Vot­ers go to polls at crit­i­cal mo­ment

County Hall poll tests pub­lic opin­ion af­ter Brexit paul’s pre­dic­tions

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Historical Decision - By Paul Fran­cis Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor pfran­cis@thek­m­group.co.uk @paulonpol­i­tics

The cam­paign for con­trol of Kent County Coun­cil gets un­der way this week with the prize of run­ning what is one of the largest au­thor­i­ties in the coun­try at stake.

The May 4 vote takes place against a back­drop of a tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal land­scape and is the first ma­jor test of pub­lic opin­ion since the Brexit vote last year.

The vote comes at a crit­i­cal mo­ment as the UK pre­pares for the po­ten­tially lengthy process of leav­ing the EU.

It is also the first elec­tion since Theresa May be­came Prime Min­is­ter.

For all par­ties, how­ever, the fo­cus will be on their agenda for the county rather than the coun­try and the key is­sues are ones that af­fect vot­ers closer to home.

Ris­ing coun­cil tax, the pres­sures on adult so­cial care and the con­tin­u­ing aus­ter­ity drive that has left coun­cils strug­gling to bal­ance their books will all be ma­jor themes.

The Con­ser­va­tives re­tained con­trol in 2013, win­ning 45 of the 84 seats but came within a whisker of los­ing out­right con­trol as a Ukip surge took all par­ties by sur­prise.

It took 17 seats and in the process be­came the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion.

While it can be ar­gued that Ukip has passed its elec­toral high water mark, the Con­ser­va­tives will be wary of be­ing caught out a sec­ond time.

It will em­pha­sise its track record on de­liv­er­ing ser­vices in the face of cuts of tens of mil­lions of pounds but will do so as coun­cil tax bills land on doorsteps with a sting in the tail – a 4% hike.

Plus there is the loom­ing prospect of east Kent form­ing one su­per-coun­cil at dis­trict level. Al­though Shep­way, like Ash­ford, backed out of the plans, leav­ing the re­main­ing three au­thor­i­ties scratch­ing their heads about the way for­ward, it is an­other fac­tor to con­sider.

Ukip re­mains con­fi­dent about its prospects but may strug­gle to re­tain all the seats won four years ago.

It will be fo­cus­ing par­tic­u­larly on its Thanet strong­hold, where it took seven of the eight seats up for grabs.

Labour has po­ten­tially the great­est chal­lenge. It will be con­test­ing the elec­tion against a back­drop of bouts of in­fight­ing by the na­tional party and a leader en­dur­ing some of the worst rat­ings in his­tory.

It took 13 seats in 2013 but had tar­geted 20 – the num­ber party chiefs want to reach this time round.

How­ever, in a by-elec­tion for one of its sup­pos­edly safe seats in Grave­sham last year it lost out to the Con­ser­va­tives, a wor­ry­ing re­sult. The party that could spring a sur­prise is the Lib­eral Democrats, who will be po­si­tion­ing them­selves as the cen­tre­ground party hop­ing to ex­ploit the ter­ri­tory va­cated by Labour.

Vot­ers will be re­turn­ing 81 county coun­cil­lors to 71 di­vi­sions on May 4, three fewer than 2013 be­cause of bound­ary changes. Con­ser­va­tives

Best re­sult: Se­cures a com­fort­able work­ing ma­jor­ity, chiefly by re­cov­er­ing a clutch of seats lost to Ukip in 2013. Likely re­sult: See above. But will be wary of the Lib Dems who have an eye on win­ning over dis­il­lu­sioned Europhile Con­ser­va­tive vot­ers.

Labour

Best re­sult: Reaches and maybe ex­ceeds its tar­get of 20 seats and re­turns as the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion group. Likely re­sult: Could be a dif­fi­cult day at the polls - vul­ner­a­ble in some wards be­cause of bound­ary changes and will do well to hang on to the seats it al­ready has.

Lib­eral Democrats

Best re­sult: Picks off votes from dis­en­chanted Labour and Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers and pos­si­bly be­comes the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion at County Hall. Likely re­sult: Will do bet­ter than might be ex­pected but could be frus­trated as an in­creased share of the vote may not trans­late into win­ning seats.

Ukip

Best re­sult: Con­founds ex­pec­ta­tions, holds on to most of its seats and re­tains role as of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion party. Likely re­sult: Un­likely to re­peat its spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance in 2013 but could prove more tena­cious than some think. De­ter­mined to keep a stran­gle­hold

Vot­ers go to the polls to de­cide shape of coun­cil

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