Election Special 2007
This Thursday's Local Council elections will see new Councillors elected up and down the country. In some places only a third of the Council will change, but in Fylde and in Blackpool, the whole of the Council is up for election, and we could see a significant change in direction as a result.
In Blackpool, it's quite possible we will see control move away from Labour toward the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent to the Liberal Democrats.
The LibDems in Blackpool might have done better if they had been more credible. The Gazette reported their proposals for Blackpool to be "An environmentally superior option to foreign holidays" (yes, really), which shows they don't even live on the same planet as the rest of us. They also wanted "All tourism buildings to be green and sustainable."
Both these ideas demonstrate their belief you can (or at least should) use money demanded from everyone to create propaganda to attempt to brainwash others, and it's plain wrong.
Fortunately Fylde's LibDems are a bit more sensible, and they understand the needs of everyday folk - but more of that later.
We think Blackpool's Labour group are probably in trouble. Essentially they placed their bets on red for the Casino but it came up black.
To some extent it's a bitter pill. Whilst we don't agree with the deprivation philosophy underpinning their strategy, or indeed the tactical direction they chose for Blackpool's future, they did the right thing in picking a "big idea" and being (mostly) honest about how they were going to take it forward.
Sadly it was the wrong idea, and we think the voters will probably punish them for it at the election. No-one likes a loser, and in politics, just as in war, second place is nowhere.
So in Blackpool you might well see a reflection of what we think will be the national trend, with Labour being given a pretty hefty kicking, and the Conservatives doing well out of it.
We could even see Blackpool's Tories back in power again after their own "wilderness years." At least they seem to understand the need to
"Bring about changes to the visitor age and social profile."
That bit sounds good, as does their plan for a "stringent bars policy"
(That sounds particularly good to those of us old enough to remember the antics of the last conservative group and a certain Beer Festival). But we're less sure about their plans for Blackpool's re-development.
Fylde, as usual, is expected to buck the national trend. (We're never very impressed with transient things like fashions here in God's Waiting Room anyway).
Here in Fylde, the Commissar is in trouble.
But surprisingly it isn't what you might think that's causing the problems for him.
It's not his beloved "Equitable Taxation" scheme that would have cost Lytham and St Anne's residents an extra 9% on Fylde's Council Tax, nor the £300,000 of abortive spending on the plan to sell off the Town Hall, nor the £250,000 to get rid of the former Chief Executive, nor the damning Audit Commission report on his financial mismanagement, nor his reluctance to be seen at the Defend Lytham meeting protesting against Lytham Quays, nor his abandonment of the grant for St Anne's Citizen's Advice Bureau.
It wasn't the snaffling of £200,000 of pensioners bus-pass money to cover his profligacy elsewhere, nor the £15,000 on a survey to find out who uses the beach, nor the ridiculous ban on kite flying on the beach, nor the dismissal of Saint Barbara Pagett for daring to vote with her conscience against the party line, nor the demolition of perfectly repairable greenhouses, nor the demolition of the Ashton Institute - one of St Anne's first public buildings, nor the actual sale of part of Ashton Gardens itself, nor the plan to close most of the Town's public lavatories, nor the plan to sell off great swathes of other public assets to fund his unnecessary redevelopment of St Anne's Town Hall, nor his increasing moves to create a "City of the Fylde" as he gets Blackpool or Wyre to undertake more and more of our services, nor even the fact that he has doubled the allowances he is paid this year.
No, the message coming back from all over our area is that his dreadful Cabinet system has to go whilst we still have the chance to get rid of it.
And the incredible fact in all of this, is that nationally, his own party has a policy to allow Councils to have whatever system of administration they want, so this Politburo Cabinet,
(which is a device of the present Labour Government), was introduced, and is being supported as a Labour policy by Fylde's Conservatives, when even their own party does not require or support it.
All the candidates in Fylde are getting this message about the Cabinet being abhorred, (and all the non-conservatives are putting the message out as well), and we think it's going to cause some upsets.
Sadly, it may not be a big enough difference to ensure that the Cabinet goes, but we think it's going to be tight either way.
Predictions are never easy (or sensible for that matter) and a close call makes it even worse for commentators like counterbalance, but we know our readers like to be ahead of the crowd, so we will make a prediction for the result.
We think Fylde Council's Conservatives and the pseudo-conservatives (who are often found under the Truly Anything-that-gets-them-an-important-post banner) will lose seats and lose their majority. We expect them to get around
23 to 25 of the 51 seats up for election.
To some extent, this is their own fault. They have made a strategic mistake by contesting almost every seat in every ward. This means it splits the conservative vote between (typically) three people, making it easier for other candidates to get within striking distance of the weaker Conservative, and possibly overtake them.
Ashton Ward in St Anne's is a good example of this. Newcomer Mike Knowles has left the St Anne's Town Council and is standing as a third Conservative. He is a personable young man, but likely to be edged out altogether by independents and, or, the Liberal Democrats.
We think the Liberal democrats will increase from their present two to four or perhaps five. The north of St Anne's looks particularly strong, and the Commissar's own patch - Heyhouses - could see a Liberal Democrat joining him.
Labour is putting in an effort, but no-one really expects them to do much.
The conundrum is the mix of Independents and former Ratepayers. Altogether, we think they will come up with about 21 or 22 councillors, of which 4 or 5 are likely to belong to the Ratepayers Association, the rest (16 or 17) being committedly non-aligned independents.
So counterbalance thinks it looks like being a Conservative minority, with the "balance of power" being held by one of two groups of five or so.
The Commissar, being the consummate politician that he is, will undoubtedly try to seduce one of the groups of five or so to vote with him, but to do this, he will probably have to make some offers they can't refuse, and that mean his existing troops becoming not very gruntled. So there is a risk of internal fragmentation as disaffected Conservatives break ranks and join Saint Barbara in being elevated to a higher status altogether.
You can see signs of this already, with old Conservative hands openly talking about
"restoring the sovereignty of the Council" in their election addresses. This is a reflection that they know the Commissar's Politburo Cabinet is hugely unpopular, and that feeling is far more widespread than they imagined.
We warned the Commissar's Mr Fixit privately about this last summer, saying if they lost the next election; it would be because of their misguided support for the Politburo system. As usual they listened, but did nothing about it.
So we could just be heading for a good result, one that is flexible enough to keep the Commissar on his toes, and require improvements in his financial competence, but with enough urban independents - perhaps six or seven - to make sure the Coastal area's interests and values are taken into account, but with no-one having a clear control.
So an "enforced" but variable consensus would prevail. Which is how it should be.
There are a few notable folk standing. We expect Saint Barbara Pagett to do very well, and wouldn't be surprised if she tops the poll in Ashton Ward.
We also expect Kirkham's newcomer - the mercurial Elaine Silverwood to do well. Silver by name and quicksilver by nature, she is an ardent communicator, and she can make things happen. Like Queen Elizabeth Oades, her heart also has "Kirkham" all the way through it like a stick of rock.
We're also watching St Anne's own Barbara Mackenzie quite closely. To get on the Borough Council she will have to unseat one of the former Conservatives - Susan Fazackerly, Dawn Prestwich, or Fabian Wilson. In the current climate, it is possible, but it would be quite an upset if she manages it. Mind you, with plans to spend up to £10,000 on a public artwork composed of plastercast hands of local people, Fabian Wilson looks quite vulnerable.
In Lytham, Ken Hopwood - star of the Lytham Information Centre campaign has set his stall out for a very organised campaign, and could do well.
Outside the coastal strip, there is a particularly high level of tension. In Kirkham an "outsider" claimed the right to stand based on their employment in the town. This claim was challenged. We heard it alleged that his 'employment' was as a member of the Kirkham Conservative Club committee, and there was doubt whether this qualified as employment. False claims are quite a serious criminal offence, and we understand the person was visited by the boys in blue. But it looks as though after two discussions with him, the police have decided no action is needed by them, and he is cleared for the runway.
Nearby in Wesham, Conservative Simon (Mr. Fixit) Renwick has been prolific and prodigious in his output of leaflets and self promotion. If the election were being decided on effort he would probably be assured of a place, but with circumstances being as they are, he could be vulnerable to one of the two well known independent candidates, Linda Nulty or local man Alan Clayton.
We understand Kate Little, the 19 year old newcomer hasn't been seen out and about very much in Freckleton, so she might not do as well as had been thought.
Everyone gets tetchy this close to an election, and we have no doubt this issue of counterbalance will bring a flurry of complaint - both from those who have been mentioned, and those who have been left out. This is entirely natural (and understandable once you have seen the process from the inside).
So what does it all mean for our readers?
Well, the answer is likely to be 'confusion' for a while.
If, as we suspect, the result is close but with a large conservative minority, there will be attempts at horse trading, to see if a sustainable arrangement of block voting can be put in place. We suspect this probably won't happen given the independence of the independents, and the unpleasant personalised attacks that Conservatives have made on Liberal Democrat leader Howard Henshaw.
So confusion will probably reign for a while, with no-one driving the ship in any particular direction. If the independent councillors have control, it will also take them some time to put arrangements in place to change the Cabinet system, and they will be constrained this year by the budget that has been already set by the Conservatives.
So initially, you probably won't see much difference. But by the autumn the direction for the next few years will start to become more clear, and next year's budget discussions will show the route more definitely.
Of course, this all assumes the Conservatives lose their majority. We could be wrong of course, and they might retain control - in which case counterbalance readers are at least assured of some more interesting
reading for the next few years.
Dated: 1 May 2007