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ELECTION COUNTDOWN: Mapping out a new political future
THE result of Swindon’s local election rests on how an unusual cocktail of factors plays out at the ballot box.
The fortunes of each party are expected to be affected by the new ward boundaries, the coalition Government, local issues such as Croft School, and turnout.
The key question is: How?
Normally only one third of seats are available in Swindon at any given election, but tomorrow every seat will be up for grabs because of re-drawn ward boundaries.
Under the new layout, designed to ensure there are roughly the same number of electors per councillor, there will be a 57-member council, with 18 three-member wards, one two-member ward (Chiseldon & Lawn), and a single one-member ward (Ridgeway).
Despite the Conservatives holding more seats than Labour – 37 compared to 17 – they are close in the borough-wide share of votes, with the Tories gaining 41.4 per cent and Labour securing 38.8 per cent in 2011.
Some new wards have seen bigger changes than others, but this new political landscape is uncharted territory, and it is not clear how effectively shifting around voters will affect the colour of seats.
The other interesting aspect of an all-out election is there will be one large ballot paper and people will be asked to mark a cross beside three candidates, or however many seats there are in the ward.
This gives the possibility of split-ticket voting, where the voter chooses candidates from different political parties.
The hottest battle-grounds are expected to include Old Town, Eastcott, Haydon Wick, and Covingham and Dorcan. Eastcott has long been Lib Dem, but Labour came close to taking control in 2011. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls helped canvass in Eastcott on Monday.
The geographic areas now covered by the new Haydon Wick, and Covingham and Dorcan wards are expected to produce a tight contest between Labour and the Conservatives.
The outgoing Old Town and Lawn, which forms part of the new Old Town ward, saw the most Tory votes in 2011, but the Croft School saga is a key issue this year. Council leader Rod Bluh and campaigner Kareen Boyd are among those standing.
Campaigners gathered an 800-signature petition recently against the school, which if converted into votes could threaten the Tories.
However, the Conservatives claim there is a silent majority, made up partly of parents, who support the school.
From the angle of voting on national issues, the party in government is often hit in local elections.
But now we are well past the honeymoon phase for the UK’s first coalition government since 1945 and it is not clear how each partner will be hit locally by being in control nationally.
Ultimately the election result comes down to whether people actually act upon their views and go to the polling stations.
Historically, the Conservatives do better with low turnout while Labour benefits from a high turnout, which can be affected by all sorts of things, including weather.
On Thursday, the Met Office is predicting heavy rain during the day in Swindon.
Will Labour achieve its stated aim of taking majority control in Swindon? Will the Conservatives hold them off? Or will the Lib Dems hold the balance of power. It all remains to be seen...