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Can we expect referendum boost for the blues in tonight’s LD-CON local election spats?

January 24th, 2013

Harry Hayfield prevews the contests

Highbridge and Burnham Marine (Sedgemoor)

Last Local Election (2011): Conservatives 31, Labour 13, Liberal Democrats 2, Independents 2 (Conservative overall majority of 14)

Result at last election (2011): Lib Dem 782 Ind 705 Ind 543 Lib Dem 528 Con 516 Lib Dem 511 Con 473 Con 471 Lab 451 Lab 379 Lab 351 (1 Lib Dem HOLD, 2 Independent GAINS from Lib Dem)

After last week’s urban dominated by-elections, we travel to the rural wilds for this week’s by-elections. The first of which is held in a part of the country that my grandmother knows very well indeed. Burnham on Sea in Somerset, where as a child she would spend many a weekend and summer holiday in the town. Indeed, Sedgemoor (located just below North Somerset and above Taunton Deane) is home to some of the prime spots that make the county of Somerset such a Conservative / Liberal Democrat battleground at the Westminster level. At the local level though Labour have been starting to make a reappearance. In 2003 there were 14 Labour councillors elected (against 35 Conservatives and a Liberal Democrat). At the next elections, the Liberal Democrats made three net gains all at the expense of Labour suggesting that the Labour influence in Somerset was starting to wane, but then in 2011 Labour gained two seats (with the Conservatives losing four and the Liberal Democrats losing two). The other two gains were Independents and although this by-election is classed as a Lib Dem defence (Cllr. Leach resigning the seat) the Independents much certainly fancy their chances at taking the third seat that they missed a little over 18 months ago by just 75 votes.

Ross on Wye West (Herefordshire)

Last Local Election (2011): Conservative 30, Independents 23, Liberal Democrats 3, Greens 1, Labour 1 (Conservative overall majority of 2)

Result at last election (2011): Lib Dem 617 Con 597 Ind 503 Ind 522 Con 383 Lib Dem 368 It’s Our County 97 (1 Lib Dem HOLD, 1 Con HOLD)

Herefordshire was created as a unitary authority as a replacement for the old Hereford and Worcester county council (with Worcestershire remaining as a county council and therefore up for election in May). In 2003, it seemed to fit the standard history of the Westminster elections as a Conservative / Liberal Democrat battleground with the Conservatives winning 21 councillors and the Liberal Democrats 16 councillors with Labour lagging behind on just 4, but as in many rural parts of the country the Independents held a sizeable block of support winning 17 councillors in those elections and denying the Conservatives an overall majority. By 2007, the Conservatives were on the march gaining ten councillors in those elections and giving them their overall majority. The Independents won 14 seats (-3), the Liberal Democrats won 10 (-6) and Labour won just 2 (-2) with the Greens winning their first seat on the authority. Many people expected that given the Conservative gain of Hereford and South Herefordshire at the general election from the Liberal Democrats that the Conservative domination of Herefordshire would continue in 2011 and that the Liberal Democrats would be wiped out by the Independents or Labour. Acutally the reverse was true. The Conservatives lost a seat overall (to 30) and whilst the Independents did indeed make gains (taking them to 23) and the Liberal Democrats lost seven (to 3), Labour also lost a seat, suggesting that the Independents were moving towards a position of control. Since then however a new party has firmly arrived on the scene with “It’s Our County” making several appearances at local by-elections in the county and even making quite an impact on one local by-election over the past year. So, can they make it all the way to the top of the pile and win in Ross on Thursday? Well, just like last Thursday I shall be monitoring the Twitter feeds from Burnham and Ross and retwerting anything of interest as the night goes on.