It is that time again when I need to dip my toe into the waters of Portsmouth electoral politics and to try and give an idea of what might happen this year at the local elections on 22nd May.
Portsmouth, along with neighbouring Eastleigh, has managed to buck the electoral trend since the formation of the Coalition government and not just see the Liberal Democrats hold onto control of the council but to increase their majority.
The story of the last two electoral cycles is that of a formidable Lib Dem party machine which has managed to effectively target seats, even when, as in 2011, they have slipped into second place in terms of votes cast. Once very competitive in local government in Portsmouth, Labour slipped into the doldrums towards the end of the Labour government, managing to garner only 13.4% of the vote and no seats in 2008, their worst result ever. For the Conservatives, they have managed to poll well in local elections, but still have been pushed back by the Liberal Democrats where they have been targeted.
Last time, Labour had high hopes of making significant progess in the city, but whilst they managed to increase their share of the city-wide vote from 25.9% in 2011 to 27.1% in 2012, they only took two wards out of the 14 up for election. Much of this was due to the fact that their vote, whilst it rose in several wards, slipped back a little in the ones that they were targeting as the Liberal Democrats responded to the challenge, even coming from a distant third place to snatch the Cosham ward, which Labour should have gained.
The story of 2012 was the big rise in the Liberal Democrat vote, with a 4.85% swing from the Conservatives to them compared to 2011.
For an overview of the wards, I point you in the direction of my former post for the 2012 elections: http://catholicleft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/portsmouth-local-elections-overview-and.html. Sorry if it is a bit lazy, but I am overwhelmed with work.
This time, UKIP and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are standing candidates in all 14 wards. To add some interest, the European Parliament (EP) elections are taking place on the same day.
The seats I believe are of interest:-
Once a Conservative/Labour marginal, the Liberal Democrats shot up from 3rd to 1st place in 2004 and then battled with the Conservatives with Labour pushed into position of distant also-rans, struggling to maintain 3rd place over the Green Party. Since the general election, Labour has rebuilt themselves as the main challengers to the Liberal Democrats, but this has come at the same time as the Conservative vote has heavily fallen back (they lost their last seat here in 2010) and appears to have swung behind the Liberal Democrats. Having successfully picked up the former Labour anti-Tory vote in the past, the Lib Dems have now picked up the former Tory anti-Labour vote.
Labour has campaigned hard in this seat, but saw their vote slip back from 27.9% in 2011 to 25.7% last time, probably not helped by the intervention of the Green Party (who did not stand in 2011 and TUSC). For Labour, they really should be aiming to get around 30% of the vote here and appealing to left-of-centre voters who seem attracted by the Green Party (who got a decent 9.6% in 2012) and TUSC (5.4%) candidates, both of whom have candidates again this year.
The unknown factor in this election is how well that UKIP will do with their candidate, Derek Wareham. There is no history of them in this ward and one can only speculate at the effect that he will have. I would guess that the Conservatives' returning candidate, Kevin Chippindall-Higgin, will be less than delighted at his entrance, but no party feels too safe this year where UKIP is concerned as they appear to be riding a not particularly ideological anti-politics wave.
The Liberal Democrats should be safely home here, but Labour really should be closing the gap.
Liberal Democrat hold.
I predicted a Labour gain here last time, and was not alone in doing so, therefore I was a bit surpised not just by Labour's failure to gain the seat, but that they slipped back in terms of vote share from 32.1% to 31.7%. The big rise in the Lib Dem vote (36.3% to 46.1%) seems to be at the expense of the Tories, who were squeezed down from 22.5% in 2011 to 11.4% in 2012. Also, the Green candidate and TUSC candidates managed to take 10.7% of the vote between them, nonetheless, when Labour were only 125 votes behind in the ward the question has to be asked: why could the party not have successfully attract voters from the Liberal Democrats in the face of an unpopular coalition government in an area badly effected by the welfare changes - one of the poorest in Southern England outside of London? This time, long-serving Liberal Democrat councillor Jacqui Hancock is defending the seat and, especially given the very divided opposition, will be confident of being returned for another term.
For Labour, Sion Reynolds is hoping to once again reduce the deficit and take the seat, but will do so with the TUSC candidate Paul Smith figting for the left-wing vote. TUSC only managed to take 3.8% of the vote in 2012 but, with the absence of a Green candidate (quite surprising, given that they usually have a candidate and the EP elections are on), they might hope to raise their vote.
For the Conservatives, Shaun Rogers will hope to push back against the squeeze and raise the vote share again but will be hindered by the entrance of UKIP's Paul Godier.
Of course, with UKIP, we just don't know how much damage they will do to the different parties nor do we know how they will effect turnout among those who might not normally vote.
There is also a Justice and Anti-Corruption Party candidate, Jason Packer, who, given that they are only standing candidates here and in Fratton ward, seem to be targeting the Hancocks.
Labour really should be winning in seats like this if they are to be taken seriously as a party of the poorest in society and I am aware that they have been campaigning hard in the ward over the past couple of years. Despite believing they would take the seat in 2012, I believe it will be beyond them this time unless the disparate candidates create vote patterns that seem a little unlikely.
Liberal Democrat hold.
Usually a fairly safe Conservative ward with a usually divided centre-left opposition, Copnor has been most marked by being a place that produced a surpringly high vote share for the English Democrats Party and its regular candidate, David Knight (17.3% in 2007), who stood in 5 elections in a row until 2011. This changed in 2012 when long-standing Conservative councillor Malcolm Hey fell out with his party and stood as an Independent. I had thought that this might lead to the Liberal Democrat candidate (and former councillor for Milton) Alex Bentley, snatching the seat. In the end, the Conservatives held on with a greatly reduced share of the vote (32.3% from 38.3% in 2012), over a very divided opposition.
For the Liberal Democrats, great disappointment last time when they must have hoped that the fallout with Mr Hey would have reduced the Tory vote enough for them to take the seat, the problem was that their own vote fell back sharply from 29.9% in 2011 to only 21% in 2012.
This year the Conservative candidate is Jonathan Kemp, who replaces long-serving Councillor Michael Park. In the absence of Mr Hey splitting the vote, "Copnor Community Campaigner" Mr Kemp will hope to be comfortably home this year.
Looking to undermine this in the Labour interest is nurse and expectant mum Sam Jones; in 2012, it was Labour who reclaimed the silver medal in this race, but with only 22.5% of the vote, down from the 23.6% they got in third place in 2011. Labour used to take a solid mid-thirties share of the vote in this area and will be seeking to re-establish themselves as the main challengers.
For the Liberal Democrats, roofer Steve Fletcher will be wanting to spread the good news about the improvement in the general economy brought about by the national coalition as a way to garner votes and try to at least regain second spot after 2012's surprise slippage.
The TUSC are again fielding a candidate, Ben Norman, and will hope to improve on 2012's 5.1%.
UKIP are, as ever, the fly in the ointment as we have no real way of telling how they will do here - will they attract a chunk of the 19% garner by Mr Hey in 2012, thus undermining Mr Kemp, or will they grab votes equally from all parties, or even fail to make any impression? The formerly high EDP vote may be an indicator, only time will tell, but I would guess, given the EP elections, that their candidate, Alicia Denny, might do well on those coat-tails.
This was a bit of a surprise result last time, with the Liberal Democrats coming from a long way behind in 2011 (17.2% and third place) to grab the seat from the Conservatives. The surpise was that one would have though that the most likely party to gain from the Conservatives post-Budget travails were Labour, who had a solid 35% of the vote in 2011. University lecturer, former Cosham councillor and long-time candidate, Graham Heaney, must have been shocked to see his vote share fall to 31.9% whilst the Liberal Democrat's Aiden Gray nearly doubled the Liberal Democrat share to 33.3%, taking the ward with a majority of 43 over Labour. This is especially a shock given that the Liberal Democrats have never really challenged in this ward in the past.
The Conservatives fell into a close third place on 30.2% of the vote and only 95 votes behind Mr Gray. It is possible that the Conservatives' candidate, being a sitting councillor for Baffins, was not particularly welcome and this boosted Mr Gray' vote.
For the TUSC, Simon Ward's 4.1% of the vote may well have cost Labour the election and their return to the fray with Adi Graham as the standard-bearer, along with the Greens being represented by Gavin Ellis, might not make Mr Heaney feel too happy.
Defending for the Conservatives is Hannah Hockaday, as April Windebank (a couple of marvellous names) is not defending for them.
For UKIP, Michael Jerome is standing and, once again, we cannot be sure what effect this will have or who will be most damaged by this, although most surveys continue to show that it is the Conservatives who are, on balance, more effected by voter defections to UKIP.
So, who will win? On the face of it, one might be tempted to plump for the Liberal Democrat's Kirstine Impey on the basis of the large swing last year, however, shortly after being elected for the Liberal Democrats, Mr Gray quit the party and joined the Labour Party and group on the council. This might give Mr Heaney the boost he needs to finally snatch this seat for the first time since he was defeated in 2004 after 9 years as local councillor. It certainly is a must win seat for Labour and one would assume that they are targeting resources appropriately.
I would also guess that the Conservatives will see themselves as certainly in the hunt to hold the seat whilst the Liberal Democrats, undoubtedly stunned by Mr Gray's defection (they are more used to Tory and Labour councillors defecting to them in Portsmouth), might hope to repeat 2012's success.
Given the splitting of the vote on the left and right, I believe this is going to be a very close result, maybe closer than last year. My prediction for last time was a close reult with the Conservatives as slight favourites, this time I am going to nervously predict that Mr Heaney will finally return to the Council Chamber.
Eastney and Craneswater
Often a Liberal Democrat/Conservative marginal, this fairly prosperous ward is being defended this year by sitting Councillor Luke Stubbs for the Conservatives, who has managed to hold this seat by fairly small margins over the Liberal Democrats (he gained it by 18 votes in 2006 and held on by 162 votes in the General Election turnout of 2010). The last Conservative in the ward, Cllr. Stubbs is well-versed in the get out the vote (GOTV) campaign and I would assume that he will have a lot of support from Tory activists in the city as they will be determined to avoid their seat total slipping below double figures in the Council Chamber.
Suzy Horton, for the Liberal Democrats, will undoubtedly be throwing the kitchen sink at this campaign to try to take the final seat from Mr Stubbs, and the signs should really be in her favour, the unknowns are whether Mike George for UKIP will undermine the Tories more than the Lib Dems and whether the intervention of the Green Party, in the shape of Michael Meuhl, will make things more difficult for Ms Horton.
Labour don't really have any hope in this ward and their candidate, Hannah Wright, will be aiming to make a good showing and raise the Labour vote.
For UKIP, it'll be interesting to see how their pitch appeals to the more affluent voter demographic and for Sean Hoyle of TUSC, increasing on 2012's 4.4% will be the plan.
For the Tories to have any hope of holding on, Cllr. Stubbs needs to be getting their vote back of 40%, and maybe quite a bit more than that. Given that the Liberal Democrats' party agent for these elections is a local councillor (last year's victor, Matthew Winnington), I am sure they will be fighting very hard for this seat.
My prediction for last year was pretty much spot on, but I am not so sure this year; even with Mr Stubbs history of pulling it off at the last minute and the rise in the Tories' national ratings, I am making this a tenative Liberal Democrat gain (I think).
Liberal Democrat Gain
Once a Labour seat, this ward has been solidly Liberal Democrat for a very long time. represented, initially for Labour, then Social Democrat and, after the merger with the Liberals, Liberal Democrat, by Mike Hancock, also the MP for Portsmouth South. Mr Hancock is defending his seat this year and one would normally assume a safe hold with a large majority, but things have changed somewhat over the past year or so.
I do not wish to go into too many details but sufficce it to say that Mr Hancock is standing as the Independent candidate this year as he no longer belongs to the Liberal Democrat group on the council whilst ongoing issues are resolved.
Controversially, the Liberal Deomcrats initially allowed Mr Hancock, though suspended from the party, to remain as a Cabinet Member and to attend the Group as a non-voting member. Due to this, fellow Liberal Democrat councillor for Fratton, Eleanor Scott, resigned from the group (though not the party) and now sits as a non-aligned Liberal Democrat.
Controversially, the Liberal Democrats have decided not to field a candidate against Mr Hancock, and this has led to Cllr. Scott complaining that she does not have a Liberal Democrat to vote for in her own ward.
The Liberal Democrats have stated that they are not offering any official support to Councillor Hancock, although it seems unlikely that many local party members are not campaigning for him.
Labour's candidate is Thomas Coles who will doubtless be hoping that the bad publicity around Mr Hancock will lead to a swing to Labour and a strong showing for the party, improving on the decent 25.4% they received in 2012.
The Conservative candidate is David Tompkins but, given how much the Conservative vote has slipped back in recent years (only 17.1% in 2012), they are unlikely to mount a serious challenge.
TUSC candidate John Pickett is back again this year and will be looking to gain from disgruntlement with the national parties to increase the 7.9% he received last time.
Steven George, a campaigner for the rights of disabled people and planning on standing at the General Election, is aiming his attack pretty squarely at Mr Hancock, but he doesn't appear to be a very seasoned campaigner. He may attract aome protest votes.
UKIP are represented by Julie Swan and, as above, I have no idea how she might do or whom the UKIP vote is most likely to damage in this ward.
Given Councillor Hancock's massive name recognition, his 40+ years on the Council and his well-established campaigning ability, it is hard to see anything but a comfortable hold here. He is reported as saying he is too unwell to carry out his duties but seems determined to defend his seat and he may achieve a set back in terms of vote-share as he normally polls around 60% of the vote, so anything under 50% would be a bit of a personal blow to him, but he should be safe enough here.
Mike Hancock hold (technically a gain from the Lib dems but, in reality, a hold for them)
This was one of Labour's outstanding results of 2012 with a swing to them of 9.75% from the Conservatives. However, the Conservatives managed to hold onto the seat with a majority of 74 over Labour's Sue Castillon (down from 794 in 2011).
This year, the defending councillor is the Conservative's Frank Jonas, first elected when he gained the ward from Labour in 2006. Ms Castillon has moved to Paulsgrove (where she will be elcted) and is replaced by Sue Greenfield. Given it is in Labour's former Portsmouth North constituency, the party will be campaigning hard here. In 2012, Hilsea was an "open seat" with no defending councillor so it'll be a tougher ask against a sitting councillor, but we shall see.
Unusally for Portsmouth, Hilsea is a Labour/Tory marginal without much threat from the Lib Dems and I do not expect that to change and their candidate, Simon Dodd, is likely to face a squeeze.
Brian Dolley is standing for TUSC, although I do not imagine they will do too well. There used to be a fairly decent EDP vote here, but that seems to have swung to Labour although it might now be susceptible to the charms of UKIP's Barry Young. Will Mr Young cause more damage to the Councillor Jonas or Ms Greenfield?
I am going to guess that Labour are in with a decent chance here and, if pushed, will go with a Labour gain.
One of Labour's two gains in 2012, Nelson was formerly a safe bet for the party but, with two councillors falling out with the party and subsequently defecting to the Liberal Democrats (including the former Labour leader, Leo Madden), it swung strongly to the Liberal Democrats.
Last year, Labour's Ken Ferret gained the seat from the Conservatives, who had managed to snatch the seat in 2008 on a low share of the vote (31.4%) due to the split vote for the Lib Dems, Labour and others.
Defending the seat this year is the Liberal Democrat councillor Jason Fazackarley, who was originally a Labour councillor for this ward. He held the seat as a Liberal Democrat quite easily in 2010 but might find it a bit more difficult this time.
For Labour, history teacher Rob Smith is the candidate and Labour has been campigning hard in this ward over the past couple of years.
The Conservatives are not a natural fit for this ward and I believe they face the danger of a squeeze, not just from the Liberal Democrats but also from Colin Galloway from UKIP.
For the TUSC, Gordon Spellman is the candidate but one is not able to guess how they might, and they might appeal to voters from both the Lib Dems and Labour.
It is tough to call here but Cllr. Fazackarley, the Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transportation, is not likely to get an easy ride. Mr Smith, having being somewhat chastened by his failure as Labour candidate in Central Southsea in 2012, will doubtless have learned the lesson of that campaign and, with a team that know what it takes to win behind him, he might manage to be elected this time.
As with others, a tough one to call and, given the strained personal relationships between former comrades, these elections can be quite personal.
Given that, I am just going to favour a Labour gain here as it is a seat that makes up Portsmouth North, so Labour will be keen to win it in a constituency they will want to target at the General Election. There are signs of Labour voters returning from the Liberal Democrats and there is a strong party campaign.
Labour Gain (I wouldn't been surprised if Cllr Fazackarley proved me wrong).