Friday, 5 April 2013

Starting Pistol Fired in 2013 Race for County Hall

Nominations for the local elections taking place on Thursday, 2nd May 2013 for Lincolnshire County Council have drawn to a close.

But the quantity of nominations for each political party - or in some cases the lack thereof - can reveal a considerable amount about the state of the political parties in Lincolnshire.

As the various parties line up like race horses on the starting line, waiting for the staring pistol to be fired, it is clear some mounts have the stamina to stay the course and go on to victory whilst others will limp in to last place. In these elections, in this race, it is winner takes all and so whomever is first-past-the-post matters.

First off, the Conservatives. Having had a voluptious administration of 61 of a possible 77 councillors over the course of the past four year term, led by Martin Hill, the party is a powerful force in the way in which the county is governed. They fielded a full slate of 77 last time and have done so again. No signs of any weakness in this stallion. Whilst perhaps past its peak of four years ago, nevertheless odds are on for this favourite.

Secondly, the Lincolnshire Independents. The official opposition at the authority for the past four years after a disasterous set of election results for Labour allowed for a coalition of the willing (Lincolnshire Independents, other Independents and members elected for the Boston By Pass party (which later merged with the Lincolnshire Independents)) to cobble together the support to allow Marianne Overton to become Leader of the Opposition. Fielding 29 (38%) candidates, up for 16 (23%) last time around. Certainly not enough candidates to put Mrs. Overton within reach of the magic 39 seats needed to have a majority. Make no mistake this is a bona fide political party. However, with the inherant instability of not having a whip expect contradictions, surprises and chaos. A scratchy performer.

Next, the Labour party. They have increased their deployment from 63 (87%) last time to a full slate. The party, back in opposition at Westminster, has found popularity in the polls at this midway point in the parliament. No doubt regaining some disaffected supporters who left during their time in government. Riding high in the polls nationally may not translate to victory in Lincolnshire. Expect a good showing for the party restoring their numbers back into double figures and a return to the opposition benches at county hall.

The Liberal Democrats. Well. They fielded a slate of 64 (83%) last time. This time that has dwindled to just 37 (48%) of the available seats to contest, also short of the half way mark. They are in no danger of forming an administration. Known for their ability to win by-elections this will be a test of their ability to retain incumbents - a key issue for a party which has dropped since the 2010 General Election from poll ratings of above 20% to around 10% now. Seats which they have held in successive elections, such as those in Gainsborough, are likely to be vulnerable to a Labour advance. Expect a poor performance, unlikely to complete the race unscathed.

UKIP, or more fully the United Kingdom Independence Party, are - if you believe the spin - 'a new force in british politics', they are 'breaking the mould' and becoming 'the real opposition'. Or put another way they are what the Liberal Democrats used to be. A party of protest. Fielding an impressive 60 (77%) candidates, up form 10 (13%) in 2009, they hope to capitalise on their party's current momentum. In April last year they started being included in poll reports. Moving from low single digits in April last year to a more sturdy double digit figure of 10-12%; putting them toe-to-toe with the Liberal Democrats in many polls. Their party leader Nigel Farage MEP is expected to tour the county during next week. However, don't expect a tide of purple to swell around County Hall. Like the Lincolnshire Independents, many of their candidates will be new to politics and to campaigns. This has the potential to cause them difficulties during the campaign and create doubt in the minds of electors. Pundits are predicting an upset for some Conservatives, who might lose at the expense of voters backing UKIP. Fighting slightly against the tide this time as the last county contest was held at the same time as elections for the European Parliament. At this stage an unknown quantity. Might be worth a flutter in the late stages.

There are a number of minor parties contesting some seats in the election. The Trades Union and Socialists Against Cuts candidates have made consistent, steady, if somewhat slow, improvements in the number of votes they have garnered to their Lincoln City Council candidates, since the last county contest in 2009. Fielding 6 candidates, up from just 1 last time. Not expected to win any seats, but may cause trouble for Labour in Lincoln. The British National Party have fielded 4 candidates, down from 22 in 2005. Considered, by those in the know, to be on their last legs, probably destined for the knackers yard. The Greens have fielded 1 candidate, down from 3 in 2009. Slightly surprising given that the party now has a MP, since the 2010 General Election.

Finally, there is that last special group that contest elections. Independents. Real ones. Not Lincolnshire Independents but  people standing who are not affiliated to any party. Actually independent. There were 20 Independent candidates last time around and this time 22. Despite popular myth that apathy is increasing; that people just simply are not interested in politics any more. As this is not a grouping or a party they move all individually in their own unique directions. An independent is not normally a contender in a contest, unless there is a very specific issue in a locality. Incumbert independents can usually be expected to retain their seats. There are none on the council at the current time. So do not expect the old grey mare to make the final furlong in record time.

In conclusion, there are 314 candidates contesting the 77 divisions of Lincolnshire, averaging out at about 4 candidates contesting for each seat. In 2009 there were 282 candidates. This time around everyone has the opportunity to vote Conservative or Labour. Most people have the option to vote UKIP. For a party that for years claimed to be the 'third party' to only field candidates before less than half the electorate is shameful. Whilst not all parties have stood in every division, it is nevertheless good to see a number of minor parties increasing their offering of candidates to the voters. It is good that there is a breadth of choice from the far-right to the far-left and everything in between. It is good for democracy for voters to have a real choice. And soon, voters will go to polling stations across the county an make that choice.

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