Ed Balls and Caroline Flint, Labour locally must be confident that the party will gain overall control of Reading Council next month, and with only two gains required that confidence seems well placed. But closer inspection of the wards up for election, and the pattern of local results in these wards since 2008 when these seats were last contested, suggests that Labour’s task isn’t quite as straight forward as the maths suggests.
The three obvious target wards for Labour are Redlands, Katesgrove and Church. Labour lost in all three wards when these seats were fought in 2008, with the Liberal Democrats claiming victory in Redlands and Katesgrove and the Conservatives picking up Church. Four years on and all three should produce relatively straight forward victories for Labour given the party won in each of the wards in question in last year’s local elections (with comfortable majorities ranging from 300-600).
Although Labour made three gains in 2011 it failed to take outright control of the council because it was unable to win back seats in three other wards that it lost in 2008: Caversham, Kentwood and Peppard (all won by the Conservatives). Indeed, Reading Labour was someway off regaining these seats, coming closest in Kentwood where it missed out by 210 votes but falling short by a considerable 1438 votes in Peppard*.
Labour is fielding three experienced candidates in its targets wards, two of whom are former councillors – Rose Williams in Katesgrove and popular local Unison official, Tony Jones in Redlands. In Church Eileen McElligott is engaged in a tense and controversial contest with ex Labour turned Conservative councillor, Anzam Janjua.
Labour is also fighting a defensive campaign in at least one ward. In 2011 the party lost a seat to the Greens in Park ward and there must be a real concern that the Greens who have two of the ward’s three councillors, may complete the full set.
Clearly a good result for Labour is for the party to take outright control and despite the factors mentioned above, this looks the most likely outcome. But a genuinely good result on the night would see Labour not only win in its three target wards but regain a seat in Kentwood and stop the Green surge in park ward.
* AMENDMENT: Peppard was a Conservative gain from Lib Dems in 2008 and hasnt ever elected a Labour councillor.