The forthcoming local elections are, in my opinion, the most important in the City of Stoke-on-Trent in modern history.
The past twelve months have not been an easy ride for our elected representatives.
They have had to wield the axe over many much needed, loved and valued facilities and public services. £35 million has been stripped from the local economy this year.
Next year our newly elected councillors who will have been mandated, will get to swing the sword to the tune of a further £20million and one wonders just what will be left after that cull.
I saw the impact and burden of responsibility that the present council chamber had to endure in February’s Budget Meeting. The axe did not swing easy and inhibited believe me.
The past political year got me to thinking about who the hell would want to stand for public office for the next 4 years?
What will be the impact on political parties and groups if community minded activists, party members and independent free spirits think to themselves ““ sod this for a game of soldiers!
You only have to read the various political comment articles and the comments on here and the Sentinel, to see that anyone stepping up to the plate is opening themselves up for the harshest of criticism and public battering. And all because of the need to balance the books after a world wide group of maverick bankers decided to play polka with the civilised worlds finances.
Speaking to various sources I can disclose that as we stand today the long range political forecast for May is as follows ““ in no particular order:
The most dynamic opposition group in the council chamber expect to field around 10 candidates in May and they expect to stand them in specifically targeted wards. They have absolutely no chance or desire to contest all 44 wards. They have also turned down approaches from several ex-Labour candidates who wished to stand in particular wards.
The Labour Party will contest all 38 wards. It has been a struggle to amass the required number of candidates and some wards are still to have candidate selections. My sources are confident that the Labour line up will be the best for years and that expectation is high. They tell me that there is no complacency. To me the Labour Party will have a large majority and I predict that they may take as many as 30 of the wards. They will benefit from the referendum on the AV system and the funding of a large party structure. They will also be the major benefactors of the widely expected public backlash against the Conservative and Liberal Democrat national coalition cuts.
Stoke-on-Trent can not in anyone’s imagination be described as a Tory hotbed. As it stands at the moment the Conservatives are predicting that they will field around 22 candidates and I predict that there will be one unexpected omission from the ballot papers. The party is hoping that their numbers will grow as we near the time but is not expected to fall below the 22.
The CIG expect to be able to field around 15 candidates. Their numbers have been affected by some withdrawals and some interested parties have stated that the needs for future cuts have persuaded them to change their minds about standing. The Independent element in the chamber has always been vital for holding the mainstream parties to account, a role which this year fell to Community Voice with the CIG’s participation in the 4 way coalition agreement.
The Liberal Democrats
The national political whipping boys are confident of fielding around 30 candidates in May. Many of that number however will be paper candidates. The local Lib Dem’s are targeting specific wards and hope to get around 10 serious candidates elected. Party activists are very fearful of the wrath of the public and concede that they may be obliterated at the ballot box when folk get the opportunity to exact revenge for the number of u-turns on policy since last years general election. If the recent Barnsley by-election is anything to go by they are right to be fearful.
The British National Party
The far right party has been in steady decline over the past two years. Locally the much publicised falling out with former Group leader Alby Walker massively affected their performance in both the general and local elections last year. This year the issue is very much one of finance, or to be precise, the lack of it. A series of highly publicised legal battles has seen the party’s funds diminish to a state of near insolvency. Leader Nick Griffin’s one man crusade to rid the party of every dissenter has seen a number of former party favourites kicked out the door. The one time party PR machine has ground to a halt. All this has had a massive affect on Stoke BNP and despite Mike Coleman’s gallant efforts the party are only fielding around 15 candidates and realistically only expect to get 3 or 4 elected. His own seat is under threat from Labour’s rising star Ruth Rosenau.
New kids on the block, made up of mainly old faces. The most notable, for very different reasons, are former Councillors Roger Ibbs and Lee Wanger. They hope to field around 10 candidates at this election.
A massive Labour landslide, whilst predicted, is a retrograde step for our City’s democratic landscape.
Just think back to when Labour had all 60 seats in the Chamber, some of the worse political decisions took place during that period.
The true message is however; if you care about this city and think that you have the moral fibre, then stand up and be counted.
Whether you are aligned to a party or are an independent spirit, your city needs you now especially in these times of austerity, more than ever before.
There are a large number of negative forces at play out there, hiding in the city’s political hedgerow, they are of of all persuasions far left, left, middle, right and god forbid, far right.
They seek to undermine the very fabric of our society. Every decision that is made, for good, bad and indifferent is pulled apart for the sake of negativity and the reluctance to accept that difficult decisions have to be made and cuts proposed.
If the government cut the funding to this city, no matter who is in power, cuts will need to be made.
Only if we have strong, intelligent, visionary and progressive councillors do we as a city wide community have a chance of forcing paid officers that the saving of a ‘Tunstall Pool’ is viable and necessary. And then having the courage to suggest an alternative financial saving instead.
That is where the negatives have got it completely wrong – they are quick to say that you can not cut this or that but never do they table an alternative.
Where would the City be if good people are put off by all the negative vitriol and the public crucifixion when politicians have to do the unthinkable?
Give me good honest public spirited people of any political persuasion to those who snipe, undermine and spin for the sake of it anytime.
I hope that there is new blood in the chamber who are willing to take the baton and head for the finishing line without looking back or deviating from the charted course.
All the rest should join the likes of the Chell Heath racist and his cronies who masquerade as the great and the good but seek only to sabotage our city and the good folk who live happily side by side in our unique and tolerant communities.