Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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Parties focus attention on seats in Cumbria they believe can be won

Political parties have identified the seats they are targeting as they bid to alter the balance of power in Cumbria’s county council elections.

More that 300 candidates have been nominated to stand for the 84 seats covering the 84 divisions in next Thursday’s vote.

Boundaries for some of those seats have been redrawn following a Boundary Commission review.

An array of parties are challenging in the ballot.

The big three of Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats will be challenged by UKIP, the Green Party, BNP, Labour and Co-operative Party, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and Socialist People’s Party, as well as a number of independents.

Whatever the outcome, the council is guaranteed to have a new leader after polling closes. Eddie Martin, the Conservative who has led the ruling coalition between his party and Labour since 2010, is not standing for re-election.

If one party is to gain outright control of the council it will need to take a minimum of 43 seats. Currently the council is made up of 39 Conservatives, 22 Labour, 14 Liberal Democrats, four independents, two Genuine Independents, and two non-aligned. There is one vacancy.

Councillor James Airey, campaign leader for the Conservatives, said there were a couple of marginal seats in Carlisle and Eden was traditionally fought for between his party and the Liberal Democrats. He added: “We’ve got good councillors in Eden and I hope we do hold seats there.”

He added that Kirkby Stephen was a key division as well as two seats in Penrith where sitting members have small majorities.

The Conservative group manifesto boasts of its record from the last four years and the plans it has for the next four, with issues including transport, highways, care for the elderly and schools.

Councillor Stewart Young, the Labour group leader, said that key seats for them in the Carlisle area included Yewdale, Botcherby and Belah.

He said: “Yewdale is currently Conservative but it was Labour before. Botcherby is Independent and that was previously Labour and I’d like to think we can hold Belah at a county level.”

Mr Young said that a number of UKIP candidates – the party has had a total of 52 candidates nominated across the county – could influence the outcome if they took votes from the Conservatives.

He said: “We are putting a lot of effort into Wigton and the campaign seems to be going quite well. We used to hold Wigton, it is currently Conservative, we are hopeful that we might get that.”

Mr Young said that changes to the boundaries had particularly affected the Workington area and both Harrington and St John’s were seen as key seats for them as they had both been Labour in the past.

He said: “We are looking to gain back some seats in Copeland that went Conservative last time around. We’ve got 24 seats across the county and 21 of them are from the north of the county. We will be hoping to take back six or seven seats in Barrow.”

Other key seats for Labour in the Allerdale area included Cockermouth North and Seaton while target areas in Copeland included Bransty and Hillcrest and Hensingham.

Councillor Ian Stewart, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said Copeland was traditionally not an area where his party did particularly well and they were currently stronger in the south of the county.

He added that Keswick, in Allerdale, had previously been Labour and Conservative before becoming a Liberal Democrat seat – however after a by-election it returned a Conservative councillor.

“It could be any of the three. I think our message of localism is having some resonance down there,” he said.

“In Carlisle our presence is patchy. In 2009 we didn’t win Morton by about 40 votes. This time we are not even standing in Morton.”

He said they expected to retain their seat in Dalston and had been targeting the Castle division.

Mr Stewart said that Eden could be interesting with a few marginal seats and recent issues such as the row over the police and crime commissioner’s expenses and the early retirement of the county council’s chief executive possibly affecting the way people voted.

Michael Owen, chairman of the Carlisle branch of UKIP, said target seats in Carlisle for his party included Houghton and Irthington, as well as Wetheral.

He said: “I’d like to think we’d give them a good run in Belah. It’s split down the middle, blue and red, and we’ve got a good following there.”

Six UKIP priorities include: local referenda, immigration, services for local people, moving government closer to the people, spending money at home and fighting crime and antisocial behaviour.

Neil Boothman, who is standing for the Green Party in Currock, said they traditionally had a high level of support in the St Aidan’s and Castle areas of Carlisle which was why they were targeting Currock – the new division created after the boundary review.

He said: “We are doing a lot of campaigning in Currock to introduce people to our policies. We traditionally have a lot of support in Stanwix Urban so that could be a key seat for us as well.

“Most of the areas of Carlisle are either strongly Tory or strongly Labour so it tends to be the seats that are three-way marginals that we tend to have most to gain.”

Brent Kennedy, of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), said they had six candidates – four in Carlisle, one in Workington and one in Kendal.

He said: “At this stage we are not expecting big votes. We are getting the message out and getting new members. It’s the base of the pyramid for us – we are building up step by step.”

Mr Kennedy said that they aimed to increase political debate and people becoming “disenfranchised” by the three main parties.


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