Polling has closed in today’s county elections, held throughout England and Wales. Twenty-seven county councils and seven unitary authorities have gone to the polls and in Eastleigh district all seven divisions are being contested – the winners will represent Eastleigh on Hampshire County council until 2017.
At the moment conservatives’ hold 51 of Hampshire County Council’s seats with 25 Lib Dems, one labour and an independent. Six of Eastleigh’s divisions are currently held by the Liberal Democrats and one -Chandler’s Ford – is currently held by Conservative Colin Davidovitz all of Eastleigh’s sitting members are seeking re -election – including the leader of Eastleigh borough Council Keith house.
The Hedge End councillor – who holds several seats on various local council seats represents Hamble on HCC where he is leader of the opposition but with a majority of 31, the conservatives are able to steamroller through county policy in much the same way as Eastleigh’s ruling Lib Deems ride roughshod over their four member Tory opposition.
The conservatives point to their record in delivering services and value to for the taxpayer despite sharp cuts in their government grant and a freeze on council tax.
Hampshire County Council have received a glowing report from the audit commission and praise from council tax pressure group ‘Isitfair’.
The Lib Deems however, have highlighted what they claim to be examples of Conservative excess claiming millions have been spent on refurbishing the council HQ including gilded gates and an expensive CCTV system to record council meeting while at the same time cutting funding to youth services and the surestart scheme.
Despite this – the Conservatives are expected to hold onto control the only question is how much ground will they yield to Ukip given the size of the swing to the eurosceptics in the Eastleigh by election when the Tories were pushed into third place.
One of the most interesting tussles in Eastleigh should be in Botley. In 2005 there was only 10% separating winner Rupert Kyrle from Conservative Jerry Hall after Ukip split the Tory vote.
Conservatives believe the unpopularity of housing plans for Botley will have lost the Lib Dems much support – the size of the turnout on a recent protest march certainly supports this theory
Rupert Kyrle has also voiced his opposition to housing in Botley and is currently enjoying a high public profile as the borough’s Mayor but will this be enough? Or will Ukip once again fatally undermine the conservatives?
Ukip’s candidate in Botley Steve Robinson-Grindey has actively campaigned in the parish on traffic and air quality issues and should attract support.
The second division of interest is Eastleigh East where sitting Lib Dem councillor Chris Thomas is up against former Lib Dem colleague and councillor Andrew Moore – now standing for Ukip.
Chris Thomas -who is also a Bishopstoke Parish Councillor and represents Eastleigh North on the borough – seemed genuinely surprised to learn his opponent would be Moore. Prior to the Eastleigh by-election Cllr Thomas had told Eastleigh News that he was confident of retaining his county seat where he won 45% of the vote in 2009 but the picture seems less clear with Andrew Moore in the frame. In 2009 it was close between the conservatives and Ukip. Ukip are confident that they can push Tory candidate Michael Read into 3d place here.
Lib Dem campaign literature has ignored the result of the By-election completely and have persisted in showing a bar graph of the 2010 general election which has the Lib Dems on 46% and conservatives on 39% – although in March’s by election their vote share had actually slumped to 32% and 25% respectively.
Council leader Keith house previously told Eastleigh News that Ukip’s performance in March was simply a by election one off and they would continue to squeeze the labour vote – it seems in doing so thy eave chosen to ignore Ukip’s result completely
Despite this Ukip say there membership has more than doubled in Eastleigh since the by election and are still getting enquires at their town centre shop. While they will be hoping to continue with their recent momentum Eastleigh’s Labour Party will look to make progress.
Out of the three major parties in March Labour was the only one which actually increased its share of the vote – but not by much – a wafer thin 0.2% – but there was a sense that while support for the coalition parties is contracting Labour have shrunk to their core vote and in the words of an old campaign song “The only way is up”.
With only one Labour seat on the County council it would seem unrealistic to expect a huge surge. At the very start of the campaign Labour’s Eastleigh West candidate – James Penders told Eastleigh News that the counties would be a springboard for their 2014 borough campaign.
Interestingly in Eastleigh West affable Scot Penders finds himself pitched against an Ulsterman in the form of Conservative Andrew Milligan.
In Chandler’s Ford division Ukip candidate John Edwards has been complaining about Lib Dem literature that claims ‘Labour and Ukip’ have conceded defeat.
In the 2012 local elections while standing as an English Democrat Edwards (an ex Rushmoor Labour councillor) found himself being falsely described as a former BNP supporter in leaflets distributed by a left wing group, which led to an investigation, by Police.
The green party have fielded two candidates in Eastleigh (893 nationally) Joe Cox in Chandler’s Ford and local artist and musician Stuart Jebbitt who is standing in Eastleigh West.
Kevin Milburn a local pastor who wants to bring Christian values into politics is standing for the Christian party in Eastleigh East.
Milburn stood in the by election and finished 8th beating the raving loonies, the English Democrats and TUSC.
TUSC are also standing a candidate in Eastleigh. Local campaigner Ania Waterman represents the socialists who finished 13th out of 14 in the by-election
Waterman a member of UK uncut has campaigned in Eastleigh for a number of causes including “rescue the reek” and is an outspoken defender of disability rights.
Polls closed at 10.
Eastleigh news is tweeting live from the count.