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What we learned from the 2018 local elections in Preston

Posted on - 6th May, 2018 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics, Preston Council, Preston News
Labour picking up Garrison ward
Labour picking up Garrison ward

As the dust settles on another election in Preston (we’ve had a lot of them recently) we’ve been casting our eye over what the result tells us ahead of a big year in 2019.

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Labour will say they won the night, and they certainly did, and what won it was a ruthlessness we’re learning to expect from the Preston Labour group.

Look at some of the decisions made by the Labour group and you would be forgiven for thinking there is a Tory-ness tinge to them – moving the Guild Hall into private entrepreneurial hands, selling the Bus Station for £1 and most recently the transfer of the leisure centres to social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited with a hefty cheque attached too.

But, it seems to be resonating and the ‘Preston Model’, the overarching narrative that’s been coined by the Corbynistas (and right-leaning press too) is gaining traction. If you believe Labour candidates then people on the doorstep have even heard of it.

Read more: See who won which wards in the 2018 local elections in Preston

Mob-handed the red rosette wearers went into the blue-rinse of Fulwood and the ruthlessness was there – College and Garrison fell to them, with some decent majorities too.

They campaigned on Sundays. Disruptive say the Tories. Vote-winning say the Labourites. Clearly the voters did not mind this unusual campaigning tactic to try and spark some interest in what was otherwise a very status quo affair.

I wrote a few years ago it was ‘no alarms and no surprises’ with the city’s local elections as yet another score-draw was declared between the two main parties. Well, no more, there are alarm bells ringing out around Conservative HQ.

Garrison was surrendered. Young Charlotte Leach stepping down after just one term, did she have a popular vote? If so, it vanished, as Labour hit the streets and overturned a nearly 200-vote majority. Councillor Neil Cartwright, leader of the Tory group, was left scratching his beard and pondering. Perhaps the more gentlemanly Labour, under councillor Peter Rankin, is giving way now to a harder, steelier, edge?

Cllr Rankin was a big presence missed by the Labour group and he has been a mediator in many events since his came to power in 2011, and was re-elected in Tulketh in 2008. But sadly, he is councillor no more, leaving politics for his battle with a brain tumour. All sides of the political spectrum have united to wish him well, showing that in Preston there is an underlying decency in the campaigning and cut-and-thrust of politics.

Councillor Peter Rankin
Councillor Peter Rankin has stood down due to a battle with cancer

To follow him, Labour have elected a new leader. Councillor Boswell had been the stand-in since Peter started to take a back seat in December before his operation – but there were rumblings of disquiet about his handling of a number of issues from within the party. Instead the party has chosen a man who has much buzz about him on the national Labour scene right now – councillor Matthew Brown. He will lead Labour into the 2019 election and hoping The Preston Model continues to resonate.

And will there be just one new leader? Councillor Cartwright was robbed in his back yard, twice. Fulwood used to be an area he could count on, is it losing faith as the Tories hold power on a national and a county-wide scale, is this tarnishing his party’s appeal? There is no over-arching narrative coming from the Tories in Preston, what exactly, do they stand for? One Blog Preston reader told of how when asked what their policies were on the doorstep the hapless canvasser could not tell her. Cllr Cartwright himself, post-election, seemed to imply he could not mobilise the kind of disciplined crack troops we see from the men and women in red.

This was an election that struggled to break-through to the electorate, with just over 30 per cent of people casting their vote. That’s a staggering amount of people voting for apathy.

Read more: New chief executive to start for Preston Council as Lorraine Norris stands down

Apathy cannot be the winner in 2019, it’s an all-out election. What does that mean? The ward boundaries in the city change in many cases and every councillor must stand again. It’s not quite a clean slate but it’s as close as you’ll get.

We, in the media, must play our part here. Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and others have not really made their case. I promise I will try to change this in 2019. We should have debates, every councillor having to answer five key questions in a piece, and we must work with our colleagues at other outlets to ensure there is the profile to the elections they deserve. We don’t mind who you vote for, as long as you vote, after all, everyone’s favourite thing to do is to write ‘clowncil’ on the Facebook comments but those without a vote may need to consider that easy-to-adopt-position.

And what of the Lib Dems? 2010 and Cleggmania feels a long, long, time ago. But there’s a sniff of a comeback for them.

Councillor John Potter was beaming as they began to make inroads in Greyfriars. The two-seat ward, due to Damien Moore stepping down when he became Southport MP, saw a surge in Lib Dem voting. Although Labour and Lib Dems perhaps cancel each other out here. With the ward boundaries moving around in 2019 does it present an opportunity in the North and the West of the city, the Lib Dems heartland, to perhaps inflict some defeats on the Tories?

Read more: Here’s how the ward boundaries will look in Preston in 2019

So Labour surged, again, but the playing field they operate on will be very different in 2019 and for the likes of new councillor Freddie Bailey, 22, newly elected, vowing to serve the people of College ward, well, he’s got 12 months, because that ward won’t exist soon and he’ll be in another fight, somewhere else in Fulwood.

No alarms and no surprises, not anymore, Preston, in 2019, well, it might just get interesting.

What did you draw from the election results? Let us know your views in the comments below

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