Con 17, Lab 15, Vac 1
Labour in Harlow is looking to build on the success of 2011’s local elections when the party made a number of gains winning 7 of the 11 contests in that year, and only just missing out on taking control of the council. With just two gains required to take control back for the first time since 2002, Labour should feel quietly optimistic, given they are only defending two of the twelve seats being contested (both in Bush Fair, where there is an additional vacancy following the resignation of a Labour councillor).
There are six target wards for Labour in all of which the party has two of the three sitting councillors – Harlow Common, Little Parndon & Hare Street, Mark Hall, Netteswell, Staple Tye & Todbrook. In 2011 Labour scored margins of victory in these wards ranging from 120 in Todbrook to 550 in Little Parndon & Hare Street. The party will be taking nothing for granted but the enthusiasm and momentum generated by the successes of 2011, coupled with the selection of an energetic and motivating new PPC, Suzy Stride, should see Labour make the gains it needs from these seats alone.
A really bad night for the Conservatives, could see them lose seats in wards which currently return three Conservative councillors. Three wards are most at risk: Old Harlow, where Labour came within 320 votes of victory last year, Great Parndon where the gap is 240 and Sumners & Kingsmoor, where a shaky 120 vote margin saw the re-election of a Conservative candidate. A Labour gain in one of these wards really will have the party popping the champagne corks.
The decline of the Liberal Democrats in
Harlow has been considerable. Ten years ago the party made its big breakthrough when it took advantage of an election in which the whole council was up for election (due to a reduction in the number of councillors following boundary changes). It emerged with 12 seats (the same as the Conservatives) as Labour lost 16 councillors and became the third party on the council with a group of just nine. Following 2011’s elections there were just two Liberal Democrat councillors left, and a death and defection means the minor party of the coalition enter the elections without any councillors. They look likely to remain unrepresented on the council after this week’s elections.
For much of the Blair/Brown administration
Harlow was a marginal parliamentary seat, retained by Bill Rammell by a wafer thin 97 votes in 2005. It was the Conservatives’ target seat number five in 2010 and Robert Halfon took the seat for them securing a majority of just under 5,000 on a 6% swing. The early selection of Suzy Stride as Labour’s candidate is a clear sign that the party is intent on regaining this seat. Retaking control of the council for the first time in ten years will be a huge boost to the party’s prospects in this regard.