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Analysis of Fylde's Election Results 2015

Election Analysis 2015We promised to bring our take on what the election results might mean for Fylde.

We start by saying we think the election results will be very significant, but we know others who disagree with us and think it will just be 'more of the same.' So readers might like to read on with that caveat in mind.

Nationally, the Government had an unexpectedly large majority.

Still not a comfortable one, but probably manageable.

Initially, we think it's likely to be harmonious for the new national administration as (probably) a busy programme of legislation gets under way and keeps people's minds focused on the job in hand. Whether that situation remains a year or two down the line remains to be seen.

Some who watch the national scene more closely than we do tell us that they think the Conservative Majority might be troublesome.

They argue that 'rash' pre-election promises were made in the comfortable expectation of being able to say after the election 'Sorry we can't do that (or as much of that) as we wanted, because our coalition partners wouldn't agree to it.' (Readers should recall that it was almost universally predicted there would be no single party with an overall majority)

But of course, the pollsters were wrong and there is no coalition against whom the moderation of rash promises can be blamed, so it's thought that there may have to be some direct Government rowing back or other dilution of their pre-election promises. Again we'll have to see, but it is a plausible scenario.

The big change for local government is that Rt Hon Eric Pickles (counterbalance's beatified hero 'St Eric') is no longer Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

He was removed from his post in the Prime Minister's reshuffle and has also been removed from the Cabinet. We understand he is to be given an anti-corruption role and has been asked to chair the 'Conservative Friends of Israel'

Readers will know of our liking for blunt speaking St Eric, who absolutely understood the workings of Local Government. He was also one of the few Cabinet members that could connect directly with ordinary people, having had significant experience as a Local Councillor himself.

We regard his loss to Local Government as tragic, and the loss of his influence in Cabinet as simply awful. In our view it is a foolish decision not to have such an experienced voice in Cabinet.

We know there are those who don't share our respect for St Eric - especially as it was his department that brought in the Coalition's new (and awful) National Planning Policy Framework. But we believe that was truly the brainchild of the Anti-Planning Minister Nick Boles who was cuckooed into St Eric's department by George Osborne. It seemed to us that Boles' brief was to sidestep St Eric in order to soften the planning regulations and make development easier to achieve.

As we've said before, this was a double whammy for Town Planning - because in that same reshuffle, former Planning Minister Greg Clark (who was a very able brain on Planning) was snaffled into the Treasury where his knowledge of Planning could be used according to the Treasury' agenda, and where he has now, most likely, been indoctrinated into 'Treasury thinking'.

And the new Minister to replace St Eric is......... none other that same Greg Clark, who returns from the Treasury to the Department for Communities and Local Government,

But he is now in overall charge.

He's not in the same league as St Eric for having the common touch, but on the positive side he is a very able chap, and has a good brain. We see his downside as having been set into 'Treasurythink' mode during his time there.

It's already evident that his first (possibly main) task in the near future is going to be to persuade large cities outside London to assume more devolved powers in a new 'Cities Devolution Bill' that's just been announced.

It may even see Cities absorbing control of surrounding councils.

That will likely be sold to us on the basis that it will bring economic prosperity to more people and be more efficient, but it's actually about increasing what the Treasury calls the 'Gross Value Added' (GVA) which, in this case, is a theoretical measure of the contribution each area makes to the UK economy each year.

GVA is usually expressed as the contribution per head of population.

In London, the present GVA per head is about 72,000.

In Manchester (which has already - in our view foolishly - decided to follow this route), it's about 21,000 - and in places like Bradford it's as low as 16,000.

The overall Lancashire GVA per head is about 17,000, but in Blackpool it's only about 14,000

What this says, is that Londoners are benefiting the UK economy more than four times as much as someone who lives in Bradford and almost five times as much as someone who lives in Blackpool.

Osborne's view is that's not good enough, and he wants more from the North - hence his 'doublespeak' project dubbed the 'Northern Powerhouse' (although some cynics think that term is more to do with fracking)

Whichever way you look at it, London is way, way ahead of all the other areas in the country in terms of it's GVA per head and, put crudely, the Treasury thinks the North (especially, but also the Midlands) is not 'pulling it's weight' and not working hard enough to make the country economically successful.

We understand the logic here, but we're very sceptical of the motives underlying the move, and we fundamentally disagree with the idea of making local government bigger and thus more remote from the people. We think local government units should - if anything - be smaller, not bigger.

Furthermore, we also think that this 'City Devolution' plan is only a precursor to further regionalisation being implemented (unless we leave the EU). That's because it's an EU policy to fragment Britain, and we suspect this is the Conservatives' step 1' in that process.

But their approach to it has to be different from John Prescott's previously botched regionalisation bid (which planned to start with the North East until the people there made it clear they were going to reject it), so it's now being dressed up as 'City Devolution' - and decisions on it are being kept well away from the votes of ordinary people. The New Northern Party has undoubtedly spotted this direction coming and is laying its own case for regionalisation and power.

Readers might wonder why we're 'rambling on' about this when there's no apparent link to Fylde.

Well, we think there is - even without the regionalisation angle.

Preston has been squirting its civic testosterone all around the area since it became a City in 2002 and we wouldn't be surprised to see it making a bid for 'city region' status and a takeover of other boroughs using the proposed Devolution Bill.

And although it was set to fail in its bid to become a City in the Diamond Jubilee scheme (and actually withdrew its application for city status before it did fail), Blackpool (where successive councils have so spectacularly failed to plan for - or even to cope with - the decline of the UK seaside holiday since 1958) has built on almost all of the land in its boundaries and is desperate for more. We've no doubt they are already, once again, eyeing up the wonderful green land that sits just over its boundaries in Fylde and Wyre and are pondering how they can get their hands on it.

So we think we should be ready once again if / when the awful idea of the 'City of the Fylde' is resurrected as a result of the election result, and the new national policy that will flow from it.

We know one of our readers vehemently disagrees with us on this matter, but we can't see the prospect of merging / amalgamating / unifying with Blackpool as anything other than geographically extending the area of the disaster over which Blackpool holds sway.

FYLDE'S MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
===========================

In terms of our own MP, there's no change.

Despite the biggest and most effective Independent parliamentary campaign Fylde has ever seen, Mr Menzies slightly increased his majority.

At the same time, (and seemingly because of the 5,000 or so votes that each went to UKIP and to Mike Hill), Mr Menzies' share of the vote went down only by about 3%. Labour's went down 1% and the Lib Dems went down a massive 18%.

In 'Runners an Riders', we had thought our sitting MP might suffer a reduced majority tied into fracking and UKIP, perhaps a significant one, but we were wrong in that matter. His majority was not significantly damaged at 3%.

The two combined options did take 10,000 or so votes overall (which was not a surprise to us), but they evidently came mostly from the Lib Dems, and much less from Fylde's Conservatives.

What this result shows is that, with the present parliamentary boundaries, it is most unlikely that anyone will be able to unseat a Conservative MP in Fylde, and we think it cements Mr Menzies in place for as long as he wants to be here.

We think this result also has significant implications for the future of Fylde. As one of our readers wrote "Fylde has voted 'yes' to fracking and to unrestricted house-building in the countryside."

That's not strictly accurate of course, but the sense of it is right, and we're already seeing letters to the papers to this effect from those who see benefits in such developments.

So we think this result is significant for Fylde because it will give national politicians more confidence to press ahead, irrespective of the views of individual MPs and constituencies like Fylde, knowing that their majority can - at least at present - withstand the depth of public anger on fracking and residential development because (again, at present) there is not a sufficient *breadth* of anger to cause their party's majority any serious damage.

Politics is nothing if not 'the art of the possible' - as Von Bismarck is famously quoted as saying.

FYLDE BOROUGH COUNCIL
=====================

In the Fylde Borough Council election it was different.

There were a lot of changes.

Overall there was an increase in the Conservative majority of 4, with corresponding reductions for the Independents, Liberal Democrats and Fylde Ratepayers.

Unusually for Fylde, Labour gained a seat in Central Ward which adds another dimension to the complexion of the Council.

As we said in 'Fylde's Election results 2015' - our own take on the underlying reason for the Conservative surge in voting is what we call the 'Nicola Sturgeon' effect.

The threat she represented to the break-up of the UK is anathema to traditional Conservative voters and we believe this threat was very successfully exploited late in the national campaign. It brought out more Conservative voters than had been predicted in the national election (and which confounded all the pre-election polling results).

Furthermore, because the Parliamentary and Borough elections were held at the same time, when voters were given ballot papers for the Borough election as well as the Parliamentary one, the influence that had brought out more Conservatives to vote echoed through to increase the Conservative votes on ballot papers for the Borough election - and resulted in a Conservative surge in Fylde.

If we are right, then, it is as a result of the SNP's constitutional threat that several Fylde Councillors have lost their seats to Conservative challengers.

Individually, there were significant changes.

Probably the highest profile loss was Fylde's current Mayor, Ratepayer Cllr Kevin Eastham whose Fairhaven seat was taken by Conservative Brenda Blackshaw by 163 votes. Usually, his 853 votes would have been easily sufficient to win him a seat on the Council, but the increase in the Conservative vote changed all that on this occasion.

Another big loser was Fylde Ratepayer John Davies in Ashton Ward who was pushed into fifth place. It was the same story again. At the last election he had a poll-topping 721 votes in Ashton Ward which, this time, he increased slightly to 727 votes. But it wasn't enough to counter the very large increase in the Conservative vote which swamped him like a tsunami.

The same thing didn't happen to Ashton Ward's Cllr Tony Ford though. He managed to increase his vote by a greater number (from 687 to 897), and thus hung on to his FBC seat. That's an absolutely amazing result for him personally, especially when you see what happened to the Lib Dems overall. And it's a testament to the hard work he puts into the community.

One of the biggest upsets was when Conservative Cllr Fabian Craig Wilson lost her Central Ward seat to Labour by just one single vote. That was a shock to many (as well as her), and there were only 64 votes separating the first four candidates in this ward which is, again, unusual.

We'd previously said we couldn't understand UKIP fielding three candidates in Central Ward, when they were not standing anywhere else in Fylde. Each of them polled just over 300 Central Ward votes which was about half the winning number. Arithmetic logic suggests they would have taken (a winning) 900 or so votes if they had stood a single candidate rather than three. But this is probably not the case in real life because, as we noticed during the count - generally - where someone had voted for UKIP, they had voted for all three UKIP candidates in that ward.

We suspect the effect of this tactic was to reduce the number of Central Ward votes available to the Conservatives overall (in comparison with previous years) which they did, and Cllr Craig-Wilson was the casualty. Flowing from that, we now wonder if this was an intentional tactical try-on from UKIP, and whether it's something we will see again from them in the future.

Another really close result was in Lytham's Clifton Ward, where - again - Independent Cllr Ken Hopwood increased his 804 votes at the last election to 1,081 votes this time. But that was still just six votes short of retaining his seat. Ordinarily, with that sort of an increase in Clifton Ward, he would have romped home, but with the Conservative surge, this time it was not to be.

In another surprise result, Kilnhouse Ward saw Conservative (and former Cllr) Roger Small return at the expense of Conservative Tim Armit who lost his seat. The Conservatives had fielded three candidates in this ward against the well known Liberal Democrat Karen Henshaw. She slid in at third, 64 votes behind the highest, and 58 votes ahead of Tim Armit who is now no longer a councillor.

Another big surprise was in Park Ward where Independent David Chedd lost his seat. His result went from 872 votes in 2007, to 1,052 votes last time, and he increased it again to 1,211 in this election. But again, it wasn't enough to cope with the surge in Conservative votes that saw Shirley Green, Neil Harvey and Sandra Pitman elected, (Cllr Pitman was just 30 votes ahead of David Chedd). We regard his loss as particularly important for Fylde's independent councillors. He is a technology expert and was doing particularly good work for those standing as independent councillors behind the scenes.

We wonder if these results in Park Ward might turn out to have produced an interesting result for the longer term. We know two of those elected have strong beliefs and very strong personalities, and we think it will be interesting to see how that plays out over time.

St Leonard's Ward in St Annes saw three Conservatives sweep Lib Dem Howard Henshaw from his seat. We thought he might be more vulnerable this time and that proved to be the case. It was probably a mistake for the Lib Dems to field two Liberal Democrats in the same ward. The vote was split and, when added to the Conservative surge, it cost the Lib Dems a place on the Council. We were surprised that St Annes Town Councillor Carl Lanyon didn't do better than she did (coming sixth), but can only assume this was because of a combination of the split vote and the Conservative surge.

Warton and Westby saw some changes as well. Against the odds, Cllr Julie Brickles actually improved her performance as an Independent councillor, even against the Conservative surge. Residents in her ward rewarded her with 1,209 votes - an increase of 484 over the last election result of 725, and that was sufficient for her to top the poll in Warton this time. We know she is a hard worker and committed to the people of Warton, and that will have played its part in her result. But it's also probably partly to do with the dissatisfaction that Fylde's Local Plan proposals for housing development have created in Warton.

Also elected at Warton were Conservative former Cllr Michael Cornah and Conservative newcomer to FBC Richard Taylor who has impressed us with his work on Warton Parish Council.

But the biggest surprise of all was in St John's Ward in Lytham where Conservative Brenda Ackers was ousted by a 'double act' of Mark Bamforth and Roger Lloyd, both standing for Fylde Ratepayers. Mark Bamforth took just about twice as many votes as Brenda Ackers, and he beat Conservative Tim Ashton by almost 700 votes. This was an absolute walkover for Cllr Bamforth, and for Cllr Lloyd - who came from nowhere into second place in the poll, forcing Tim Ashton to third. A result that is even more astounding when viewed in perspective to the Conservative surge.

In all, there are 14 councillors who were not in the last administration. Most of these are Conservatives.

As ever, the tone of the Council will be set by it's Leader who was formally elected at the Annual Meeting of the Council on Wednesday, but in practice it is almost always the Leader of the Conservative Group, and we could see four or five who might have considered themselves suitable for such a role.

We'd previously been told by insiders that Princess Karen would be the new Council Leader because Cllr Susan Fazackerley was likely to step aside for her, and take the Chairmanship of the Tourism and Leisure Committee.

This made sense when we heard it, partly because she has previous experience of that committee under the old system, and partly because we know she prefers consensus working and dislikes confrontation. The Leadership role can bring difficult and unpleasant responsibilities, and the 'standing aside' idea seemed to fit.

We repeated what we'd been told by insiders for our readers (who always like to know what's likely to happen), but in the days just before the Annual Meeting where such appointments are formally made, we heard this was no longer to be the case, and Cllr Fazackerley would remain as Leader, with Princess Karen remaining as Deputy Leader.

We did hear a wry suggestion that this change might have been made to show how wrong counterbalance can be.

In the very unlikely event that were to be the case, we'd actually be very pleased, because Cllr Fazackerley absolutely knows how things ought to be done and has experience of doing them properly. She has experience of the Committee system and knows how that should work as well. She is not a supporter of cb (to say the least) but we do have respect for her understanding of how things ought to be, and as Leader, we think she is probably one of the better choices the Council could have made.

And she was duly elected Leader, with Princess Karen as Deputy Leader, at the Council's Annual Meeting this week.

Whether, (like David Eaves appeared to become), Cllr Fazackerley subsequently becomes a prisoner of forces within her own party (and there are some very strong characters there), remains to be seen, but the future with her as Leader is likely to be better than it could have been.

We also heard that in the days leading to the Annual Meeting there was considerable jostling and positioning for the Chairmanships of the new Committees within the Conservative group - and the results of that tussle were announced at the Annual Meeting

It's no surprise (though it is a disappointment) that the Conservatives have so little faith in their own ability to persuade by convincement that they took to themselves the Chairmanships and Vice Chairmanships of all the Committees.

A wiser and more self-confident cohort would have taken the Chairmanships but sought to fill the Vice Chairmanships with those from other groups elected to the Council. Such action could have reduced what now risks remaining a more confrontational and less consensual style of operation at Fylde.

The Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and members of the committees for 2015/16 are:

Environment, Health, and Housing Committee (12)
========================================

Chairman Cllr Ben Aitken (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Viv Willder (C)

Cllr Delma Collins (C)
Cllr Gail Goodman (C)
Cllr Shirley Green (C)
Cllr Greame Neal (C)
Cllr Richard Taylor (C)
Cllr Thomas Threlfall (C)
Cllr Maxine Chew (I)
Cllr Roger LLoyd (FR)
Cllr Louis Rigby (I)
Cllr Heather Speak (I)

Finance and Democracy Committee (12)
================================
Chairman Cllr Karen Buckley (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Roger Small (C)

Cllr David Donaldson (C)
Cllr Angela Jacques (C)
Cllr Richard Redcliffe (C)
Cllr Vince Settle (C)
Cllr Richard Taylor (C)
Cllr Linda Nulty (I)
Cllr Liz Oades (I)
Cllr Elaine Silverwood (I)
Cllr Tony Ford (LD)
Cllr Kiran Mulholland (INA)

Operational Mangment Committee (12)
===============================
Chairman Cllr David Eaves (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Albert Pounder (C)

Cllr Frank Andrews (C)
Cllr Len Davies (C)
Cllr Richard Fradley (C)
Cllr Ed Nash (C)
Cllr Sandra Pitman (C)
Cllr Julie Brickles (I)
Cllr Alan Clayton (I)
Cllr Paul Hodgson (I)
Cllr Karen Henshaw (LD)
Unspecified

Tourism and Leisure Committee (12)
==============================
Chairman Cllr Cheryl Little (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Tim Ashton (C)

Cllr Christine Ackeroyd (C)
Cllr Brenda Blackshaw (C)
Cllr Richard Fradley (C)
Cllr Sandra Pitman (C)
Cllr Vince Settle (C)
Cllr Ray Thomas (C)
Cllr Julie Brickles (I)
Cllr Maxine Chew (I)
Cllr Paul Hodgson (I)
Cllr Jan Barker (L)

Development Management Committee (12)
==================================
Chairman Cllr Trevor Fiddler (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Richard Redcliffe (C)

Cllr Christine Ackeroyd (C)
Cllr Michael Cornah (C)
Cllr Neil Harvey (C)
Cllr Barbara Nash (C)
Cllr Albert Pounder (C)
Cllr Peter Collins (I)
Cllr Linda Nulty (I)
Cllr Liz Oades (I)
Cllr Tony Ford (LD)
Cllr Kiran Mulholland (INA)

Audit and Standards Committee (9)
============================
Chairman Cllr John Singleton (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr David Donaldson (C)

Cllr Delma Collins (C)
Cllr Ed Nash (C)
Cllr Greame Neale (C)
Cllr Roger Small (C)
Cllr Peter Collins (I)
Cllr Roger Lloyd (FR)
Cllr Mark Bamforth (FR)

Public Protection Committee (11)
==========================
Chairman Cllr Angela Jacques (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Barbara Nash (C)

Cllr Frank Andrews (C)
Cllr Brenda Blackshaw (C)
Cllr Gail Goodman (C)
Cllr Shirley Green (C)
Cllr Neil Harvey (C)
Cllr Keith Beckett (I)
Cllr Alan Clayton (I)
Cllr Peter Hardy (I)
Cllr Jan Barker (L)

Licensing Committee (14) (Not Politically balanced)
========================================
Chairman Cllr Angela Jacques (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Barbara Nash (C)

Cllr Frank Andrews (C)
Cllr Brenda Blackshaw (C)
Cllr Gail Goodman (C)
Cllr Shirley Green (C)
Cllr Neil Harvey (C)
Cllr David Donaldson
Cllr Ray Thomas (C)
Cllr Alan Clayton (I)
Cllr Keith Beckett (I)
Cllr Peter Collins (I)
Cllr Peter Hardy (I)
Cllr Jan Barker (L)

Chief Officer Employment Committee (8)
================================
Chairman Cllr Susan Fazackerley (C)
Vice Chairman Cllr Karen Buckley (C)

Cllr Roger Small (C)
Cllr Richard Taylor (C)
Cllr Keith Beckett (I)
Cllr Julie Brickles (I)
Mr Ronald Elwood*
Mr Brian Horrocks*

* New regulations require two external non-elected members as co-opted members to be added to this statutory committee.

One thing readers will note is that there are 51 Councillors elected, but names crop up with significant repetition in the committees above.

Another thing that the sharper-eyed readers will have spotted is that despite his strong support and campaigning for a return to the Committee system, counterbalance's St. Paul Hayhurst has so far refused nomination to any of the committees. We understand this is a personal protest at the way the arrangements have been put in place.

We understand he does not support the present arrangements for the Committee system to operate (as we do not support them), and he argues he intends to attend each committee where his electorate have an interest, in order to speak for them at the Committee.

The Council has said it will review its operating decisions after a period of time to bed in, and the situation could change.

But overall, it will be seen that the new administration has tightened its grip on power in Fylde, and its majority is stronger than before.

That's not always a blessing. Having greater numbers and firm discipline can lead to internal factionalisation, especially with such a large contingent of newcomers, and result in an 'us and them' situation developing within the ranks.

But with the majority they have, it will mean another four years where whatever the Conservative Group decide behind the closed doors of their group meetings is pretty much certain to become what the Council itself will decide.

The early signs - as Cllr Hayhurst indicates - are not impressive.

That said, the Committee system will ensure that the worst practices of the Cabinet cannot remain in place. It also ensures that all meetings of the full Council have supremacy of decision-making restored (which was not the case when the Cabinet existed).

It also means that it will be more difficult for those that were wont to do so, to restrict the information received by councillors. It also restores the right to speak at decision-taking meetings to all councillors (which was a primary aim of the return to the committee system), but it does look as though the Conservative group might try to make the operation of Committees as close as they can to the former Cabinet system.

We also worry that the Development Management Committee has been shrunk in size from its former self, and that risks further politicisation of the decisions in what should be a non-party-political forum.

Fylde's Conservatives have every right to choose the size of the Council's Committees of course. They are the majority party.

But that doesn't stop us (or Cllr Hayhurst) regarding moves in that direction as an insult to the principles of democracy and to the people of Fylde who called for a consensus-based council that uses talents and experience of all our elected councillors working for the common good.

We expect we will return to this topic as the year unfolds.

Away from the Conservative sphere, there are other complications.

Whilst most of the Independent councillors in the rural area retained their seats, Fylde have lost some able independents - notably David Chedd and Ken Hopwood - together with the skills that those people brought to the group.

The Liberal Democrats, (who are now reduced to two members - Cllr Karen Henshaw and Cllr Tony Ford) will remain active on the Council. We understand that Cllr Ford is deservedly to become Group Leader for the Lib Dems.

The Fylde Ratepayers' two most experienced officials have not been re-elected.

The Ratepayers have lost their Group Leader on the Council in John Davies, and their most experienced Councillor (and Nominating Officer) in Kevin Eastham.

Both Cllr Lloyd and Cllr Bamforth were elected as Ratepayers, but it's not yet clear how their Leadership situation will be resolved. Whilst remaining Fylde Ratepayers, they appear to have aligned themselves with the Independent members. This may be because for the time being both are relatively inexperienced and can learn from closer co-operation with the Independent councillors.

But that very closeness does mean we are witnessing both a milestone, and what looks set to be an uncertain chapter, in the history of the Fylde Ratepayers

Also of interest as time goes forward will be the position of Jan Barker - the new Labour Councillor on Fylde. We imagine Labour will maintain their separate identity within the Council, but quite how this was going to work out in practice is less clear.

She will need to be a skilful operator to influence direction on her own. It can be (and indeed has been) done at Fylde before, and we look forward to seeing her in action.

So overall, we think the national policy will have a significant effect on Fylde as a result of this election, and it will probably have a more significant effect than local policy will produce.

So in that sense, perhaps our dissenting readers are right, and it might still be something akin to 'business as usual' within Fylde - and indeed, probably for counterbalance as well.

Dated:   21 May 2015


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