Councillor seats across Southampton are up for grabs this Thursday 5th, with many expecting the local election to deliver a verdict on how the Council is dealing out the cuts dealt out by the coalition government.
Seats in all 16 wards are holding elections for councillors alongside the referendum on AV, with a slew of parties fighting for them including the ‘Big Three’; also TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), Southampton First, the Green Party, independents and one lonely BNPer.
Like the rest of the UK the centrepiece of this election will be cuts and how well or badly people are thinking the current Tory Council are dishing them out. Labour are riding on rising anti-coalition government sentiment and are hoping to increase their share of seats at the civic centre, with the Tories trying to show that they’ve dealt with the cuts even-handedly.
Unions (grouped as Southampton United for Public Services) and council workers have come out mainly against the Tories, and with headline-grabbing defeats on (amongst others) hiking up prices of meals-on-wheels massively, cutting shopmobility and replacing librarians, the Tories here will face some entrenched opposition in many wards. However, many residents support the national coalition policy and will stick it out with the Tories, and with many of the recently passed cuts yet to make an impact yet Labour will face a battle to make significant gains.
The Lib Dems are fighting a nationwide collapse in approval, and with only 5 seats on the Council they’d probably be happy to hold on to what they’ve got. They’ve recently launched a ‘Save our Shops’ campaign especially focused on Portswood where the 7th supermarket in half a mile is on the cards, but most parties have ended up taking a similar position on this anyway (although considering the Tories are probably OK’ing it it’s a tad interesting they’re also ‘opposed’ to it locally).
Amongst the smaller parties fighting it out are the Greens, TUSC and Southampton First. TUSC are putting up 14 candidates around the city and hope to also profit from anti-coalition sentiment, and say they’re the only party to oppose all cuts to services, critiscing labour for promoting a “better our cuts than their cuts” message.
The Green party are also positioned against cuts but are also trying to connect with local campaigns against unwanted development, fluoride and supermarket power. Green Party candidates have been vocal in opposition to the proposed Biomass power station in Millbrook, but since then pretty much all the parties have jumped on board in opposition too.
Southampton First are putting up 5 candidates on a platform of “doing the best they can for the people of Southampton”, with policies opposing fluoride in the water, more resources for police and road repair and a critique of the ’Big Three’ parties and the bankers. We must admit we don’t have much information on the independent candidates (due to lower publicity levels than from funded parties, which is a shame), but they have got onto the Council before so are worth watching.
The BNP are notably lonely this year in Southampton, with only one candidate standing in Harefield. This reflects their decline in power nationwide, with huge losses last year in many strongholds and bitter divisions and rivalries pulling the party down from the inside. As of yet none of the alternative nationalist parties (including the English Democrats and splinters from the BNP like British Freedom Party) have shown their face much, but we’re on the lookout.
Overall many of the candidates have relatively similar promises coming out (protecting core services like library/police/road repair etc., opposing supermarkets, limiting HMO (student housing)…) and many leaflets are barely discernable in terms of policy points. It seems more likely that people will use this election as a chance to endorse or reject government policy more than on the performance of the Tories in Southampton; although pissed-off council workers are likely to be thinking a bit more locally.
So here are our rough and ready predictions for the day: Labour will gain a fair few seats but taking control of the council is less likely – the Council going to no overall control could be possible though. Lib Dems will struggle to gain or even keep seats, but those left could hold the balance of power if Labour do well enough. A gain for either the Greens or TUSC is possible but unlikely, but they’ll probably do pretty well in many wards. Southampton first and independents will probably do OK but aren’t likely to pick anything up unless they run a very strong local campaign. The BNP will probably do rubbishly. If a party opposed to some/all the cuts DO take control then it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to do much about the cuts – 80′s Liverpool style refusal to administer them are very improbable from Labour, and a Green/TUSC takeover is extemely improbable, but they could change where cuts are falling to a degree.
So there are our predictions – take them with a pinch of salt though: for the last election we were only just right, so we’re willing to be proved wrong!