib Dems 484, UKIP 7 and the Greens 18. This time around only the Conservatives and Labour are standing in virtually every seat. The Conservatives are putting up 2,263 candidates, Labour 2,168, the Lib Dems 1,763 (down from last time), UKIP 1,745 (more than double last time), Greens 893, BNP 99, and English Democrats 38, with around 900 independents.

Local-elections-map-2013-001In 2009 the Conservatives won all bar one of the County Councils with a vote share of 38%, the Lib Dems were second with 28%, and Labour third on 23%. This was at the depths of the unpopularity of Gordon Brown’s Labour government and therefore the Conservatives swept the board. Losses are now simply inevitable in the mid-term of a coalition government implementing austerity. It is the likely scale of the losses which are the subject of much debate. The additional factor which makes it more unpredictable is the fact that UKIP has become the repository for the protest votes which used to prop up the Lib Dem support base.

In the Unitary Authority elections the Lib Dems would like to be taking majority control of Bristol Council but more likely face losses to Labour. Cornwall is another Unitary where the Lib Dems will be hoping to take back largest party status from the Conservatives even if the authority remains hung. In Northumberland the Lib Dems are all but certain to lose their position as the largest party in the Civic Offices. In the only election in Wales, the Unitary Authority of Anglesey is likely to remain dominated by Independents.

The respected local government analysts Professors Ralling and Thrasher have made an attempt to predict the likely gains and losses based on current polling compared with 2009. Their estimate suggests Conservative losses of around 310 seats, Labour gains of at least 350 seats, with Lib Dems losing around 130 and UKIP gaining just 40 seats.

Others have suggested that UKIPs intervention may help Labour to gain more seats and the Lib Dems to defend others, whilst UKIP fails to pick up more than a few tens. Some others believe that UKIP will exceed all expectations and gain up to 100 seats.

My personal view is that the Conservatives will lose around 400 seats net, Labour gain around 400 seats net, the Lib Dems lose around 100 seats net, and UKIP gain around 50 seats. The balance will be accounted for by Independents, Greens and others. Labour is expected to regain councils like Derbyshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire but their biggest test will be whether they can make any impact in the South of England, or whether they are confined to areas in the north and midlands which were gained by the Conservatives in 2009.

There are executive Mayoral elections in Doncaster and North Tyneside. In the latter, Conservative Mayor Linda Arkley faces a tough fight to hold on against a strong Labour challenge.

Tomorrow the South Shields Parliamentary by-election will also take place. This will be an interesting test of whether UKIP can make a dent in what is a Labour heartland, or whether their appeal is largely confined to areas which are usually Conservative voting. UKIP is playing UP its chances of “giving Labour a bloody nose”, so they will look pretty silly if they don’t manage a good share of the vote.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | National | 6 Comments