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Sean Fear’s local council election commentary

March 31st, 2006

    WHAT OF THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS?

The modern Liberal revival began in local government, with the capture of Finchley in the late 1950s. Decade by decade, Liberal (and then Alliance) support on local councils grew steadily, until by the mid 1990s, the Liberal Democrats had 50 local councils under their control, and more local councillors than the Conservatives. Typically, Liberal Democrats gains came in areas of long-standing Conservative support (although there were exceptions like Liverpool, Tower Hamlets and Southwark).

Recently, the nature of Liberal Democrat representation has changed. Many seats have now reverted to the Conservatives, but the Liberal Democrats have made serious inroads into Labour’s urban heartlands. They have captured councils like Newcastle, Durham, and Islington, and are the only serious opposition to Labour in many urban areas.


    How will the Liberal Democrats do on May 4th? Outside London, the scope for large headline gains is limited, due to the small number of seats being contested. Within London, most of the really tight contests will be between Labour and the Conservatives
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Nonetheless, there is scope for the Liberal Democrats to make progress. Outside London, they should be able to gain Rochdale, and deprive the Conservatives of overall control in Solihull. They should be looking for gains (although not outright control) in Kirklees, Calderdale and Manchester. Despite their strength in Oldham and Sheffield, it is unlikely that they can win control of either borough, due to the nature of the seats being contested this year. They are vulnerable to losing their minority control of Norwich, but ought to retain Newcastle.

Among the smaller authorities, they ought to be able to win outright control of St. Alban’s, and possibly take Hart and Eastbourne from the Conservatives.

Within London, they would have had high hopes of winning Richmond, where they have performed very well in by-elections. However, David Cameron’s brand of politics should go down particularly well here, and they may well fall short. They will almost certainly lose seats (but not outright control) in Sutton. Despite Tony Travers’ prediction, I see little prospect of their losing Kingston.

As elsewhere, their best chance of making important gains will be against Labour. Haringey must be at the head of their target list, although it will be hard for them to win outright control without gaining seats in Tottenham. They must be hopeful of winning outright in Southwark, and of making big inroads into Labour’s support in Waltham Forest, Lewisham, the South of Camden, and in the Brent East wards of Brent. On the other hand, they may well lose ground to Labour in Lambeth, where that party has performed well in recent by-elections. There is no longer any realistic prospect of their winning control of Tower Hamlets.

Last Night’s Results give little indication of the outcome on May 4th, as three were in Scotland, and the other two involved an Independent and a Resident.

Epsom and Ewell BC – Town
: Lib Dem 438, Residents 373, Con 205, Lab 102. Lib Dem hold.
Glasgow CC – King’s Park: Lib Dem 572, Lab 472, SNP 431, C 222, Scottish Socialist party 44, Green 38, Ind 23. Lib Dem gain from Lab. This was an excellent result for the Lib Dems who won the seat on a 19% swing.
Mansfield DC – Forest Town West: Lab 365, Lib Dem 197, Green 187, Con 175, Ind 43. Lab gain from People’s Councillor. The People’s Councillor was originally elected as Labour.
South Lanarkshire Council – Avondale South: Con 775, Lab 315, SNP 221, Ind 79, Green 71, Lib Dem 59. Con hold. A very solid win for the Conservatives.
Stirling Council – Borestone: SNP 374, Lab 335, Lib Dem 165, Con 57. SNP gain from Lab. Another poor result for Labour North of the Border. The SNP win means that Labour have now lost control of Stirling.

Sean Fear

Sean is a Tory activist and a regular contributor.






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