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Fylde Election 6 May 2011 - Analysis

Election Analysis 2011The dust has not yet settled on the election results, so the final picture is still not completely clear.

Superficially, the overall picture was broadly unchanged, but underneath the headlines, there are paddles are going like fury.

So what's happening?

Well, the rough assessments done by the Conservatives at the 'Verification' (the night before the count) produced alarming results for them. There was talk of them having only 19 seats based on their rough counting of probable results as the voting slips were verified.

We saw some really glum faces at the start of the count the following morning, but an hour or so later, the fears of the previous night had evaporated as more accurate assessments were available.

We have said in previous reports that the Conservatives were out in force on the doorsteps. That was borne out by comments from non-Conservative candidates who said they had seen the Conservative party machine out in force -  much more so than in previous years. Some said the Conservatives had 'blitzed' selected areas and had been round the same houses three times in a month.

We learned that they had targeted selected wards (Kilnhouse, Heyhouses, Ashton were mentioned to us) - and it had obviously paid off for them overall, if not for some of the good candidates they effectively 'wasted' in the process of competing against each other in the same ward.

To our surprise, the Conservative vote held up much better than we had expected.

Certainly, they are the best organised of the groups and they know how to turn out the party machine to win elections, but given their awful performance locally over the last four years, we have to say their result was very impressive. The postal vote appeared to have increased the share of the vote overall which resulted in some councillors (who we would not have expected to do well at all) increasing the number of votes they polled at the last election four years ago.

Their support reflected a national trend of course, but it was wholly at odds with what happened at Blackpool where a Labour landslide overturned a Conservative landslide of only four years ago.

The answer to this conundrum is probably in the nature of the areas.

Fylde has an exceptionally high proportion of older and retired people, many of them being ex-professionals. The public service cuts - whilst being individually painful for some - were mostly greeted with a Bob Geldoff  'Is that it?' sort of comment here. The relatively well-heeled residents have been able to take most of the cuts in their stride.

But in Blackpool - where there are many more down-at-heel residents because the areas of deprivation are much bigger and constitute a significant part of the Borough - many more people have been badly hurt by the spending cuts, and they have reacted to show their displeasure.

So if your aim was to target the savings toward the poorer - or at least more deprived - sections of society you might think the plan was working, and some collateral electoral damage in a few places such as Blackpool, was a price worth paying. (Mind you, we doubt that's how some Blackpool councillors feel this week).

The group that did best in Fylde though, was the Liberal Democrats.

Against a national trend to embrace oblivion, they held the line, and their places, on Fylde Council.

We even saw Carol Lanyon come close to unseating Angela Jacques in St Leonard's Ward,

If just five of the people who voted for Angela Jacques has voted for Carol Lanyon, she would have taken the seat for the Lib Dems;  the Conservatives would have lost their majority on that ward and, the majority of one that they secured on the Council overall would also have been reversed.

Equally, it would only have taken a change of 50 or so people in Kilnhouse to switch to Richard Ellis and the same thing would have happened.

We're hearing some cries of 'foul' being raised in that area and we may be able to bring readers more on that matter shortly.

But all the if''s and maybe's are to no avail when the results are declared, because unless there is a successful legal challenge to them they stand as they are.

Or they 'sort-of' do.

At least until someone (who has been a Conservative for most of the last four years, but who stood without saying that on their ticket and got elected as a sort-of independent), crosses the floor again and rejoins - (or remains with, depending on your point of view) the Conservatives and increases their majority on the Council from 26:25 to 28:23.

We're speaking here of Trevor Fiddler and Tommy Threlfall from Freckleton of course.

At the last election they stood and were elected as independents - but  they changed sides and became Conservatives. In doing so they went on to enjoy Cabinet and other positions of rank.

We know from comments received that several of our readers are incensed by this behaviour. They argue 'how can you vote for someone who you think is independent when they change their colours as soon as they are elected?'  some going on to suggest that if it was a shop you'd have rights under the Trade Descriptions Act.

But equally, we can see the view - however convenient it may be thought by some - that they can achieve more for their electorate being on the inside in a position of influence.

We have to say we don't like the way they do it, and we believe they ought to be more up-front with their electorate. But that said, it is their electorate who should (and did) determine the matter. Both topped the poll in their respective wards - which shows that their electorate are not that concerned about what they did last time and what they will probably do this time again.

The 'probably'  in the above paragraph might turn out to be an important qualification.

It was noticed at the count that a high ranking conservative spoke with Trevor Fiddler whose reaction was described to us as "going red in the face, turning on his heel and storming away" At the time we thought it might have been connected with a change of heart on the Melton Grove situation, but we're now more of the view that the incident was likely to have its roots in a 'Vicar of Bray' situation.

There were huddled discussions with Tommy Threlfall and David Eaves, and we heard tell that Cllr Threlfall had let it be known that he had never really left the Conservatives.

We heard Cllr Fiddler was playing harder to get and was putting a price on his support in that he wanted Davis Eaves to formulate a more inclusive Cabinet in advance of a change to the Committee system later in the year.

Once again we have to say we applaud the logic behind Cllr Fiddler's direction, and his intent.

To be honest, we're torn on this matter. He is one of the most able and strategic Councillors, and to deny him the voice he deserves, and the voice that Fylde needs, is a great loss to Fylde, but that's what looked set to happen because his hand came mighty close to being overplayed this time.

We heard tell that toward the top of the National Conservative Association there was anger at the way they had failed to stand as Conservatives in this election. That meant that the party had - no doubt as it saw it - wasted time and other Conservative candidates standing 'against them' in Freckleton.

As a result of not being best pleased, those in high office had told the local Conservative Association that they must not re-admit Cllrs Threlfall and Fiddler to their ranks and they would have to remain in the cold outside the Conservative fold as Independent Councillors.

But the local folk were not altogether delighted with this idea, especially as it would mean they would have a majority of only one on the Council.

There was a private local meeting to discuss the matter earlier this week - at which we hear that some of the hard-liners (probably people like Dim Tim, Princess Karen and Marie Antoinette). supported the 'excommunication'

But, surprisingly, the 'troublesome two' from Freckleton turned up at the meeting and gave an account of themselves and their actions, and that swung the rest (or most of the rest) of the local group behind them. And they have been accepted back into the fold.

Or maybe they have.

Until this morning, the Council's website was still showing them within the Independents group and described as "Independents (inc no party or description stated on the ballot paper)"

This afternoon things have changed, and Cllr Threlfall is now shown as a Conservative. Cllr Fiddler is shown as an Independent.

It remains to be seen just how Independent he turns out to be in practice, and whether there is yet to be a 'full and frank exchange of views' (as they say) between the local and national Conservative Associations until the matter is finally settled.

The labels attached to each are important - not only for people to know, but the numbers within each group determine how many seats are allocated to that group on the committees of the council

Last time something like this happened, it was the National Association that trumped the local one, so we'll have to see how this pans out.

Readers will see very little in public of course. Dirty washing is not done that way in the Conservative Party, but we'll bring you what we can.

The biggest shock of the election was the removal of Cllr Richard Fulford Brown from the Clifton seat and the election of (Independent) Cllr Charlie Duffy in his place.

Charlie is the husband of Emma Duffy, whose dad is a Melton Grove resident and Chairman of the Melton Grove Resident's Association that is still fighting for proper consultation over plans to sell off their homes. (we plan to bring readers more on that story in a day or two)

Former Cllr Fulford Brown was self-evidently shell-shocked, and couldn't believe the result when it became clear he had lost.

But lost he had.

Whilst there could be a number of reasons, the most obvious is that residents of Clifton Ward have sent a message to the Conservatives letting them know what they think of such treatment as was meted out to Melton Grove's present and more especially future, residents.

So Melton Grove looks to have been an 'issue' - as they say.

On the wider front, we calculate that only 36 out of the 51 members of Fylde Council have previous experience of being a Councillor. So there are 15 newcomers.

That's a high proportion and, as any operational manager knows, an influx of new blood on that sort of scale can have quite a destabilising effect on the existing organisation.

So as far as FBC is concerned, we congratulate all those that took part, win or lose, and we look forward to picking out the stars from the new intake as they shine in their new roles.

The Conservatives did better than anyone expected. The Lib dems did far better than anyone expected. Labour did what it usually does in Fylde. Integrity failed to make its big breakthrough, but did get Peter Ball onto Wesham Town Council. The Greens disappeared into oblivion and the Fylde Ratepayers are, well the Fylde Ratepayers. Independent candidates did quite well - better than some Conservatives thought, but perhaps not as well as they themselves would have hoped for.

But we think the most interesting developments might well come from St Annes on the Sea Town Council where (to our great sadness) there is now a Conservative majority that looks set to become yet another steamroller. We're sad, not because they are Conservatives, but because we firmly believe that party politics ought to play no part whatsoever at this level.

During the election, several of the Conservative candidates for the Town Council put out a very strongly worded pamphlet complaining that the Town Council had increased it's precept by 1,000% since its creation.

Essentially (barring a few minor arithmetical issues) this was correct. The graph they used is reproduced below, and it shows how the overall sum has gone from 10,000 to 118,950.

St Annes Town Council precepts

Whilst the statement put out was accurate, it was also a bit misleading because the Borough Councillors at the time sought to strangle the infant Town Council at birth by failing to set any (let alone an adequate) precept for them in the year of the Town Council's formation.

The sum allocated should probably have been in the region of 40k to 50k - which was equivalent to a precept of 4 or 5 per year per Band D Property. This was an amount hardly anyone would have objected to. But instead, they set it at 10k which (was not adequate for the Town Council to properly function) and the first year was essentially a year of marking time until a proper precept could be set.

So we think a more fair comparison should be between the 50k set in 2006/07 and the present 118k - from which it will be seen that the increase in percentage terms is still very significant, and more than 100%.

In 'real money' the difference isn't such a headline. It's the difference between about 5 a year and 12 a year.

The start of the precepted increases came shortly after the appointment of the present Town Clerk in 2008. He had experience of Leighton-Linslade Town Council who this year have set a precept of not 5 or 12, but 114.78.

They are more a small Borough Council than a Town Council in our view. This gives a different ethos to the other town and parish councils in Fylde, and it may be there has been some directional influence toward that situation here.

But for whatever reason, the St Annes Town Council became persuaded of the need to raise its profile and 'do' more things.

After the election of Cllr Ford to Mayor / Chairman he set about doing just that, and has been quite successful in 'doing things'

But 'doing things' comes at a cost.

The St Annes Town Council appointed a Community Development Officer to arrange events and activities. They also appointed a former FBC employee to undertake work to produce a Town Plan. They took on premises, set up an office and so on, all of which contributed to the big precept increase in 2009/10.

However, instead of letting the expenditure fall back after the Town Plan was completed this year, the precept rose again - this time by 25% or so.

We regard that decision as having been a foolhardy increase and a clear 'own goal' - especially in an election year, but that's probably because we are not that bothered about the Town Council 'doing things'

We had hoped they would tune themselves into the views of the local population and act as our advocates (which would not have been a great cost), not as alternative service delivers - picking up what the Borough Council neglected to do but continued to charge us for.

All the Conservatives standing for the St Annes Town Council put out virtually the same information - the headline was that Common Sense was needed for the Town Council, and they would deliver better value for money.

We say - based on their recent past performance -  that if you believe that, you'll believe anything. (sadly, too many people did believe it).

Ominously, they also referred to taking over the open spaces in St Annes "free of charge"

We have no doubt we will have more to say about story that as it unfolds toward next year's budget, but if residents were concerned about the precept increase to 118,000, that will be as nothing compared with the 300,000 bill that will land on their doorstep if Conservative control of the Town Council clears the path for FBC's so called Asset Transfer which our readers know better as the Great Tax Con.

It will be interesting to see how David Eaves' headline vote winner of 'no tax increase by Conservatives next year' pans out as far as the Town Council is concerned.

It's likely he was thinking of the Borough Council when he made that promise - which raises the question: when is a Conservative not a Conservative? The answer might turn out to be when they're on the Town Council.

Fortunately help may be at hand.

counterbalance's own St Eric Pickles might have his Localism Bill in place as an Act by the next budget, and voices are increasingly saying that Act it is likely to restrict the spending increases of Town and Parish Councils (for the first time in history as far as we can ascertain), so it's not all bad news.

The St Annes Town Council now has eight Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats, and two who are independent or 'unspecified' (including Cllr Town Ford who told us he forgot to put the Lib Dem descriptor on his election paper).

Only four of these elected Town Councillors have previous experience of working on a Town Council in Fylde (where you don't get paid for turning up - as you do at the Borough), so its quite a big change.

So there are likely to be changes, and we hope to bring them to our readers as they happen.

The first is probably going to be on Tuesday evening at the first meeting of the new Town Council when the first item on the agenda is to elect a Town Mayor.

It had been expected that the avuncular Cllr Ford who - it has to be said - has done a very good job as Mayor at all the functions at which we have seen him attend and speak, would be a shoe-in for another year of office.

We suspect that, like us, he now suspects his term of office is over.

So with the ramifications of the election still rumbling on unsettled, and as the first round of meetings get under way, counterbalance also looks forward to 'more of the same'

Dated:  12 May 2011


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