Monday, 23 April 2012
Local election review: Swindon
Lewis Baston, senior research fellow at Democratic Audit, has kindly authored a review of the whole council elections taking place in Swindon in May. This is an extra review in addition to our scheduled "Ten to watch", where we think control of the council may change in Labour's favour.
Swindon has been one of the fastest-growing towns in Britain. It has two marginal Parliamentary seats which were both gained by the Conservatives from Labour in 2010, the North seat on a huge (10 per cent) swing, and the South seat more narrowly. Since 1974 Swindon has gone to the winning party in every election, except for a Labour hold in 1979. The Swindon seats are exactly the sort of places where Labour needs to be competitive again.
Although the Conservatives currently have a large majority on the council, this is at risk because there are boundary changes and every seat on the council is up for election this May. While this creates an opportunity for Labour, the boundary changes also help the Conservatives by creating new wards in areas of high population growth in north Swindon, particularly the Abbey Meads area. These areas have produced a strong Tory vote in recent elections, in contrast to the older estates and terraces where the Labour wards are located.
Before 2000, Swindon had been solidly Labour at local council level but the growth and demographic change in the town, plus the effects of a long period of Labour rule at a national level, shifted it towards the Tories in local elections. After four years of no overall control the Conservatives gained a majority in 2004 and built up a dominant position in successive local elections. Labour made a partial recovery in 2011, reducing the Conservative lead in votes to 2.6 per cent (although two small Tory wards did not have elections) and the Tory advantage in seats to 10-9, with one Lib Dem. Labour has to do better than in 2011 in order to win Swindon, and the boundary changes do not help, and it is a tough but possible target. National trends will determine the results, but a lot of the gloss has come off what was previously a Tory flagship council with the failure of its project to roll out free Wifi to the entire town.
A fairly superficial look at the new ward boundaries suggests the following political alignments:
SAFE CONSERVATIVE (18 seats) Blunsdon & Highworth, Chiseldon & Lawn, Old Town, Priory Vale, Ridgeway, St Andrews, Wroughton & Wichelstowe
REASONABLY SAFE CONSERVATIVE (9 seats) Haydon Wick, St Margaret & South Marston, Shaw
SAFE LABOUR (6 seats) Central, Gorse Hill & Pinehurst
LEANS LABOUR (9 seats) Liden, Eldene & Park South, Penhill & Upper Stratton, Walcot & Park North
MARGINAL to Labour (6 seats) Mannington & Western, Rodbourne Cheney
MARGINAL (6 seats) Covingham & Dorcan, Lydiard & Freshbrook
MARGINAL (Lib Dem v Labour) (3 seats) Eastcott
There are therefore 27 Tory seats, 21 Labour and 9 marginals, assuming that Labour isn't cutting into what I've termed 'reasonably safe' Tory seats, and that the Conservatives won't do better than they did in 2011. The other assumption is my pretty rough translation of old wards into new ones. Swindon is a tough ask for Labour, and perhaps a ‘nice to have’ rather than a key target in 2012. But the party has to get back in the driving seat in places like Swindon to win a general election.
Posted by Stuart King at 13:40