The Key Contests in the Southern Home Counties
By David Parry, Account Manager
As Spring turns to Summer in what has simultaneously felt like the longest and shortest year ever, our attention now settles on the upcoming May 2021 local elections. As we have discussed in a previous article, which can be found here, Tuesday 6th May 2021 could prove to be an opportunity for the main political parties to establish their control or win back lost seats in those councils that elect in thirds across the country.
So, what can you expect to see from the local elections taking place in the Southern Home Counties?
Well, in short, many of the major political parties will go into the election without a great expectation to gain or lose significant seats. As voters decide on their borough/district and county councillors for the next four years they may, by and large, not be thinking of one party in a more positive or negative light than any others. The Conservative Party’s popularity has however increased in the wake of the national Covid-19 vaccination roll-out programme and while the Liberal Democrats popularity has steadily decreased, they still remain the second choice of many voters in the South East.
The result of this relative political stability will, in many cases, be marginal loses and gains in areas such as Runnymede and Tunbridge Wells and we will not see a seismic shift in the overall political makeups.
However, while only a relatively small number of seats are up for election there are a few interesting cases across Surrey, Sussex and Kent which may prove the exception to the rule in this election. To help you understand why these are interesting we have provided some additional information below.
Elmbridge Borough Council has been in a state of no-overall control since 2016 when a combined group of Residents’ Association and Liberal Democrat councillors took control of the Council. Since then, the election results have generally mirrored national political trends with the formerly powerful Conservative Party continuing to lose seats in May 2018 and 2019.
Given the popularity of the Conservative Party at present it is likely that they will gain back a few of the seats that they have lost as well as gaining back seats from councillors who were elected as Conservatives and who changed their political affiliation. While these gains are unlikely to be large enough to provide the Conservative Party with the opportunity to gain back control of the Council there is one other interesting aspect of this election.
On Friday 9th April 2021 Elmbridge Borough Council released the statement of nominated persons which details who will be contesting each available seat in May 2021. This document reveled that five current members of the Elmbridge cabinet would not be standing again for election including the Leader of the Council, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment, amongst others. Alongside this, numerous members of the planning committee will not be contesting their seats. This will result in an almost entirely new cabinet and planning committee being chosen at the May 2021 AGM. This high turnover of councillors will have a significant impact on the administration of the Council in the short term as regardless of the election outcome, most of the post-election cabinet will be new to their roles and possibly new to local government.
Crawley is one of the few areas in the South East where the Labour Party has exercised significant political control with the Party holding most of the Council seats since May 2014. However, following the sad passing of a Labour Party councillor in November 2019 and the resignation of two other Labour Party councillors in June and July 2020, the Council entered into no-overall control for the first time since 2006 and the two parties went into a form of coalition to address the effects of the pandemic.
Both parties will see this election is the opportunity to take back control of a Council that they have fought hard for in recent years. As the Conservatives surge in popularity nationally they will consider themselves to be in a good position to uproot some of the deeply entrenched Labour councillors, but the Labour councillors will also feel confident in their own policies locally. This will be a hard-fought battle but could be one of the most interesting of May 2021.
Woking and Tandridge
Woking and Tandridge present similar cases in that they are both local authorities that are in a state of no-overall control where the political balance is on a knife edge. In both cases the Conservative Party for a minority administration. The danger in both areas is that another poor performance from the Conservative Party locally will be enough to relegate them to the back benches. These two are certainly be ones to watch!
Another interesting case is Mole Valley where the Liberal Democrats hold a small majority (22 of the available 43 seats) while the opposition is made up of a mixture of Independents and Conservative councillors.
What makes this interesting is that it is only the second time in the district’s history that the Liberal Democrats will be defending a majority of the seats at the Council. With the Conservative’s polling well nationally, Mole Valley could be one of the areas in the UK that the party performs well and gets themselves back to a position where they can threaten the relatively young Liberal Democrat administration.
If you’d like to find out more about the work Cratus are doing in the Southern Home Counties, feel free to contact David for more information.