Candidates have been announced today for the Somerset County Council elections scheduled for May 2nd and for the first time ever Labour is standing everywhere and running a countywide campaign. While the County has been fought over in recent years by the Tories and Lib Dems, now they are both in bed together in Government a real alternative is needed and Labour is in the strongest position to break the coalition’s grip.
In the Bridgwater area Labour’s hopes are strongest. At their height in recent years Labour have held all 4 Bridgwater seats –North & Central, South, East & Bawdrip and West and need to win all of these on May 2nd if they are to regain influence on County. In addition, to gain actual control Labour need to win the 3 neighbouring seats of Huntspill, North Petherton and Cannington.
Of the 7 Bridgwater/South Sedgemoor seats the battleground is Labour v Tory with the moribund and compromised Lib Dems only standing token candidates in 6 of the seats while the Tories are threatened by the far right conservative UKIP in 4 of them.
Labour ‘must take the 4 Bridgwater seats ‘
Labours strongest seat, Bridgwater North & Central , contains the Sydenham estate and Eastover and the candidate is long serving Town,District and County Councillor Dave Loveridge, shortly to become next Mayor of Bridgwater. Dave is up against Tory John Harwood and Cannington Lib Dem, Janice Beasley.
In Bridgwater South, a long standing Labour seat , the Party is standing fireman and Hamp resident Leigh Redman. Labour lost this seat for the first time ever at the last election where a poor turnout and voter resistance to all parties saw a collapse of votes for everyone with the Tories winning by just 20 votes, which must have shocked voters who thought it didn’t matter who got in and now witness the effects of the Con Dem Government. The salutary lesson meant one-man coalition Steve Gill got in as a tory and then within a month left and joined the Lib Dems. And then lost interest in politics altogether. The South division,which includes Hamp and Westover wards-currently represented by Labour at town and district level, is a crucial ‘must gain’ for Labour. This time round there’s only 2 candidates –Leigh for Labour and Tory Lance Dudderidge. Apparently there was meant to be a Lib Dem but the candidate failed to submit a correct registration form.
Bridgwater West will see a decisive ‘Battle of the Titans’ between shaky sitting Tory Ann Bown and Labours experienced local boy Richard Hampson. The division, for county purposes, is an odd amalgam of traditionally Labour Victoria ward and traditionally Tory Quantock (now Wyndham) ward. Currently held by the Tories, Bridgwater West was Labour not so long ago. Thrown into the midst of this is a token Lib Dem candidate, Alan Beasley (who usually stands in Cannington) and that dangerous thorn in the side of the tories, Victoria Gardner standing for the far right conservative UKIP. Bridgwater West will be an epic contest and former Local Government administrator Richard is determined to see what life is like on the members side of the fence finally.
In Bridgwater East and Bawdrip, 80% of the division consists of Bower Manor and the Bridge estate plus the villages of Bawdrip and Chedzoy plus this time round adds in the village of Weston Zoyland. A Labour held seat in recent years, the candidate Barbara O’Connor is seeking to retake it from unpopular Tory county Portfolio holder David Hall who was kicked out of his Town and District seats just 2 years ago . Barbara, who lives in Bower, is also facing Lib Dem , Bob Bryant, from Axbridge and an additional right wing challenge from UKIPper Richard Scammell.
Labour ‘seeking to gain’ in outlying areas
To have a chance to win control of Somerset, Labour needs to take seats like Huntspill, which contains the villages of Woolavington (traditionally Labour), Puriton, Chilton Polden, East and West Huntspill and Cossington. Polden mum Alexia Bartlett is standing for Labour and determined to oust Tory District and County Councillor Mark Healey who recently didn’t help his cause by trying to defend the bedroom tax at a Sedgemoor meeting as a ‘landlord’ himself. Healey is also threatened from the right wing by UKIP candidate John Everitt and potentially embarrassed by erstwhile coalition partner , Lib Dem Alan Miller from Highbridge. Alexia took on Tory District Leader Duncan McGinty at the last election and ran him a close second.
North Petherton is another key seat where Labour needs to make a dramatic gain if it is to wrest control of County Hall. This time round the playing field seems more even as the long-serving Tory county councillor has stood down for a relatively unknown Conservative Richard Brown from North Newton. The Tories woes are compounded by the conservative UKIP party also standing a cat among the pigeons candidate, Peter Hollings, who, although from Puriton , could sheer off disaffected right wing voters. The Lib Dems are fielding Bill Revans but will struggle to regain ground after their disastrous support for the Tories nationally. It’s with this in mind that Labours youthful candidate Oliver Barrett, 23 and manager of a town centre business, hopes that an energetic campaign will turn the balance in favour of Labour. In addition the traditionally independent Petherton ward is now supplemented by the new Willstock and Stockmoor estates on the very edge of Bridgwater making the vote an unknown quantity in this tense battleground.
The final ward around Bridgwater is the Cannington division which includes not just the village itself but Wembdon, Combwich and all the Quantock villages. A traditional Tory stronghold, Labour are nevertheless fighting hard with local candidate Ted Stock from Wembdon. Sitting Conservative councillor John Edney will be relieved to know that the potential UKIP candidate was debarred from standing due to nomination paper irregularities but also faces explaining his position regarding the coalition with Lib Dem opponent Jill Dillamore.
The County Council elections will be held on Thursday 2nd May.