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What we learned during the Preston local elections in 2019

Posted on - 5th May, 2019 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics, Preston Council, Preston News
The view across the election count in Preston Guild Hall on Friday Pic: Blog Preston
The view across the election count in Preston Guild Hall on Friday Pic: Blog Preston

It was the most interesting set of local elections for many years, even if the city didn’t really turn out to vote.
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That’s my view anyway after many years of seeing the results in the vast majority of wards becoming very predictable.

A Friday count had a more relaxed feel compared to the Thursday overnight, although it did feel very odd not leaving the house just before 10pm on the day of the local elections to then drink coffee and report until the early hours. A little of the election magic was definitely lost.

A hint of what was to come in this year’s vote took place last year when Labour, in Freddie Bayley and Anna Hindle, took a seat each in College and Garrison.

What took place in 2019 was a Conservative blood-letting as the party locally and nationally collapsed.

You have to give credit to Preston Labour for the way they campaigned and how their vote in Preston held up, and in places increased, despite the slide nationally for Corbyn’s party. It didn’t feel like Labour were already in control of the council with the way they hit the streets with their red coated teams.

Labour made this election locally about their policies and economic model. The Preston Model, beloved by the national predominantly left-wing press, is clearly breaking through locally as otherwise the Preston group may have faced the same fate as other Labour-led councils across the country.

Read more: Labour’s guest piece outlining their manifesto for Preston

What’s clear is there’s a well-organised and well-supported Labour group. With the idealistic Matthew Brown leading them, they have strength and depth all over the park if you looked at it in football terms. While the Tories, with a new leader in Sue Whittam, are clearly struggling.

The Balshaws, the are they in, or are they out, as Tories in Ashton, ultimately cost the Conservatives around 1,200 votes by standing as Independent candidates and left the way clear for Labour to take all three seats in the ward.

Labour have leaders all over the park, Rawlinson, Boswell, Kelly, Moss and Mein are all local politicians who have experience and the guile to get others over the line too. You don’t see this with the Tories.

Read more: Ward-by-ward results for Preston local elections in 2019

The Red Roses may be a little disappointed, their performance in Sharoe Green was stronger than expected – a ward slightly neglected as the focus was on continuing their inroads in Garrison ward. And the re-drawn Greyfriars ward, which swung to the Lib Dems, could now become a three-way battleground in future elections.

Yellows were far from mellow

A resurgent Lib Dems were the other big story of the night, John Potter was bouncing around like Tiger from early on and was more like Tony the Tiger by the end of Friday.

It’s fair to say the Preston group have been punished because of national decisions, Clegg and co, but they are a hard-working bunch and they got their rewards for a hard-working campaign.

Read more: Lib Dem surge causes confusion over who Preston’s ‘political opposition’ now is

You can’t judge politicians by their selfie-game, but if you did then Freddie Bayley of Labour (with Peter Kelly always half-a-step behind his young wing-man) and Neil Darby of the Lib Dems were definitely the two front-runners. Knock, knock, it’s another Lib Dem at your door! But they were targeted, picking the wards to pour their efforts into and translate those into votes and helped by the party nationally having a very clear position on Brexit. They became the national party for the remain protest vote.

It was an early start for the Lib Dems in the campaign and with the low turnout then it means postal votes – where nearly 60 per cent of thos register return their votes – are crucial. The Lib Dems work hard here, as did Labour, and saw a good return.

A very blue feeling

And for the Conservatives? Chairman Andy Pratt and new leader Sue Whittam will need to do some soul-searching.

Deeply unpopular nationally and with no clear manifesto or plan locally they felt all at sea. Losing Garrison and Greyfriars ward means their usual Fulwood strongholds can’t be taken for granted.

A local election should ultimately be about local issues, not a litmus test on the popularity of national politicians, so with a combination of the boundary changes and Labour’s clear vision and ideological position on the future of Preston the city perhaps saw more of a local election than a national one compared to other places.

And did the boundary review do its job? For those reporting on election then yes, counts were closer, Labour’s majority is cut, and looking through the numbers for many wards voters will feel like if they do decide to go out there is a good chance their vote will now make a difference.

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