The year ahead will bring changes to the political scene. But who will win? It’s wide open and anyone’s guess …
For those given to making predictions or placing a bet, 2015 offers opportunities galore locally and nationally. Not only is a general election scheduled for Thursday 7 May but voters will choose the 54 members of Brighton and Hove City Council on the same date.
They may also be asked to vote on whether to accept a 5.9 per cent council tax rise at the same time. The indications are that the Conservatives may abstain at the annual budget meeting at the end of February, allowing the Greens to outvote Labour. This would lead to a referendum.
The Tories would prefer a council tax freeze but were frustrated last year so may change tack. The ruling Greens say a 5.9 per cent rise is reasonable and necessary. Labour disagrees and wants a 1.9 per cent rise in council tax – just below the threshold for a referendum. Labour held sway last year despite being the smallest of the three parties.
One thing looks likely: the turnout for the council elections should comfortably beat the 41 per cent figure in 2011. Turnout is traditionally higher when the local poll coincides with a general election.
In 2010 the turnout in Brighton Kemptown was 64 per cent, in Hove 69 per cent and in Brighton Pavilion 70 per cent. The national average was about 65 per cent – better than recent elections but below the historic average of more than 70 per cent.
Turnout could be hampered this time – and the outcome affected – by the introduction of individual voter registration. Forms used to be left for the “head of the household” to fill in.
Efforts are being made by the council and others to ensure as many people as possible – young people in particular – make it on to the electoral register by May.
There is a belief that students are most likely to vote Green or Labour. So the contest between Britain’s first Green MP Caroline Lucas and her Labour challenger for Brighton Pavilion, Purna Sen, should be close.
The Conservative candidate Clarence Mitchell, a former BBC royal editor, may look like the outsider but he’s beavering away and shouldn’t be written off.
In Brighton Kemptown the contest is seen as a straight fight between the Conservative MP Simon Kirby and Labour’s Nancy Platts who was pipped by Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion in 2010. Davy Jones is the Green Party’s personable and energetic candidate. He may dilute the Labour vote.
Another threat comes from Ian Buchanan, a courteous old-fashioned former Tory, who is running for UKIP. At first glance he could weaken Mr Kirby’s vote at the Peacehaven end of the constituency. But some suspect he could also pick up votes in Whitehawk and Moulsecoomb which might otherwise have gone to Labour.
He faces a strong challenge from the young and energetic Labour candidate Peter Kyle. Both are formidable campaigners.
As for the council, it is hard to see any party emerging with a majority next May. The Liberal Democrats are focusing on a couple of wards, hoping for a return. And UKIP has a momentum with the potential to cause an upset, even if it is only former Labour councillor Leigh Farrow holding his Moulsecoomb and Bevendean seat.
Anyone hoping for a Green wipeout will almost certainly be disappointed. Labour has been accused of assuming that it can stay quiet and emerge triumphant. This is not the case. Both Labour and the Tories have already begun campaigning in earnest. Newcomers to the electoral fray, like Lee Wares for the Conservatives in Patcham, will enliven the process.
Who will come out on top? It’s anyone’s bet. But be grateful to those willing to put themselves forward for the campaign slog – and for most, the disappointment of defeat. Without them, we wouldn’t have a democracy, no matter how imperfect it may sometimes be.
Here’s wishing all the candidates and voters a happy new year!