Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Darlington Tories - Planning for Defeat

It's not an easy time to be a Tory here in the North East.

Whilst in some of the rest of England, particularly in London and the East Midlands the party seems to be enjoying a mini-revival, things look bleak up here. The Conservatives actually lost ground in the municipal elections last year to Labour and the LibDems, and that trend looks set to repeat itself in 2007.

How else to explain the crushing lack of ambition in the list of announced Tory candidates for next May's poll? In 6 Labour wards, the Conservatives are fielding a single candidate (when 13 seats are up for grabs). In a further 4 Labour-held wards, (Lingfield, Eastbourne, Haughton East and Haughton North) no candidate has been announced, yielding potentially another 9 seats to us. And that doesn't take North Road into account, where the LibDems hold two and Labour one seat.

Take Cockerton East. This had three Tory Councillors until 1991. Labour took it then, and worked hard in what used to be a marginal Labour/Tory ward. Despite a massive Conservative effort in 2003, they made little headway and now seem to have given up on the seat altogether. Before the last poll, for example, the Tories were leafletting from October 2002. Aside from a tatty generic leaflet, nothing has been heard from the Tories on the ground this time, whilst Labour's team of Cllrs. Brian Thistlethwaite and Paul Baldwin, and new candidate Daniel Taylor have been working diligently with retiring Cllr. Don Bristow on behalf of local residents.

Of course, the LibDems will be contesting some of these seats, and I can only assume that the Tories are betting all their chips on repeating their alliance with them which they forged between 1987 and 1991 (the so-called "Do-Nothing Council") which paved the way for a pro-active Labour majority thereafter.


Anonymous said...

This is amazing, if true. What is your source? Have they publicly announced their slate? I haven't seen it and it's not on their website.

Mike Barker said...

I have not seen this list of Tory candidates; but its paucity would not surprise me if your information is true.
I can confirm, however, that there will be NO alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. We are the one party locally which is growing, in terms of membership, candidates, poll ratings and seats in this and other local councils.
Just as in Newcastle, Durham, Gateshead and other north-east towns, I believe that the Liberal Democrats will become the main opposition to Labour.
Our manifesto will be published in February, It will state clearly our priorities for the town. I'm not revealing any state secrets by saying now that we do not regard the Conservative's plans for transport and the environment (for example) as being something we could support.
There is no plan whatsoever to go into an alliance of any sort with either the Conservatives or the Labour Party, in the event of a hung Council. Our programme will be clear and we will fight to get it implemented. Our willingness to reach temporary agreements with the other two parties on a case-by-case basis will be determined by the particular issue, NOT by any broader alliance, which we shall not be seeking. We have learned the lesson of 1987-91.

Nick (posting from another address). said...

Firstly, you can find their slate on Conservative Future under "wards". The 6 wards where they would appear to be putting up only a token presence are Bank Top, Haughton West, Cockerton West, Lascelles, Northgate and Park East. There are no candidates listed at all for Eastbourne, Haughton East, North Road and Haughton North.

Frankly I'm gobsmacked that they still don't have anyone for those four. Eastbourne and North Road both are 3-member wards, so not standing anyone there is just gifting seats straightaway to us and the LibDems (whatever the outcome). Haughton North was a top Tory target last time when Mr and Mrs Power stood for them. This is why I think they're in more problems candidate-wise than was the case in 2003.

The impression they're giving is that they've practically given up on Haughton altogether, with just one announced candidate for three wards electing 7 seats. It used to be one of the key battlegrounds in the town - now the LibDems have more of an opposition presence.

Mike anticipates a line of argument I was going to develop closer to the elections. I'm not sure I can let him get away with saying that the LibDems won't formally support either of the two bigger parties. It sounds fine in principle, Mike, but who would you support when the Leader, Deputy Leader and Cabinet have to be elected? How would Scrutiny be sorted? The Council needs stability in its leadership so officers can get on with policy development. If the LibDems were to flip-flop between Labour and the Tories as the mood took them, the result I think would be chaos.

ian holme said...

So the last few years of Labour dictate in Darlington has been free of chaotic management???

Hurworth school?
Pedestrain Heart?
Tesco propopal and "predetermination" farce?

Perhaps if the key parties stopped bickering about ideology and petty party political posturing and started to work for the benefit of the wider community that elected them, we may all be better off.

Once again Nick you talk of the other parties not making a fight in all wards, yet unsurprisingly Huworth is again forgotten (in more ways than one!)
Not so long ago the labour party were involved in a toss of a coin to decide on who won the seat. I take it we will again have only token representation with no campaign, declining the ward the opportunity of a possible substantive labour vote?

miketually said...

"Perhaps if the key parties stopped bickering about ideology and petty party political posturing and started to work for the benefit of the wider community that elected them, we may all be better off."

Blimey, me and Ian agree on something :)

ian holme said...

indeed mike,
thats consensus politics for you!

Darlington Councillor said...

You're probably both right, and I do spend too much time posting about the tactical battle between the parties - sadly it's an accurate reflection of my obsession, and so I'm afraid there's going to more where that came from between now and May (amidst all the other really interesting stuff, of course).

With an election 92 days away (or whatever), however, the parties are going to have to talk about their values and ambitions for Darlington ("bickering about idealogy" Ian calls it) so the voters can have an informed choice in May.

I certainly don't agree that Ian's list of issues demonstrates chaotic management by DBC - Tesco for example was a genuinely ambitious attempt to consult on a very difficult issue town-wide. Ironically, when we followedd through what the majority of the people of the Borough wanted, the opposition cried foul!

I know how strongly you feel about Hurworth Ian, but like the other parties, we have to prioritise in the key battleground seats. To turn it round, if Labour issued 3 leaflets between now and May, and conducted a thorough canvass, do you really think we'd be in with a chance of winning?

The point I'm trying to make about the Tories is that as each election goes by, they seem to be fighting on a narrower and narrower front. From the literature I've seen so far, they are only really contesting Pierremont and Harrowgate Hill in the town of the Labour-held seats, and have been pinned in Hurworth and maybe MSG by the LibDems.

Mike Barker's right that in large swathes of the North East, the LibDems have replaced the Tories as the natural party of opposition to Labour. In authority after authority, the Tories have been reduced to a handful of councillors where they exist at all. Together with North Tyneside, I think I'm right in saying that we have the largest number of Tory Councillors of anywhere in the North East in Darlington.

That doesn't mean that there is anything inevitable about the LibDems replacing the Tories, and the the former seem to have capacity problems of their own. It is a fact, however, that for most of the last 12 years the Tories have thought they were impregnable in their strongholds in the rural area and the West End of the town, and taken these wards largely for granted. That's beginning to haunt them now with the LibDem resurgance.

ian holme said...

Hi Nick,

"if Labour issued 3 leaflets between now and May, and conducted a thorough canvass, do you really think we'd be in with a chance of winning?"

not this time, but with the right candidate and leadership saying the right things (and of course following this up with action) there is nothing to suggest that Hurworth should always be regarded as "natural" opposition ground.

(your party may then also regain just a little credibility locally)

Anonymous said...

Ian Holme says "do you think we'd be in with a chance of winning"

The right candidate.

This speaks volumns, I think Ian wants to stand for your lot Nick, get him signed.

Darlington Councillor said...

Maybe you're right, although the deal-breaker might be "the right leadership"...

Ian White said...

Remind the readers how many votes Mrs McEwan got for Labour in Hurworth last year, 16 wasn,t it?

Darlington Councillor said...

Was it? My memory's shocking these days.