Meet the new boss? Southampton prepares to go to the polls

Posted on April 30, 2012 by

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All 3 main parties are fighting hard in the run up to the local elections on Thursday 3rd May, which could see the political map of Southampton significantly changed.  As is our custom, we present you with a rough guide to what’s going on and our own vague predictions!

First, a trip down memory lane to this time last year… At that set of local elections the Tory’s majority was slashed from 8 to 4 seats, leaving them with 26 seats to Labour’s 19 and the Lib Dem’s down to only 3.  As we noted back then the Labour party gained the majority of the popular vote (41% to the Tories on 38% and LD on 14%), but the slow-rotation method of elections in Southampton along with the vagaries of the First Past The Post method tends to average big swings out.

The main question this year then is whether Labour can keep up their performance and make similar gains to last year, in which case control of the Council would be on a knife-edge.  All the parties can smell this, and all 3 of the main parties are campaigning heavily in Southampton with leaflets coming through the door at a rate of knots and with Labour leader Ed Miliband including Southampton to visit in the run-up (theoretically to boost votes by his presence, but we’ll see how what goes…).

Courtesy of the Daily Echo...

So, which middle-aged white man would you like to lead the Council next?

Of course the key issue is how the city’s year of strikes and industrial action due to cuts and the Council’s sort-of-privatisation “EasyCouncil” planswill be reflected in the votes, with all parties seeking to make capital of the strife.  Whilst Labour and Lib Dem leaflets are shouting about how it shows the Torys are “in turmoil”, the Torys have been quick to try and pin the blame on Unions and accuse Labour of stoking it.

Turning to the manifestos and election propaganda it’s clear there isn’t a hugely discernable difference in what claims are being made, with most of course calling for low council tax, more HMO controls, keeping bobbies on the beat, battling over bins etc.  The devil is mainly in the inscrutable detail and backroom plans unfortunately, but broadly the gist seems to be large-scale loan-based investment projects for jobs and an ever-leaner Council in partnership with private sector by the Torys (and seemingly to make the skyline blue), whereas Labour wants to roll back some of the Tory cuts and keep more Council jobs but still fund similar investment by finding more internal savings (and maybe put up red LEDs and blocks instead of blue?).  Whether these sums add up we don’t know (our accountant’s out to lunch), but the various leaflets aren’t particularly informative on this.  Indeed, some of Labour’s look rather “We want a better deal for (Insert City Name Here)” with generic stock images abound – although the Torys aren’t much better with their huge propaganda newspapers.

The much vilified Torys have been quick to sling back at their opponents, accusing everyone of wanting to remove council tax cuts to pensioners (which opponents say could be better targeted to poorer pensioners in other ways).  They’ve also been focusing relentlessly on Labour’s links to local strikes, with one leaflet delivered a few weeks ago focused exclusively on this whilst trying to cloak its own political affilliation to the Torys by reporting its publisher just as STCA (Southampton Test Conservative Association) in a small corner.  Considering the leaflet accused Labour of ‘mud-slinging’, publishing a distinctly mud-slinging leaflet and not directly putting your own party directly on the leaflet could perhaps be seen as a tad ironic…

Beyond the tight contest for Tory or Labour control on Thursday, the poor Lib Dems are simply fighting for survival having nearly been wiped out here in the last elections.  With national opinion not particularly on their side it’ll be an uphill struggle, and they’ve certainly been churning out the leaflets to match the challenge.  The one currently in front of this reporter even features the candidate holding aloft a spanner promising to fix the local sewage works – we at The Blowhole look forward to the day we can send local councillors armed only with a spanner to the sewage works… If they do keep some seats though, they could well hold the balance of power if the other two parties don’t take overall control.

Furious campaigning is not just limited to the main 3 parties though, with the Green party, TUSC, Southampton First, UKIP and a slate of independents.  The Greens often poll around 10-15% of the vote in seats they stand effectively placing them as Southampton’s fourth party, and will be looking to boost votes on an anti-cuts stance and now having control of a Brighton council as an example of what they can do.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition would be the first to point out that Brighton has made some cuts still, and are heavily campaigning on a total no-cuts platform with their case study of 80’s Liverpool as their goal.  Not all local unionists are on board with the comrades though, with Ian Woodland as regional officer of Unite accusing them of undermining Labour’s chances of toppling the Tory Council.

Southampton First are putting forward a clutch of candidates along with some independents and a few UKIPers.  Notably the BNP is absent this year – probably as a result of its internal fracturing over the past year – having beat other minor rival party TUSC last time round in the one ward they stood.

So then, what predictions can we make?  It’ll probably be a close thing with only a few seats in it, but who will come out on top is hard to say.  If national sentiment filtered down then Labour might well make it, but the wild card in this election is how bad the Lib Dems do.  If they do really badly then the Torys could make some gains despite a falling vote (as they did last year in wards like portswood), but if they do OK then they could hold the balance by potentially allying with either other part.  So for us it’s too close to call, but from looking through the various manifestos it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing a huge amount of change either way…  The Blowhole will of course be bringing you a review of the results in the near future!

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Posted in: Comment, News, Southampton, UK