So, tomorrow is Local and Eurpean election day, and I usually give an overview and make predictions for Stockport council. So, late in the day, here we go:
After the last elections in 2012, the Liberal Democrat group remain in minority control with 29 councillors out of 63 - they maintain control due to the policy of the three-member Heald Green Independent Ratepayers Group to support the largest party. Keen-eyed observers will notice that the Liberal Democrats had only 28 councillors after the last round of elections but have been strengthened by the defection to them of Councillor Pat McAuley, who was elected for Labour in Manor in 2011 but who quickly left the group to sit as a People Matter councillor. His defection was not too surprising as he supported the present Leader of the Council, Sue Derbyshire, in her re-election bid in 2012 (see below).
The last time these seats were fought was 2010, at the same time as the General Election, so with a significantly larger turnout than normal. As ever, given the fact that there are three councillors in each seat, we can take the 2011 and 2012 results as a guide.
The Liberal Democrats are defending 12 seats from 2010, Labour are defending 5 seats, the Conservatives 3 and the Heald Green Independent Ratepayers defend their 1 seat.
In 2010, the Liberal Democrats took 40.8%% of the vote across the borough, Conservatives took 30.3%, Labour took 22.1%, Independent R/P 2.4%, BNP 2.3%, Green 1.6%, UKIP 0.3% and Independents 0.2%.
Last year, Labour took 33.4%, Conservative, 25.3%, Lib Dems 31.0%, Ind R/P 3.0%, UKIP 3.2%, Green 2.0%, BNP 1.8% and Independents& Liberal Party 0.2%.
The Lib Dems won 10 wards last time, Labour won 8, Conservatives 2 and Ind R/P 1.
If Labour simply holds its own after last year, they will gain 3 seats (2 from Lib Dem and 1 from the Conservatives), the Lib Dems will lose 2 (both to Labour) and the Conservatives will lose 1.
However, as ever, things are never that simple and with the European Parliamentary (EP) elections occurring on the same day (hence the delay of the local elections by a fortnight) with UKIP having a strong showing in the polls for the EP elections, will that have a knock-on effect locally - or will it serve the major parties who are fighting hard with more established election teams and who might get their vote out better for the EP elections? Local issues and local personalities will effect each ward battle and there will be surprises, as ever. Democracy is a wonderful thing and, when it a local election, differential turnout is crucial - those who can target their supporters and get them to the polls (or postbox) will win the day.
UKIP have 16 candidates up this year, failing to nominate in Stepping Hill ward and the old Lancashire wards of Heatons North, Heatons South, North Reddish and South Reddish.
As with all of my overviews and predictions, I will look at the seats I believe are in play and I invite views on the outcome of the local elections in each or all of them.
Labour target seats:
Davenport and Cale Green
This is an interesting ward which had swung heavily to the Liberal Democrats in the years since the boundary changes and all out elections in 2004. It has had a significant Conservative vote from the Davenport end of the ward which been somewhat squeezed over the years. Cale Green is a much more working class area with a traditional Labour vote that had moved significantly to the Liberal Democrats. In 2004 with the creation of the present ward, all three Labour Councillors who had represented the old Davenport seat were defeated by the Lib Dem councillors of the old Cale Green seat. Two of the Liberal Democrat Councillors, Roy Driver and David White, defected to Labour over Coalition policies, but neither chose to defend the seat with Cllr White standing down this year.
In 2011 and 2012, Labour gained the seat from the Liberal Democrats, with Ann Smith losing her seat last time.
In 2010, the Lib Dems managed to hold the seat quite comfortably, taking 39.4% of the vote to Labour's 32.7%, despite the bigger turnout which one would expect to favour Labour so it was quite a shock to see the scale of the turnaround in 2011 where there was a 19% swing from the Lib Dems to Labour between 2007 and 2011. The Lib Dem vote falling to 21.2% and the Labour vote rising to 54%. The Conservative vote was 15.7%, Green 8.3%.
The defections of Lib Dem councillors Roy Driver and David White to (eventually) Labour undoubtedly had an effect on the result but the Coalition government where the Liberal Democrats joined with the Conservatives nationally won't have gone down well with the voters of Cale Green, even without the unpopular decisions made by the national government last year. Benefit changes for the unemployed and those in rented accommodation have not been popular in this area and it'll be interesting to see if signs of economic recovery have reached the voters of this ward. David White is not defending his seat for Labour so this year sees the return of Ann Smith, who lost her seat in 2012, as the Liberal Democrat candidate (so, technically defending the seat) and Elise Wilson standing for Labour. For the Conservatives, experienced candidate Julie Wragg will be hoping to avoid repeating the heavy squeeze on the Tory vote experienced in 2012. Phil Shaw returns as the Green candidate for his fourth bite of the cherry in this ward, whilst UKIP is fielding Doreen Hopkins; UKIP last had a candidate here in 2007 when they came fifth with only 3.1% of the vote. They should poll better this time.
Ann Smith is a popular lady and she will put up a strong fight in what is an open seat this year, but I still feel that this is Labour's to lose. I will predict a fairly narrow Labour victory here, with UKIP's share of the vote perhaps playing a crucial role.
In 2010 (2012) the ward results were:
Liberal Democrat David White 2,453 39.4% (38.0%)
Labour Co-op Brian Hendley 2,032 32.7% (45.9%)
Conservative Beryl Charlesworth 1,321 21.2% (8.6%)
Green Phil Shaw 415 6.7% (6.3%)
Majority 421 6.7
Full Candidate List: Doreen Hopkins (UKIP), Phil Shaw (Green), Ann Smith (Lib Dem), Elise Wilson (Lab), Julie Wragg (Con).
Manor is on the edge of the political dividing line of Stockport, sandwiched between normally Labour voting North and Central Stockport and the normally Lib Dem redoubts of Eastern and Southern Stockport (Bredbury, Offerton, Stepping Hill, Marple, etc) and it is in this sort of seat that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are fighting toe-to-toe.
The Liberal Democrats were safely ensconced in this ward for many years with the nearest they came to losing a seat being in the all-out elections of 2004 when Labour's Brigitte Lechner came within 97 votes of taking the last seat from the Lib Dems' David Robert-Jones, comfortably out-polling the other Labour candidates by 500 votes. She was subsequently Labour's candidate in the 2006/7/8 campaigns but was swimming against the tide of an unpopular Labour government and a popular Lib Dem Council.
In 2010, the Lib Dems still managed a comfortable 575 (9%) majority over Labour on the increased General Election turnout.
This changed in 2011's local elections when Patrick McAuley gained for Labour with their vote rising by 12% since 2010 whilst the Lib Dem vote only fell by 4.9% since 2010. There seems to have been some tactical voting by Conservatives to save the Lib Dem councillor but disillusionment as I have described above will have effected the voters. There was a 12.515% swing from the LDs to Labour between 2007 and 2011, the Lib Dem vote falling 7.87% and the Labour vote rising by 17.16%. The Con vote rose by 0.72%, the BNP vote fell by 7.01% and the Independent by 3.1%.
As I noted above, Councillor McAuley has now joined the Liberal Democrats as I had predicted he would in 2012. The results last time showed, on a reduced turnout, the Labour vote share (not votes cast) remaining remarkably steady at 43.6% (just 0.4% down on 2011) but a formidable campaign by sitting Councillor Sue Derbyshire saw the Liberal Democrat vote share rise by 8% for her to hold onto her seat from Labour's Walter Barrett by a nerve-jangling 24 votes. A drop in the Conservative vote share of 7.5% will surely count for much of this and it was a masterfully executed squeeze by the Liberal Democrats.
Councillor Daniel Hawthorne is defending his seat this year, having first been elected in the 2010 election. Returning as Labour candidate, after losing so narrowly last time, is Walter Barrett, who will hope to be a tad luckier this year. For the Conservatives, Beverley Oliver will hope to avoid the heavy squeeze that was suffered in 2012 but I think she will be struggling, not least because of the appearance of a UKIP candidate, in the shape of John Kelly. There is no ward history for UKIP so it is all a bit up in the air as to how they will do. One candidate who will be unhappy with UKIP's appearance will be Duncan Warner of the BNP who has stood at every election since 2004 (when he snatched second place from the Tories); Mr Warner's vote share has fallen since 2010 and many of his supporters will have been disillusioned Labour voters. BNP's recent travails and the appearance of a more respectable form of protest in UKIP, added to the squeeze coming from the two front-runners, could lead to Mr Warner's worst result (one would be devastated if this proved to be true.....).
I am not sure how to call this one, it is going to be a close run one again I would guess, and I am tempted to make a prediction but...........
Too close to call.
Liberal Democrat Daniel Hawthorne 2,605 40.9% (44.3%)
Labour Paul Moss 2,030 31.9% (43.6%)
Conservative Alex Raisbeck 1,269 19.9% (7.4%)
BNP Duncan Warner 464 13.8 (7.3%)
Majority 575 9.0%
Full Candidate List: Walter Barrett (Lab), Daniel Hawthorne (Lib Dem), John Kelly (UKIP), Beverley Oliver (Con), Duncan Warner (BNP).
Offerton is in the Hazel Grove constituency, located in the centre of Stockport borough, between Marple, Bredbury and Manor wards.
Offerton offered the big news of the 2012 elections, when the Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council, Councillor Dave Goddard, was beaten by Labour's Laura Booth after a fairly stormy campaign. This year, due to the decision of sitting councillor John Smith (elected as Liberal Democrat but defected to the Conservatives) to retire, it is likely to be a straight fight again between returning Lib Dem Mr Goddard and Labour's Charlie Stewart. Labour took the seat last time with a nail-bitingly close majority of 45, but proving that they can win here will mean that the seat is likely to be heavily-targeted again by Labour. In 2010, the Liberal Democrat candidate won comfortably with 49% of the vote, the Conservatives took 23.7%, Labour 18.5% and the BNP 8.8%.
Labour has risen from the political grave in this ward (it is hard to believe that they came fourth behind the BNP in 2008 with less than 10% of the vote) and it will be the aim of Mr Goddard to squeeze the Conservative vote and, as with the other parties, discourage Liberal Democrat voters from toying with a vote for UKIP as a form of national protest. This may have been helped by the suspension by the national party of returning UKIP candidate, Harry Perry, who proves yet again that some people shouldn't be allowed near a twitter account. For the Conservatives, Bill Law will be hoping to build up the party's vote share and avoid being squeezed out of the race. It would be interesting to know how Councillor Smith might have fared if he had chosen to defend the seat as a Tory candidate but I suspect he would have been pushed out by Labour and the Lib Dems.
As mentioned already, UKIP's Harry Perry returns for a third shot at the seat, but his 10% of the vote is unlikely to rise much due to the two-way battle and his own problems with his party. Mind you, voters make a habit of voting in maverick ways, so who knows?
Last year, Laura Booth had a history in the seat and was standing for the third time, this may serve to put Labour's candidate, Charlie Stewart, at a disadvantage but he has been a public campaigner so should be fairly well known. Mr Goddard has a very high-profile, which can work for or against a person.
I am sure Labour and the Liberal Democrats will fight hard here and it is a very tough one to call, but with Labour proving it can win and thus showing those who have voted tactically for the Liberal Democrat's in the past that a Labour vote is not a wasted one, Labour's vote might rise. Having said that, the Liberal Democrats will be targeting the Conservative vote very hard. This could be very close again and I will not make a prediction.
Too close to call.
Liberal Democrat John Smith 3,173 49.0% (35.6%)
Conservative Julie Wragg 1,536 23.7% (18.1%)
Labour Laura Booth 1,199 18.5% (36.8%)
BNP Stephen Maher 573 8.8% ( - )
Majority 1,637 25.3% (1.2%)
Full Candidate List: Charlie Stewart (Lab), Dave Goddard (Lib Dem), Harry Perry (UKIP), Bill Law (Con).
This covers what was formerly a very safe Conservative seat taking in Heaton Moor and parts of Heaton Mersey. Labour only began to gain the seat (or its predecessor seat of Heaton Moor) in 1994 when the then Conservative government was limping from crisis to crisis. From the year 2000, the Conservatives started to win the seat back and, by 2004, the seat was safely Conservative again and remained so even with the high turnout in the General Election when Councillor O'Neill held on by 284 votes (3.9%) and this was partly due to the unusually high vote for the Lib Dems, possibly boosted by the 7% student population voting in favour of the 'no student loans' pledge of the Lib Dem manifesto. This is one of the few seats in Stockport where the battle is directly between Labour and the Conservatives with the Lib Dems as also-rans. This was one of the crucial factors with the collapse of the GE Lib Dem vote to normally low figures and the huge rise in the Labour vote. In 2012, Labour's David Sedgwick comfortably gained the ward from the Conservatives with a 360 majority, confirming the swing back to Labour in this ward since 2010.
The candidate hoping to make it a hat-trick of victories for Labour in this ward is John Taylor, who will be facing Rosalind Lloyd for the Conservatives after the retirement of Anthony O'Neill of a fairly longstanding family of Conservative councillors and aldermen. I wonder if Ms Lloyd is related to the former Conservative councillor and Councillor leader, John Lloyd, who used to represent this area? Actually, I think she is related to Councillor Syd Lloyd in Bredbury Green and Romiley.
For the Greens, we see the return of Janet Cuff, who has stood regularly in this ward (and in the old Heaton Moor ward), with a couple of years off here and there. Her best result was 10.2% in 2004 and she obviously has some following.
This is one of the wards where there is no UKIP candidate.
Conservative Les Jones 2,069 52.9 (38.9%)
Labour Margaret Pollard 1,000 25.6 (47.9%)
Liberal Democrat Kevin Dowling 358 9.1 (4.1%)
Green Janet Cuff 336 8.6 (9.1%)
UKIP Gerald Price 150 3.8 ( - )
Majority 1,069 27.3
Full Candidate List: Janet Cuff (Green), Rosalind Lloyd (Con), Jenny Humphreys (Lib Dem), John Taylor (Lab).
Bredbury and Woodley
Former Davenport and Cale Green Lib Dem councillor Roy Driver (defected back to Labour, see above), came remarkably close to winning this ward in 2012 and he is back again to take the battle to his former Liberal Democrat colleague, defending Councillor Chris Gordon.
From the 2008 nadir for Labour of 9.5%, Mr Driver gained 35.6% of the vote last time and the Liberal Democrat's Christine Corris only held on by 181 votes. The long-time Liberal Democrat councillor, Stella Humphries, had retired so her personal vote will have gone but Labour had made solid progress in this seat in 2009 and this year should be very interesting. The question is whether the Conservatives can bounce back from their very low 14.5% in 2012 or will they continue to be squeezed in a tightening two-horse race between Labour and the Liberal Democrats? Conservative candidate Sue Howard has a tough fight on her hands.
UKIP are fielding a candidate this time with Richard Ellis flying their flag, one can only guess at the effect this will have as they have not had a candidate in this ward before. It is possible that it may boost turnout amongst those who wish to make a positive vote for the party and who might normally stay at home. Who they will take votes from is difficult to tell, although a recent study continues to show that most votes tend to come from the Conservatives. The BNP again field Andy Webster, who polled 8.7% of the vote in 2012; I suspect his vote will fall this year.
Last year I said that if Mr Driver stood again, he would win this seat; now I am not quite so confident as Mr Gordon has been around for a lot of years and will have a strong personal vote. Political circumstances change and it'll be interesting to see how UKIP's entrance into the race plays out. If anybody could gain this seat for Labour, it is Mr Driver but it'll be one tough battle. I expect that a lot of party workers will be working this ward very hard and the ground game will be important.
Too close to call.
Liberal Democrat Christopher Gordon 4,009 59.3% (41.2%%)
Conservative Rosalind Lloyd 1,723 25.5% (14.5%)
Labour Clifford Stanway 1,025 15.2% (35.6%)
Majority 2,786 33.8% (5.6%)
Full Candidate List: Roy Driver (Lab), Richard Ellis (UKIP), Chris Gordon (Lib Dem), Sue Howard (Con), Andy Webster (BNP).
Conservative Target seats
This was a very close run battle last year and the Liberal Democrat's victory by 68 votes over the Conservatives was a sign of how much this seat has come into play over the last couple of election cycles. It had been a real shock when the Conservatives gained this formerly reliable Liberal Democrat ward in 2011, and much of this can be attributed to Labour's rising vote share due to a tactical unwind because of the national Coalition. Last time, the Conservatives, on a smaller turnout, managed to increase their share of the vote but with the Labour share dropping slightly and a much more prepared Lib Dem campaign, the Lib Dems managed to hold on.
This year, the three main parties are joined by UKIP's Tony Moore; the party last stood a candidate in the ward in 2011 and achieved 6.7% of the vote. Will it do much better this time? The make up of the ward suggests not, but we shall see. Also joining the fray is the Green Party's Rob Turner, who will doubtless be not receiving a warm welcome from defending Lib Dem councillor, Stuart Corris.
Councillor Corris has been around a long time and I would guess this is the toughest bettle he has fought. The Conservatives are certainly re-invigorated in this ward and they have always managed to maintain a solid share of the vote. The Tories' 2011 victor, William Wragg, is their PPC for the constituency and he would surely like to gain a second seat here.
The big questions - will UKIP's entrance cause damage to the Conservative hopes this year; will Labour still manage a solid high teen's share of the vote thus undermining Mr Corris's hopes; will the Greens make any impact on the race?
Undoutedly a key marginal in the battle for control of the council, and of the Tory hopes of re-establishing themselve as a major party of local government in Stockport, this will be a really testing battle for Cllr Corris. It is possible that the anger with the Coalition has dissipated somewhat and Labour voters may again be tempted to vote tactically to keep the Conservatives out, but it is not a certainty and where the UKIP vote comes from will be the main issue, I suspect.
The Conservatives are again fielding Oliver Johnstone, who came so close last year, and that should help them present a familiar face to the electorate.
On balance, and because of UKIP being more likely to take Tory votes, especially on a EP election day, I predict a Liberal Democrat hold here and Councillor Corris will heave a huge sigh of relief, but it should still be relatively close.
Lib Dem hold (just).
Stuart Corris LD 3,777 51.3% (42.1%)
William Wragg C 2,697 36.7% (40.4%%)
Karen Vickers Lab 884 12.0% (17.5%)
Maj: 1,080 14.6% (1.7%)
Full Candidate List: Stuart Corris (Lib Dem), Oliver Johnstone (Con), Janet Elizabeth Glover (Lab), Tony Moore (UKIP), Rob Turner (Green).
Bredbury Green and Romiley
This is a classic Lib Dem/Con marginal, and has often been won by very small majorities since 2006. In 2012. I thought that the Tories would grab this ward, following their success in 2011 but, as with other results, the collapse in their post-Budget support only began to show close to the election and the Liberals comfortably held on in 2012. Surprisingly, Labour's votes share, which had been at its highest in many a year in 2011 at 20.3%, actually rose slightly to 20.4%, so it wasn't a case of Labour voters returning to tactical anti-Tory voting. With a much reduced turnout, I would surmise that the Liberal Democrats were much better at the GOTV operation and many Tories stayed at home.
Nonetheless, going from a 658 majority in 2011 to a 262 loss in 2012 was a heck turnaround. The Conservatives have certainly targeted this ward and, as with Hazel Grove, really need to be using this ward as a base to rebuild their party machine and increase the size of their group on the Council.
Lib Dem candidate Councillor Mags Kirkham is completing her first term, having just snatched the ward on a general election turnout in 2010 from Cllr Syd Lloyd (regained a seat in 2011), and will be determined to continue the success of last year. With the Conservatives not as toxic as they were a couple of years ago, she will be aiming to squeeze the Labour vote to win.
For the Conservatives, Sally Bennett returns as candidate and, with the experience of last time, will doubtless have a better GOTV plan. She has a real chance here and will doubtless be fairly confident in an area which has swung from Liberal Democrat to Conservative (normally in the shape of Syd Lloyd) over the electoral cycles.
Keen to avoid being squeezed, Labour's Brian Wild will be looking to again advance the party's vote share to closer to 25%, but I think he will have a tough job on his hands.
The BNP again field Tony Dean, who is likely to suffer at the presence of another anti-politics candidate in the shape of UKIP's Brian Stanyer. I am interested to see how UKIP do here as there is no history to help us speculate.
This will be a close call but I will just give it to the Liberal Democrats.
Lib Dem hold.
Mags Kirkham LD 3,123 44.3% (41.1%)
Syd Lloyd C 2979 42.3% (34.4%)
David Sedgwick Lab 945 13.4% (20.4%)
Full Candidate List: Sally Bennett (Con), Tony Dean (BNP), Mags Kirkham (Lib Dem), Brian Stanyer (UKIP), Brian Wild (Lab).
Cheadle and Gatley
Cheadle and Gatley was a disappointment for the Conservatives in 2012, with the loss of Mick Jones's seat to the Liberal Democrat candidate, Keith Holloway. The ward now has three Liberal Democrat councillors and, with the defending candidate this year being Councillor Iain Roberts, I really don't see much changing for the Tories.
As long as the Liberal Democrats can keep over 40% of the vote, they seem safe to hold on here and they will be looking to do considerably better than that and will doubtless be looking at the Labour vote which has grown to over 20% in the last two electoral cycles. In the past, Labour voters have lent their support to the Liberal Democrats to keep the Tories out, but that has become less of a temptation since the formation of the Coalition government. For Labour, long-time candidate Colin Owen will certainly be aiming to hold onto and, if possible, continue to improve the vote share, but it is likely to be difficult although, given his high visibility as a regular candidate (every election since 2004), he will have some confidence.
For the Conservatives, Graham Haslam is facing an uphill battle, not helped by the appearance of a UKIP candidate. To win here, the Conservatives would normally need to be achieving a 40%+ vote share, and this is unlikely as the larger number of candidates is likely to effect the three major parties.
UKIP have Graham Bradbury standing for them and, with the EP elections on the same day, will hope to pick up a decent vote share. I would think this is not the kind of ward where UKIP would do too well, but they don't have to do brilliantly to have an effect on the wider result.
Also likely to be a bit of a spoiler, Natasha Brooks for the Green Party is also hoping to make her mark. Whether her presence damages the Liberal Democrats or Labour more than others remains to be seen, but I can't see her doing too well. The last time a candidate stod in this area was in 2002, under the old boundaries, and he only managed to accrue 152 votes (3.6%).
I cannot see Councillor Roberts losing here.
Lib Dem hold
Iain Roberts LD 4332 53.2% (42.5%)
Adam Calmonson Con 2964 36.4% (37.1%)
Colin Owen Lab 848 10.4% (20.4%)
Full Candidate List: Graham Bradbury (UKIP), Natasha Brooks (Green),Graham Haslam (Con), Colin Owen (Lab), Iain Roberts (Lib Dem).
So - my predictions?
Labour to gain:
Davenport & Cale Green
Too close to call between Labour and the Liberal Democrats:
Bredbury and Woodley
Ones to watch between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats:
Bredbury Green and Romiley
Cheadle and Gatley