As the dust settles pt 2: the picture in Southend


ballot box

I’ve already blogged some of my thoughts on how the general election panned out, but I wanted to look at Southend separately, because the same truths don’t all apply.

Whilst I wouldn’t describe Southend as being a Labour landslide, the truth is that the local party did buck the trend. In the two constituencies we performed well, increasing our share of the vote in Rochford & Southend east by 4.4% and in Southend West by 4.9%. Given that the national picture was one of a Labour wipeout everywhere outside London, the Southend team are feeling justifiably pleased.

I’ll break it down by party, I think.

Conservative

This, to be honest, was the Tories election. As befits the national picture, they did a great deal of winning things here. Both MPs were returned to parliament, and they picked up an extra three council seats and managed not to lose any.

None of it was particularly unassailable. Had UKIP gotten its act together, then perhaps the result had been different, but neither David Amess nor James Duddridge were threatened by the competition.

The council elections see Meg Davidson as new Prittlewell councillor, Bernard Arscott cracking open the once Lib Dem stronghold of Leigh, and Roger Hadley regaining Shoeburyness. In terms of new Tory councillors replacing old Tory councillors, Mark Flewitt’s partner Steve Buckley joins him in St Laurence, and Tony Cox returns to the chamber for West Shoebury.

The numbers now put them closer to being back in control, but still short of a majority.

UKIP

What to say about UKIP, then? Last year they ruled the roost, gaining five councillors. This year they gained sod-all.

They finished third in both parliamentary seats, which from the looks on the faces of Messrs Waterworth and Otridge was a sore disappointment. They were similarly uninspiring in performance in the local elections, only managing to hold onto the St Laurence seat vacated by suspended Lee Burling by a handful of votes.

Not a great night for them, and I look forward whether the casualties of the ongoing civil war will leave enough councillors to form a grouping within the chamber; if its only Waterworth and the newly-elected McGlone then they won’t be due any committee places, and thus no actual influence or power…

Independent Party Group

Conventional wisdom says that a general election year will squeeze the votes of the independents, and by and large that happened here. Anne Chalk lost her seat in Shoeburyness, to the Tories, and no new independent councillors were returned. I suspect that Stephen McKiernan and Lucy Courtenay will feel particularly disappointed, being pushed into third in Belfairs and Chalkwell respectively.

Two independent party group councillors did have successful elections, though. In St Luke’s my friend (Erm… -Ed) Paul van Looy was returned for another term, and in Thorpe the council leader himself Ron Woodley received over 3,000 votes. Politics is weird.

Liberal Democrat

The real story of the night was the collapse of the Lib Dems. In Rochford & Southend East, Peter Gwizdala finished bottom of the pile losing his deposit. I don’t think this was any fault of his, just a product of his party getting a kicking up and down the country. Paul Collins in Southend West fared slightly better, but not a great deal.

And if possible, things were worse in the local elections. They didn’t win a single seat, and managed to lose Leigh, the impregnable fortress of Liberal Democrat-ness which they had focused all their resources on saving. One feels a little sorry for Peter Wexham, unseated after over two decades. And for Graham Longley, who looked a rather uncomfortable shade of pale at the Lib Dem candidate in Blenheim Park finishing fourth.

Blenheim Park, of course, is Graham’s ward, and he’s up for re-election next year.

Green

What can I say about the Green Party? Well, I repeat what I’ve said before: that Cross Simon has demonstrated himself the rudest person in this election, to my mind. And given that it included UKIP and Paul Van Looy, that’s rather an achievement. He did hold his deposit in Rochford & Southend East, though, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that as an achievement.

Jon Fuller didn’t manage quite the same feat in Southend West, but all I had seen of his campaign was him driving around the Mendips estate shouting at residents through a megaphone. I’m not sure what that tactic was supposed to achieve, but it didn’t seem to work…

In the local elections, there was little to note. They stood candidates in every ward, though not as they tried to claim a full slate. Cross Simon’s somewhat threatening speech after coming fourth in the Kursaal election — that he would keep standing until he’s given a seat — springs to mind, but actually their biggest contribution was to keep a Tory councillor in Milton ward…

Labour

As I say, I’m pretty damn proud of how we did in Southend. Unlike other parts of the country, we did not collapse, but through hard work managed to secure our position as the real alternative to the Tories in Southend.

I worked on both parliamentary campaigns, and both Julian Ware-Lane in Southend West and Ian Gilbert in Rochford & Southend East took second place, beating back challenges from UKIP. In Southend West, this represents a step up from the previous third place.

In the local elections, we finished where we started. Judith McMahon held Kursaal with a frankly stonking majority, as did David Norman in Victoria, and Charles Willis replaces Mike Royston in Westborough. We were, though, disappointed to lose Milton by a slender margin of 51 votes. Gray Sergeant had a brilliant campaign, seeing an all-time high Labour vote, so it hurts all the more. When factored in that the Green vote was eight times higher than the winning margin, when the candidate and her party freely boasted and laughed about spending all of polling day in the pub, it becomes clear that the Green Party are far from an anti-Tory force.

In the end, though, we did well. The Labour wipeout did not reach Southend — I’ll touch on my own performance in Blenheim Park separately — and we are in a good position to expand in the future.

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