I have a sneaking affection for Borehamwood - rather less so for South Oxhey, but Stevenage is the place which given the choice I would like to be plucked from the Hertfordshire landscape and dropped off somewhere far away
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 14, 2013 21:49:14 GMT
I was going to work through the counties alphabetically but am concerned I will run out of time and Hertfordshire obviously requires special attention so here goes.
2009 result Con 55 LD 17 Lab 3 Grn 1 BNP 1
Since then there have been 6 by-elections with the incumbent retaining the seat in each case (Borehamwood North (Con); St Albans South (LD); Bishops Stortford West (Con); Waltham Cross (Con); Meriden Tudor (LD); Hemel Hempstead Town (Con)) The BNP councillor for South Oxhey now sits as an English Democrat. The composition of the council is otherwise unchanged.
I will look at each district in turn to examine the prospects for gains and losses.
It is apparent from the table above that all bar one the county council seats in Broxbourne have been held by the Conservatives since 1981 (actually longer than that, but I chose that cut off point as there were major boundary changes then followed by much more minor ones in 2001). Only Waltham Cross has ever been lost or come close to being lost and in considering seats that may change hands we need only consider this seat here.
One thing to note with Waltham Cross is how low the Conservative majority was in 2009 and how robust the Labour share was for a seat which the Tories had only lost once in 30 years. Labour's share was higher and their losing margin lower than in all the seats in Hemel Hempstead and Welwyn Hatfield including a number of seats which had been held by Labour continuously from 1981 to 2009. The 27% that Labour won was in fact their 10th highest share in the county and on paper this is their 8th most winnable seat. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that the area is trending Labour over the long term. There is some evidence for this. The district ward of Waltham Cross (covering about half the CC division) was one of very few nationally which Labour gained in 2008. Waltham Cross itself borders and is physically contiguous with wards in Enfield which have seen massive demographic change in the last decade and have also trended heavily to Labour. If it is purely a matter of long term trend then this should mean Labour are in an even more favourable position relative to other seats, such as those in Hemel which are clearly trending against Labour. However the result of the by-election in March 2012 which saw a modest rise in Labour’s share and an overall swing to the Conservatives (from a collapse in the LD and BNP vote) points to a second explanation – namely that Labour has a high floor here but a relatively low ceiling, that they have a very solid core vote in the council estates of Waltham Cross but struggle to attract the extra votes needed to push them over the winning line. Its true of course that the Conservatives threw the kitchen sink at this by-election in a way that will not be possible in all-out elections, but even so with no other marginal seats in the borough the Conservatives can and will concentrate all their fire here. The local election results in 2011 and 2012 have seen the Conservatives just ahead of Labour (2012 is hard to tell for sure because of ward boundary changes) but these have been straight fights between the two parties. It is probable that both the LDs and UKIP will stand here – the former will get a fairly derisory vote (having done surprisingly well in 2009) and this is not UKIP’s best area in the borough. The BNP has fallen apart locally and the English Democrats have not picked up the baton in borough elections as they have in other parts of Cheshunt but may present an additional choice in May. It does appear that the Conservatives have benefited more than Labour from the collapse of the BNP and would also most likely be hurt by a strong UKIP performance. I’ve no doubt this will see a very close contest but I would not put Labour’s chances of winning at better than 50%.
The remaining five seats in the borough are all safe for the Conservatives. The main interest (for me anyway) will be how well UKIP can do. The party has become very much better organised in the borough following the demise of the BNP and should be able to post some decent results – I’d particularly be looking for solid performances in the Hoddesdon seats
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 15, 2013 14:27:49 GMT
East Hertfordshire The Conservatives have held all 10 seats in this district since 2001 (when the total was increased from 9) and the likelihood is that they will continue to do so after May though there are one or two seats that have the potential to upset this arrangement. Clearly the most marginal (only marginal really) seat on the basis of the last results is Bishops Stortford East where a swing of only 1.5% from Conservative to LD would see the seat change hands. There is however no particularly compelling reason to believe that such a swing is likely to occur. Local elections in the area point to a strengthening of the Conservatives vis a vis the LDs. The strong LD result in 2009 was based on them monopolising the non-Tory vote in a way which is less likely with a Labour revival (and the possibility of a renewed Green candidature). On the other hand Bishops Stortford appears to have a slightly erratic voting behaviour and I lack any local knowledge of the area. UKIP will most likely stand and could do quite well with the likelihood that this impacts more on Tory than LD support. Clearly a Tory loss here, while perhaps not the likeliest outcome, would be no great surprise. It would be a considerable surprise if any of the other seats were lost. There are two other seats where the LDs have at times been competitive – Ware North and [Hertford] All Saints. In neither of these were they close in 2009 and again local election results show their strength continuing to wane in Ware while in Hertford they have collapsed completely and did not even contest any of the seats in 2011. The Kingsmead ward in Hertford used to be a LD stronghold but their councillors some time ago defected to the Tories and appear to have carried most of their voters with them. They retain more of a presence in the urban parts of Ware but no more than enough to draw even with the Tories there at best while they will be overwhelmed by the rural elements. Seats like All Saints and Ware North (and Bishops Stortford West) could fall to the LDs in future in a scenario like 1993 where you have an unpopular Tory government and the LDs as an opposition party, but in the current circumstances there is no reason to envisage any movement in this direction.
The other Hertford seat, St Andrews is a different matter as this was traditionally the one seat in the district which Labour could win and did so for 20 years between 1981 and 2001. However by 2009 they had collapsed to a mere 12% of the vote and it seems impossible for them to stage the kind of recovery needed to be back in contention, though I could see their vote going up sharply to over 30%. The basis of their strength here was the Sele council estate but like so many others in this part of the world this area has changed through RTB and new developments and Labour could not even come close to winning this ward in 2011 and they would also need a decent vote in Castle ward which casts more votes. An Independent stood here in 2009 and Independents also did well in both wards in the 2011 district elections and if they intervened here they could make things more interesting. Certainly Labour would require some major split of the Tory vote in order to win here now, but any Independents may just as well take votes from Labour as the Tories (certainly this appears to have been the case in 2009).
All the remaining seats are more or less safely Conservative – a bit less in the cases of Bishops Stortford West and Ware South and a bit more in the rural seats of Bishops Stortford Rural, Hertford Rural and Braughing (famous for its excellent sausages). Sawbridgeworth should be mentioned in the same breath, but in the 2011 local elections this is the one division in which the Tories didn’t win the aggregate vote – Independents did. I really doubt this has any implications for the CC elections. Independents had done well in 2007 as well and didn’t even stand in 2009. An Independent from Sawbridgeworth may not have much resonance in Hunsdon or Much Hadham and vice versa. So the prospects of the Tories losing here are extremely remote but it seemed worthwhile to point out a little bit of electoral diversity here. Also for various reasons, Sawbridgeworth is likely to be one of the more promising seats for UKIP, but again they will not do well enough to threaten the Tories.
All in all there are at most three seats that could provide any real interest here and only one that has a realistic possibility of changing hands, but even allowing for that I would not bet against the Conservatives getting a clean sweep again in East Hertfordshire.
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 15, 2013 20:09:22 GMT
North Hertfordshire North Hertfordshire contains nine seats with three each in the Hitchin and Letchworth areas and three in the rural hinterland (including Royston). There is a certain symmetry to the Hitchin and Letchworth areas with each traditionally containing one safe Labour seat, one Con-Lab marginal and one seat in the southern part of town which was usually safe Conservative but where LD and/or Independent challenges could be effective in a bad year. This tradition was shattered in 2009 when the Conservatives won all the seats in the district, gaining Hitchin North and Letchworth North West from Labour – the first clean sweep since 1977. Hitchin North was actually the narrowest Conservative win as Labour held up relatively well, limiting the margin to 6 votes. Letchworth North West was a more emphatic victory, but Labour still held up noticeably better than in comparable seats in Hemel, Welwyn and Hatfield. The sources of Labour support in these two seats are not hard to discern but differ from one another.
Letchworh NW is essentially a ‘council estate’ seat with still nearly 40% of housing in local authority ownership in 2001 and one of the most working class seats in the county. Hitchin North is more middle class and owner occupied but has a large ethnic minority population. Based on local election results from the last couple of years, Labour should retake these two seats as a matter of routine. Certainly they should gain Hitchin North by a wide margin. Letchworth can be a bit more unpredictable and contrary, but it’s difficult to see them failing to take NW as well.
Beyond these two, Labour prospects are not great. There are two other seats as mentioned above that Labour have been able to win in the past. Letchworth East & Baldock is what is says on the tin. Letchworth East is a Labour inclined ward but never overwhelmingly so and their ability to win the county seat always depended on a solid vote in Baldock and they no longer appear to have this (for example in May 2012 Labour were 100 votes ahead of the Tories in Letchworth East but 500 votes behind in Baldock). If Labour were 15-20% ahead nationally they might still be able to challenge here but there doesn’t seem much prospect of that.
Hitchin Rural presents a similar problem for Labour. As Offa (the name was changed in 2001 but the boundaries are virtually identical) this was a Labour seat for 20 years from 1981. The mainstay of Labour victories here was their overwhelming strength in the Oughton council estate of Hitchin but this on its own could never have been enough if they didn’t have a substantial minority vote in the rural areas. They did then but don’t now, although they remain very strong in Oughton. Their 15% share last time was pitiful and should be around doubled but they don’t look like coming close to winning here again. So much for Labour prospects.
Of the five remaining seats, the voting history shows that four have a history (and potential future) of marginality, but this is not to say that they will be in contention this May. One that clearly will be is North Herts Rural which the LDs came from almost nowhere to win in 2001, lost in 2005 and came very close to regaining in 2009. It is not entirely a rural seat as it includes Baldock East and part of the Chesfield ward (basically the new housing estates of Great Ashby on the edge of Stevenage). Both these areas have been strong for the LDs in local elections, but it would be a mistake to see this as a LD urban vs Tory rural contest. The strongest LD ward is the rural Weston & Sandon while the Tories have been able to win on occasions in both Baldock East and Chesfield, though certainly they are strongest in the rural wards of Arbury and Ermine. The political culture in this slightly weird area seems to resemble that of neighbouring South Cambridgeshire and it isn’t easy to predict, though I should think the Conservatives must be favourites to hold on.
The three remaining urban seats I would take to be safe for the Conservatives for now, though none are overwhelmingly so and all have been lost at various times. Hitchin South, though never won by the LDs is the most vulnerable to that party these days as they tend rather to be dominant in the Highbury ward which casts around 60% of the votes. They are weak however in the very affluent Priory ward which tends always to keep this seat in the Conservative column. Letchworth South has been won by the LDs most recently (in 1993) but their strength, which was mainly in the middle class South West ward, has declined in recent years and they pose no threat nowadays. There is the basis of a Labour vote here in the Jackmans estate in South East ward but again nowhere near enough to challenge overall in this division and the Conservatives can hold on comfortably against a split opposition with as low a share as 40% or so. Royston similarly has seen a LD threat in the dim and distant past but with a sizeable Labour vote as well the Conservatives can usually maintain a comfortable lead with typically 40-45% of the vote. Only if the vast majority of the non-Tory vote coalesced behind the LDs could they come close to challenging in these seats and the current conditions are clearly not conducive to that kind of scenario. In any case it is no longer clear that they are the main challengers in either Letchworth South or Royston - in the most recent local elections they have won fewer votes than Labour.
Finally we have Knebworth & Codicote which is the one truly safe Conservative seat, the sort where they would regularly poll 60%+ and no serious threat has ever emerged from any quarter.
So we have here two normally safe Labour seats, currently Conservative held and which are all but certain to revert to Labour. One Con-LD marginal which is a virtual tossup, but probably leans Tory. One ultra-safe Tory seat and five seats which are less than ultra-safe for the Tories but where it is hard to envisage any other outcome but a Tory win. It all points to a repeat of the 2005 results – Con 7 Lab 2
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 15, 2013 20:49:10 GMT
Stevenage 2009 Con 3 Lab 2 LD 1 The armpit of Hertfordshire, Stevenage could be seen in some ways as one of the more interesting battlegrounds, there being, in contrast to the other districts so far examined, the prospect of a large proportion of seats changing hands. It could – but it isn’t because there is actually hardly any doubt about the outcome. The Conservatives gained three seats from Labour in 2009, all with a margin of under 5%, this being the first time they had won any county council seats in the town since 1977 (when they won all of them). Barring some kind of Falklands War type event between now and May it is a certainty that Labour will regain all three of these seats (Broadwater, Old Stevenage and St Nicholas).
There is a bit less certainty about the fate of Chells, the LD held seat for various reasons. One is that the LDs gained this seat back in 2005 suggesting that unlike the three Tory seats the result was not dependent on Labour being desperately unpopular as they were in 2009. Secondly of course the margin is much larger – 17% and Labour actually came third in 2009. Demographically it includes one of the best areas of Stevenage in Manor ward which has been safely LD since its creation in 1999. However the LDs used to be competitive in Chells ward itself but no longer are – to win here entirely depends on their strength in Manor (and higher turnout) overwhelming Labour’s strength in Chells. The evidence of the most recent local elections suggests that this will not nearly be enough. The only hope for the LDs is to effect a heavy tactical squeeze on the Tory vote (which amounts to about 25%) and other anti-Labour parties (eg. UKIP). Certainly Labour are well short of enjoying majority support here as in the other five seats, but the likelihood is that they will win with a plurality. The best that can be said is that a Labour gain in Chells is less certain than in the three Tory held seats, but this isn’t saying much.
Needless to say the two Labour held seats of Bedwell and Shephall are safe for that party
Most likely outcome is the default position of Lab 6 Con 0 LD 0
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 16, 2013 22:22:20 GMT
Welwyn Hatfield 2009 Result Con 6 LD 1 As we move into the centre of the county things get a lot more interesting. No fewer than 5 of the 7 seats here have the potential to change hands and 4 of them can best be classified as toss-ups.
There are two very safe Conservative seats here. First Hatfield Rural which includes the wards of Brookmans Park & Little Heath and Norhaw-Cuffley together with the non-Hatfield part of Hatfield East ward (Essendon parish). This must be one of the safest Conservative county divisions in the country and in the (admittedly unlikely) event of the Conservatives being reduced to a single seat in Hertfordshire this would be it. Their share of the vote rarely falls below the 70-75% range even in bad years. Welwyn (which is old Welwyn together with satellites like Digswell and Ayot St Lawrence) is less monolithic, not least because it includes the Sherrards ward of Welwyn Garden City, but is still very safe.
The other four Conservative held seats are far from safe. Two of these, in Welwyn Garden City, were only gained in 2009 having been safely Labour for many years previously while the two Hatfield seats were gained a bit earlier – 2005 in the case of North and at a by-election in 2003 in Hatfield South. The most predictable of these would seem to be Welwyn Garden City South which should be a fairly straightforward Labour gain. This had been a safe Labour seat for decades, yet their defeat in 2009 was emphatic as they were outpolled almost two to one by the Tories and almost lost second place to the Greens (Green candidate Jill Weston is a former Labour councillor for the area and clearly took a lot of former Labour supporters with here). This area comprises the wards of Hollybush and Howlands which consist mostly of post-war ‘New town’ council built housing, though there has been more modern private development especially in Howlands which together with RTB means the Tories can still win there. Local elections results from 2011 and 2012 suggest that Labour should retake this seat by a comfortable but not huge margin.
Haldens will be a tougher nut to crack despite also being Labour held continuously from 1981 to 2009. Haldens itself is similar territory to WGC South but the other half of the division is made up of Panshangar ward which contains much more modern private housing, is a safe Tory ward at district level and has been responsible for a long-term Tory trend in the area. Here a 15% swing is required from 2009 (as against a 10% swing in WGC) while the 2011 and 2012 elections have shown the Tories maintaining a small lead. This does mean Labour only need a swing of about 2% from May 2012 to win here which is eminently achievable, but certainly this is not a guaranteed gain.
The two Hatfield seats are just as hard to call. On paper Hatfield North is the more winnable of the two seats for Labour, mainly because it is entirely contained within Hatfield town’s boundaries, though it does include most of the more Tory parts of the town. Demographically this is quite a finely balanced seat and there are counterveiling trends which serve to keep it that way. Hatfield East includes the old town and the middle class area of the Ryde to the north but also one or two council estates like Stonecross. It is generally a safe Conservative ward but not without a sizeable Labour minority. Also included is the safe(ish) Labour ward of Hatfield Central which as well as the grim town centre includes the Birchwood area in the north – both areas dominated by council housing. The third element is the Hatfield Villages ward, the villages in question being Hatfield Garden Village, an owner occupied inter ward development, Salisbury Village a kind of toy town neighbourhood that has sprung up in the last decade around the new business park and a couple of ‘proper’ villages like Stanborough and Lemsford out towards Brocket Hall. It also includes some student accommodation on the de Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire and a large number of students also live in Salisbury Village. Large student numbers don’t show up in my table above because all this development has taken place since 2001, but in any case most are either not qualified or not bothered to vote and turnout is low in this ward. The final element is part of the marginal Hatfield West ward which is generally the more Labour inclined part covering part of Oxlease south of the town centre. All this makes for a finely balanced contest here. The counterveiling trends I mentioned are on the one hand some large scale private developments and on the other a substantial increase in the ethnic minority and student vote (often the same), though both developments tend to spawn new voters with low participation rates. It’s not possible to work out precisely how this division voted in the most recent local elections, because Hatfield West ward is split with Hatfield South, but it looks like a sizeable Tory lead in 2011 and a very small one in 2012. With the polls as they are this is genuinely too close to call.
Hatfield South has always been a bit more Conservative than North, mainly because somewhat over a third of votes are cast in the separate community of Welham Green which is normally solid Conservative these days – solid enough to outvote Labour’s natural lead in South Hatfield for the last decade (although in 2009 there was probably no Labour lead there to outvote). In Hatfield itself this division includes the whole of Hatfield South ward – a series of depressing, largely 60s built council estates and a Labour stronghold again after a brief period of marginality, and part of Hatfield West which includes some similar territory but also takes in the pleasant residential area of Ellenbrook which predates the New Town. This division also includes the main campus of the University of Hertfordshire including halls of residence and many students live in nearby streets. The proportion of students may well be higher now than in 2001, but of course a fair proportion are international students who will not have a vote and there has never been much evidence of a student vote strongly influencing election results in Hatfield. The Conservatives have maintained a modest lead within this division in recent local elections but it seems to be moving back towards Labour rather more than North. The reason for this must at least partly be connected with the county council plans to build an incinerator in the area (actually within the boundaries of Welham Green but closest to residential areas in South Hatfield. This has led to a storm of protest in the area which has been brewing for a number of years. Locally elected Conservatives from the MP down are as much opposed to this development as the residents, but of course it is a Conservative controlled county council which is responsible and this can’t fail to have an impact on the voting behaviour here. We have seen elsewhere how much these kind of issues can swing votes. For this reason I would say that what otherwise would be a tossup will most likely be a Labour gain and while Hatfield North is less directly affected, the voters there will hardly be disinterested in the issue. The two Hatfield divisions are likely to stand or fall together and on this one issue alone, the most likely result is that they will fall.
The final seat to consider here is in a completely different situation. While the Conservatives must have concerns about losing up to four of their existing seats, they should entertain serious ambitions of gaining the sole opposition held seat in Handside & Peartree. This seat (and its predecessor of Welwyn Garden City West) was held continuously, though usually narrowly, by Labour from 1981 to 2005. It was then lost to the LDs in an extraordinarily tight three way fight, then in 2009 Labour’s vote evaporated with both the Tory and LD vote rising but with the LDs again narrowly coming out on top. This seat covers the original inter-war garden city and it is a tale of two garden cities for Handside is a leafy middle class area covering the town centre and the areas to the west while Peartree covered the industrial areas and working class housing to the east of the railway line. In 1981 over 90% of housing in Peartree was council-owned, the highest figure for any ward in Hertfordshire and Labour’s victories in the county seat were always dependent on an overwhelming vote in Peartree - usually in excess of 70% until the last decade. Now though Peartree has developed into a Lab-LD marginal (even a three way marginal, as the Conservatives actually gained a seat in 2010 and the ward now has one councillor from each of the three main parties). Without being able to dominate in Peartree, Labour has no chance to win this seat back and probably have a ceiling now of no more than about 30%. The LDs did very well to hold their seat in Peartree in May last year and the successful councillor was the same Malcolm Cowan who is the county councillor here. Still taking the division as a whole the Conservatives were clearly in the lead due to a hefty majority in Handside. Handside is itself not without LD voters however and the LDs won a seat in the ward in 2010 (bizarrely as the Conservatives were winning Peartree). Clearly for the LDs to hold here it will be necessary to maintain a squeeze on the Labour vote in both halves of the seat and this could be a tall order. Labour won only 10% here in 2009 and that should more than double with the increase coming mainly at the expense of the LDs. That would be enough for the Tories to take the seat even allowing for a small decline in their overall share. This may be yet another seat which I may have to rather lamely declare ‘too close to call’ at this stage, but I will say there is more chance of the Conservatives winning here than in at least one of the seats in the borough that they currently do hold.
What is apparent here is that four of the seats look like being very close between the Conservatives and either Labour or the LDs. The Tories could win as many as 6 seats or they could win as few as 2, without a big difference in votes overall between one scenario and another. It is also the case that the Conservatives could win as few as 2 seats, against 4 Labour while still winning the popular vote in the borough, due to the massive concentration of their support in Hatfield Rural and in Welwyn. This is nothing new as in 2001 they carried the popular vote in the borough and won 2 seats to Labour’s 5. It doesn’t seem that worthwhile to predict the numbers in this case given what I’ve said, though it’s probably most likely to be 4/3 Lab/Con or maybe vice versa. Or maybe 4/2/1... or 3/3/1 or.................
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 19, 2013 21:04:25 GMT
St Albans 2009 LD 7 Con 3 The Conservatives did badly here in 2009 losing two seats to the LDs. One of these (St Albans South) was expected, the other (The Colneys) was fairly unexpected (though erlend did give some hints of the possibility on this site’s predecessor). There is some evidence that one factor explaining this poor performance was the expenses record of Ann Main MP which was in the news at that time – the performance in the three divisions wholly in Hitchin & Harpenden were noticeably better. There should then be some potential for the Conservatives to make gains here, but that is not to say they will. In all there are 8 divisions here out of the total of 10 which can be considered marginal or potentially marginal, including all 7 LD held seats.
We may as well consider the three Conservative held seats first. Both Harpenden divisions are safe. Harpenden South West is ultra-safe while North East has some LD strength but more past than present. St Albans Rural is a marginally held Conservative seat which however has only been lost once in recent years, in 1993. Wheathampstead tends to be pretty finely balanced between the Tories and LDs while Redbourn tends to give the Tories a bigger lead. The Conservative lead will never be huge here, but there’s no reason to think it should be lost to the LDs on this occasion.
Predicting the outcomes in most of the 7 LD held seats is tricky, largely because of the triangular nature of the contest in many of these and also because of an apparent divergence of voting patterns between district and county elections. St Albans Central covers the wards of St Peters and Clarence. Clarence has been a safe LD ward for many years and covers some mostly middle class Edwardian streets to the north and east of the city centre, but also includes parts of more mixed Fleetville out to the East. St Peters which covers the city centre has usually been a LD ward as well but less reliably so – Labour won it over several elections in the late 90s and in the 2011 double header the Conservatives topped the poll with the Greens gaining the second seat. The Green gain was confirmed in 2012 with a fairly healthy majority over an entirely divided opposition. The LDs retained a solid lead throughout this division thanks to their lead in Clarence and on paper should be fairly safe here, again because of the divided opposition. However one assumes the Greens concentrated all their efforts in St Peters in 2012 while there may be many more potential voters in Clarence that could be found in 2013. I think (and it is just a hunch really) that the Greens might be able to pull off a ‘surprise’ gain here, but technically at least, the LDs must be favourites to retain a seat they’ve held continuously since 1985.
St Albans East is the other traditionally safe LD division within the city – held since 1981 with an interruption between 1997 and 2005 when Labour held it, assisted by general election voting patterns in 1997 and 2001. At the time that Labour won the division they were able to win both the constituent wards of Ashley and Cunninghame but now they don’t get much of a look in in Cunninghame despite the presence of quite large areas of social housing. Ashley,which covers part of multi-ethnic Fleetville and the slightly seedy area known as ‘the Camp’ sees Labour more competitive again and they narrowly gained the ward in May 2012. This is probably the most downmarket of the four city divisions overall and certainly the weakest for the Tories who have no chance here, but in a way this hinders Labour as it prevents them being able to win on a low vote share as they can in St Albans North and South. In 2009 Labour came a pitiful fourth in this division and while they will improve massively on that a good second is the best they’ll do and with Central having the potential to go Green this ranks as the safest of the LD seats in St Albans.
The other two seats in the city are of a similar nature to one another, both consisting of one traditionally safe Labour ‘council estate’ ward and one middle class, owner occupied LD/Con marginal ward. The first description had become outdated in recent years as the LDs started to become competitive in these wards too, but that process appears to be going into reverse. These dynamics have resulted in some often very closely fought three-way contests and while Labour dropped out of contention in 2009 that pattern should be resumed now.
Of these two, St Albans North looks most likely to create an upset. This consists of Batchwood ward, based largely on the Batchwood and New Greens council estates around St Albans hospital and Marshalswick South on the other side of Harpenden Road, centred on Bernards Heath and consisting mostly of good residential areas. Batchwood was traditionally a safe Labour ward which fell to the LDs in 2008 and 2010 but has since then resoundingly returned to its Labour allegiance, most notably in a by-election in January 2012 which saw Roma Mills regain the seat she had lost by 1 vote in 2010. Marshalswick South was a usually LD ward which has fallen heavily to the Conservatives in the last couple of years. On aggregate votes in 2011 and 2012, the LDs have only won about 25% in this division with a close fight for first place between Conservatives and Labour. With incumbency a LD hold cannot be ruled out, but this is the most likely seat to be lost and is the most promising within the city for both Labour and Conservatives. I’d make Labour slight favourites here followed by the Tories and then the LDs. All three parties could poll over 30% of the vote as the three-way marginal traditions of this division are restored.
The dynamics in St Albans South are very similar – a ‘council estate’ ward of Sopwell which has followed the trajectory from safe Labour to marginal and back again (but not to the levels of safety enjoyed previously) and a middle class owner occupied ward which has been marginal between Conservatives and LDs. Verulam has traditionally been the best Conservative ward in the city and is very weak for Labour but the LDs can win there and did so easily in 2012. The fact that Labour are so much weaker in Verulam compared with Marshalswick South combined with the fact that Sopwell has not reverted to safe Labour status to quite the extent that Batchwood has, means that Labour face a greater struggle to win here than in North. Also the Tories tend to start well behind the LDs in Sopwell and need a decent lead in Verulam to win overall, something that they can’t rely on. For this reason I’d put the LDs as favourites to hold here, but neither of the other parties can be ruled out.
There are three further LD held seats here, all parts of the former St Albans rural district, all to varying degrees suburban to St Albans and all to varying degrees marginal. Sandridge division is coterminous with the parish of the same name, but a majority of the voters are in Marshalswick North which though technically outside the city boundaries is entirely a part of the built up area of the city. Furthermore a majority of the Sandridge ward itself is in the modern Jersey Farm estate which is likewise, so in many senses this is the fifth St Albans seat. This has been held by the LDs now since 1993 (and was also won by them in 1985) though the majorities have never been huge, it was won fairly comfortably in 2009. This is slightly anomalous as in district council elections the Conservatives tend to carry the aggregate vote with a large lead in Sandridge ward outvoting a more modest LD lead in Marshalswick. Two possible explanations for this are incumbency and the fact that the LDs make little effort in Sandridge in district elections but put in the resources to find the extra voters in the county council elections. Geoffrey Churchard has been the county councillor here since 1997 And is a district councillor for Marshalswick North which he almost lost in 2011. The LDs are favourites to hold on here but if they shed significant votes to Labour in Marshalswick (where there are some council estates) they could just come undone here and should Geoffrey Churchard retire then all bets are off.
The situation in St Stephens is very similar except that the LDs are defending a much smaller majority. I had fully expected this to be a Tory gain in 2009 but somehow the LDs have managed to cling on here continuously since 1985, this despite the fact the division comprises one marginally LD ward and one very safe Tory ward. Obviously like Sandridge it is a combination of incumbency and additional effort being applied when and where it matters. The Conservatives have maintained a substantial lead within the boundaries of St Stephens over the 2010-12 period, but no more so than they did in 2006-8, though in 2011 they managed to gain Park Street. LD strength is greatest in Park Street itself and in the string of semi-industrial villages running south from there along Watling Street, with the Conservatives being dominant in the affluent middle class areas like Chiswell Green and Bricket Wood. Again the strength of the incumbent appears to be an important factor and should she stand down then the Conservatives should make a gain here and even if she doesn’t they must have a decent chance, though there is little scope for tactical unwind as the natural Labour vote is low anyway.
The final seat here is yet another complex three-way marginal. The Colneys comprises the wards of London Colney and Colney Heath. London Colney (which contains over 60% of the electorate) is a tradidionally safe Labour ward which the Tories have made marginal while Colney Heath is probably the safest LD ward in the whole district. The source of Labour support in London Colney is a large council housing presence and a significant ethnic minority vote – both Bangladeshi as in other parts of St Albans and other groups such as Sri Lankans. The area housed many hospital workers for the numerous mental health institutions in these parts but these are closed now and the major employer is the large retail park. There have been some new private developments such as at the old Napsbury hospital site which has contributed to the rising Tory support in the area. The Conservatives won the ward in 2008 and 2010 and were able to gain the county council seat in 2005 after 20 years in Labour hands. This is a very weak ward for the LDs – they won barely 8% in 2011(and even less in 2012) and yet even then they were within 3% of carrying the division due to their overwhelming strength in Colney Heath. Colney Heath itself is a fairly unpicturesque village and there are one or two other small villages in the ward, such as Tyttenhanger, but the greater part of the population are in modern estates on the edge of St Albans (again on former hospital sites) such as Hill End and Highfield. I don’t know much about how party support is distributed here, but given the level of LD dominance they must be strong in all parts of the ward. No doubt that Colney Heath enabled the LDs to pull off their surprise gain in The Colneys in 2009, but they cannot have done so without at least a substantial minority support in London Colney – something they do not normally enjoy in district elections. I gathered from erlend in our discussions four years ago that the LD candidate (now councillor) did have some name recognition in that area as well as in Colney Heath where he is the district councillor. Obviously four years on he has incumbency on his side as well. It’s difficult to see the Tory vote rising much above the 30% they got last time meaning they will struggle to retake this. Labour could do so if they dominate well enough in London Colney and my gut tells me this should be a Labour gain. Last time both my gut and my head were badly wrong here (I assumed a Tory hold with the LDs third). This time at least my head is wise to the possibility (probability?) of a LD hold. Against a resurgent Labour party they ought to be more vulnerable here than against the Tories in eg. Sandridge, on the other hand the third place position of Labour last time (as in St Albans North and South) could help the LDs to communicate a tactical message to Labour supporters to keep the Tories out. A LD hold here (as in all the other seats they are defending here) should not come as a huge surprise.
It does seem that I have expended an awful lot of words here to say not very much – at least not much that is definitive. This is a testimony to the fascinating and unpredictable electoral landscape in this district where there are no fewer than three genuine three-way marginal, three straight Conservative-LD marginals and another two LD seats which though usually safe have the potential to see some kind of challenge. Only the two Harpenden seats are entirely predictable. Looking at each seat individually, the LDs do look to be favourites to hold onto most of their seats, with the exception of St Albans North but there is a good chance of them dropping two seats to Labour and one to the Tories with the potential for more losses if circumstances change. A reasonable stab at this stage would be Con 4 LD 4 Lab 2
Post by Pete Whitehead on Jan 20, 2013 23:17:48 GMT
Hertsmere 2009 Con 7
Hertsmere seems rather dull in comparison with St Albans, and I suppose that’s because it is frankly. For a long period from the early 80s to the mid 90s there were hardly any wards which changed hands on Hertsmere borough council, with a cluster of safe Labour wards in Borehamwood (and, at that time, in Shenley) a couple of safe LD ward in the north of Bushey and with the remainder being safely Tory. The position of the county council seats reflected this position and no seat changed hands at all between 1981 and 2005. Throughout that period there was one safe LD seat in Bushey North, one very safe Labour seat in Lyndhurst (Borehamwood North) and one safeish Labour seat in Elstree (Borehamwood South). The other four seats – Bushey Heath, Watling (centred on Radlett) and the two Potters Bar seats were always safely Tory. There were boundary changes in 2001 which didn’t alter the fundamentals but the translation of Elstree into Borehamwood South should have made that seat safer for Labour (the clue being in the change of name as Elstree itself was removed to Watling). No doubt it did so, but this did not stop the Tories from gaining it in 2005. Then in 2009 the Conservatives gained the remaining two seats.
The writing was on the wall in Bushey North with the retirement of Michael Colne who had first been elected here in 1973 and had sat continuously on the county council since 1981 (and on Hertsmere since 1969). His old district ward had gone Conservative in 2008 and the LDs were already in the process of being wiped off the council, a process which was completed in 2011. Despite a relatively small Tory majority in 2009, there is no prospect of this seat reverting to the LDs. In the last couple of years their vote has totally collapsed in the area and they’ve fallen behind Labour. This may or may not be repeated in May, but in any case Labour aren’t strong enough to challenge themselves, and a divided opposition will see the Conservatives hold on comfortably.
Borehamwood North was gained by a larger margin than Bushey North but the chances of the Tories retaining this seat are rather slimmer. Labour have not nearly recovered to the kind of dominance they used to enjoy in this area, but Cowley Hill was the one ward they managed to hold onto throughout the dark days of Gordon Brown's premiership and while Brookmeadow was lost, they won that back in 2012. Over the last couple of years Labour’s lead in this division has been substantial and this seat comes into the category of ‘certain’ Labour gains. There is still a large proportion of council housing here including some quite grim estates such as around Canterbury House (the tower block that forms a backdrop to Albert Square in Eastenders) and around Aycliffe Road in the far north. The Tories have a good vote in the small middle class neighbourhood at the south end of Theobald Street but this is not nearly enough to make them competitive in a ‘normal’ year.
Borehamwood South is obviously a much safer seat for the Tories than North, but is far from being safe when Labour are leading in the national opinion polls. Of the two wards here, Hillside has become fairly safe for the Tories and includes some fairly good residential areas in the west of the ward though it does have some bad estates like the Farriers in the South East. Kenilworth has more council housing and is usually a safe Labour ward, which the Tories did manage to win however in years like 2007. The last time both wards voted, in 2011, the Tories a small (about 150 votes or 4%) lead in the division as a whole but in 2012 the Tory lead was sharply reduced in Hillside (largely due to a UKIP intervention) and had Kenilworth also voted that year it seems reasonable to assume that Labour would have won on aggregate. Assuming then that Labour are doing at least as well in May 2013 as they were in May 2012, then they should just about be favourites to take this seat too, but there is none of the certainty that there is in North, so there is one seat in Hertsmere whose result is worth looking out for.
As always, Bushey South, Potters Bar East, Potters Bar West & Shenley and Watling will all be very safely Tory. Potters Bar may be a place to look for a good UKIP performance.