The local elections are over and I’m more free to write about what has gone down and I have to say that whilst it was an extremely poor evening for the Lib Dems (bar the huge win in Leigh) it wasn’t a surprise. I think most people fully expected the party to lose Prittlewell and Blenheim Park, two seats we were defending and not be able to pick up much traction elsewhere. There are reasons for this which it would be unfair to go into in such a public forum but the results in terms of what happened to the Lib Dems went down pretty much exactly as expected.
Whilst the news has finally surfaced that the Conservatives two gains (at the expense of the Lib Dems in the above two wards) helped them into a position where they could run the council (either in coalition or with a confidence and supply, which is indeed now widely reported to be the case with the two UKIP councillors) they didn’t have a great night at all. Beating the Lib Dems in those wards isn’t anything to write home about.
The biggest result for them was hanging on to Southchurch from a strong independent challenge. Had they stolen Belfairs from the Indy’s or managed to navigate through the warring independents in Shoeburyness then you could say they were the winners of the night. As it was they did what they were supposed to do but nothing more. John Lamb may be set to run the council but with a majority of just one (when you take into account the two UKIP members who will back them up) then it is a very weak majority and Southend is in for two years of council struggles.
No the big winner was clearly Labour and this has sweet fuck all to do with Jeremy Corbyn or the Corbynistas. It has to do with the fact their ground game is by far the most superior in the town. They have activists who go out come rain or shine throughout the year and engage with residents. You can have nothing but praise for them.
They held the three seats they were defending by very large margins in seats that were seemingly vulnerable. Cllr. Anne Jones moved wards to try and take out popular incumbent Dr. Vel and did so with relative ease to make Westborough a three Labour ward. However despite these admirable achievements, they weren’t their best moments.
The two results that will send shivers down the spines of the other parties will be Labour finishing a very close second in Prittlewell and a comfortable second in Blenheim Park. The former is demographically horrendous for Labour and they shouldn’t be anywhere even close to taking that seat. The fact they were 78 votes away from winning it is insane.
In Blenheim the demographics are slightly more favourable but still in the grand scheme of things they shouldn’t be outperforming the Lib Dems or the short-term the UKIP factor. It shows that hard work over a significant period of time, coordinated strategy, fielding a strong candidate and a party can perform well above national expectations at local level.
Labour can now legitimately say that they are the party that can stop the Tories in Blenheim Park and Prittlewell. Whether that is true come the next time people are voting in Southend come 2018, it could be another story entirely but as of right now they are clearly the main opposition party.
With 2018 seeing UKIP defending those two seats, whether they stay purple (highly unlikely) or go blue or red could easily be the deciding factor in the make-up of the council. They can easily put themselves as competitive or favourites in six wards going into 2018, only the Conservatives can say they are competitive in more seats.
My last point I want to write about though is strategic cross-party planning. To keep the Tories out of controlling the council (with/without the propping up of UKIP) will likely need some some of cross-party strategy. An agreement to not stand a candidate in a seat or two where they are only going to be paper candidates anyway in exchange for reciprocal agreements.
This is something Labour, the Lib Dems and the Independent Group should at least consider. I know it goes against the principles of certainly both Labour and the Lib Dems who believe you should put up candidates everywhere to give your voters a chance to vote for you but in terms of locking the Tories out and having a center-left coalition instead of a right-wing allience in charge at the Civic Centre, speaking very much in a personal capacity here, it deserves some real thought.
So to recap, a very impressive and deservedly so night for the Labour group. The Tories did what they were expected to do, nothing more. UKIP showed they are very much in decline locally, the Greens ran a nice spoiler campaign to enable the Tories across the town and as for the Lib Dems, well what can you say? A huge and comprehensive win in Leigh and then 16 other results (ok 15, West Leigh was more than solid too…)
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