Voters go to polls at critical moment
County Hall poll tests public opinion after Brexit paul’s predictions
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.
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.
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.
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