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Analysis: No alarms and no surprises in Preston local elections

Posted on - 24th May, 2014 - 10:00am | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics
Preston's town hall stayed Labour controlled

Preston’s town hall stayed Labour controlled

The dust has settled on another local election in Preston, and it’s a slightly redder shade of dust than before.

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While the rest of the country saw large gains for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) it was the status quo in Preston.

Labour took the town centre seat left vacant by maverick councillor Michael Lavalette’s departure from the political arena. This was the only change in seat, rendering Blog Preston’s interactive seat-changing graphic rather redundant.

There were strong results for UKIP in a number of wards, with their candidates taking a chunk of the votes in the likes of Ingol, Lea and Preston Rural North. But they failed to translate the European protest vote into a single seat on the city council.

The Tories will be relived they stayed as they were. Eric Fazackerley takes on the leadership of the group from outgoing former council leader Ken Hudson, and is the official opposition – and he’ll be mightily pleased UKIP’s challenge did not split the Tory vote enough to let the likes of John Wilson creep in through the back door in Sharoe Green.

Margaret McManus held off the Bus Station campaigning firebrand in one of the closer-fought races. Helping list the Bus Station was not rewarded by voters whose number one concern is the sprawl of the local hospital and parking.

A timely reminder of the local in local elections. While Farage was banging the anti-EU drum there was much evidence of UKIP being the party of the protest vote, something Preston MP Mark Hendrick alluded too when speaking to us and BBC Radio Lancashire during results day. But as another MP said, the electorate are far cleverer than politicians give them credit for – they may put a cross in Farage’s box but they know who they can trust to keep their bins being emptied. And it’s not UKIP for Prestonians.

What of the Lib Dems? Stuck between a rock and a hard place since 2010, there was general agreement that Nick Clegg’s decision to take on Farage in the Euro debate was a poor one. The Liberal Democrats have always prided themselves as being a local party, fixing potholes and sorting your local issue is their speciality.

In Preston their experience leader Bill Shannon said goodbye to the political arena, retiring from Ingol ward. Rumours of a UKIP steal proved to be unfounded, they’d done well in postal votes but the Shannon-factor was enough to keep Lib Dems more than 100 clear of Christoper Rigby’s well-run campaign. 2015 will be make or break year for the Lib Dems as the electorate decide whether having them as a party of government suits them. A party of local government in Preston, that’s a long way off for the likes of Neil Darby and Stephen Mullen who got elected.

Both of them reflect a number of young charges who won at the ballot box, adding some youth and zip to all three parties. Charlotte Leach joins the Tories via Garrison ward, and Drew Gale returned for the town centre ward for Labour.

Turnout remains low, at 33% – with two thirds of those votes coming from postal voters. Walking to the ballot box to cast a vote is something only a small percentage of Prestonians actually did. Yet the number of people watching a live video stream from the city council exceeded its server capacity, our live coverage was seen by thousands of people and social media buzzed with queries, retweets and likes. Politicians will blame the media, but is it that the rhetoric is tired and blame-gaming, rather than visionary and engaging? To Peter Rankin’s credit, they were the only local group to publish a manifesto for Preston. Ideas for what they wanted to do with the city. No other party did so. It’s not surprising the personal appeal of Farage, chiming at a jaded electorate with an easy faceless target of the European Union, did so well.

But overall for Preston it was no alarms and no surprises, as Peter Rankin’s Labour group has another year in power – and will continue to strengthen the bonds it has already begun building with the Labour administration in County Hall.

The general election and local election alongside it in 2015 is shaping up to a different but compelling story. The Lib Dems may struggle to hang on in some wards, either allowing a sweeping majority for Labour, or UKIP continue to enjoy popularity and start taking seats from the Tories and Labour. It’ll be fascinating to watch.

See ward by ward breakdown of election results.

What is your take on the results? Which party do you support? Let us know in the comments below 

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