Monday, April 16, 2012

Runners and Riders

And so they saddle up officially, get under starter's orders and are out of the stalls as the 210 riders in competition for 40 seats in the grand council chamber in Birmingham's Council House set off across the fences towards the finish at 10pm on Thursday 3 May (although stewards' enquiries are unlikely to produce results until 2am on Friday, according to council staff).

From my reading, three parties offer a full slate across the city - Labour, the Conservatives and the Green Party. For some reason, there's no Liberal Democrat candidate in Shard End, but whether this is lack of a willing volunteer to surrender themselves before the Labour onslaught or some mistake in the paperwork isn't clear (the Tories failed to field a candidate in an unwinnable ward a few years ago, largely as a result of an error in nominations, I believe). UKIP are visible in 19 wards, the BNP will bring their jackboots into 17 contests (with their counterparts the National Front making cameo appearances in 4). Returning to the 80s, we get the retro-chic of 4 Social Democratic Party candidates on the ballot paper. 2 Communities against the Cuts campaigners appear, along with one Trade Union and Socialists Against Cuts candidate and 2 Socialist Labour candidates - who may be more closely related than the party names suggest. Oscott gets the pleasure of our sole English Democrat candidate and Aston gets the unique privilege of an independent candidate.

Acocks Green (where I declare an interest) appears to have the widest choice of any ward in the City, with eight candidates on the ballot paper - including my next-door neighbour as the Green Party candidate.

Some farewells are on the cards this year - former Lord Mayor Cllr Michael Wilkes (LD) chucks in the towel in Hall Green, being replaced by the losing Liberal Democrat from last year, which should make that seat one to watch. Geoff Sutton (Con) has decided to hand over the Tory baton in Kings Norton to Barbara Wood, who will face the full onslaught of two Labour councillors driving to put a third into the ward. The much respected Don Brown has finally stood down in Lozells and E Handsworth and is likely to be replaced by Mahmood Hussain. A couple of Sutton Coldfield seats are going to see new councillors in place - Peter Howard and Dennis Birbeck in Four Oaks and New Hall are off and Meirion Jenkins and Guy Roberts are stepping up to try to stem the inevitable rise of Labour. Incidentally, Meirion was the Tory parliamentary candidate in Yardley in 2010 and made a decent fist of a tough gig, with a better Conservative campaign than we've seen for a while.

I think most dispassionate observers expect Labour to win a solid majority this year - certainly the media expect it, following last year's gains. We're only defending 9 seats (including Sparkbrook which is Labour by defection) and the remaining 31 are Lib Dem or Conservative. In a number of seats - Kings Norton, for example - we already have two councillors, which should give Labour the advantage on the ground. In others, the Liberal Democrats can expect to see continued pressure - Martin Mullaney is under real threat in Moseley and Kings Heath this year and it would only take a 2.2% swing (based on 2008 figures) for that one to come to Labour. Some Tories appear to have thrown in the towel - Graham Green in Oscott has been giving excellent value in council lately, having thrown off all hope of winning and decided to go all out for entertainment value.

I'm shying away from predicting specific seats - not from any fear of being wrong, but I'm not going to have anyone accuse me of dismissing the campaigns of my colleagues across the city. I've fought unwinnable seats before and they deserve better from me than just writing them off publicly, so I will wish all Labour candidates the best of luck from me for May 3. I'm certainly not going to predict the outcome in Acocks Green, other than to say that it is going to go down to the wire - it will be very close. It is interesting that the Liberal Democrat candidate in Acocks Green - the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, no less (and receiving a small allowance for holding that exalted office) - has largely debranded his campaign. The last round of Lib Dem leaflets did not include the yellow bird and hardly mentioned the party. In fact, his latest letters going out to voters only include the words 'Lib Dem' as part of the 'printed and published' small print at the bottom of the reverse page.

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