South Essex 2015

A (possibly) rose tinted view of politics in my part of the country…

If you looked at the map below a few months ago it would have been a lot bluer with maybe slightly more red and a far fewer purple patches. The recent elections have changed all this. The replacement of large blocks of blue with smatterings of purple must concern the Tory MP’s who represent all seven of the parliamentary constituencies. Likewise, Labour is certainly concerned that the unpopularity of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has not necessarily translated into votes at the ballot box. It’s of course UKIP that’s caused this unease amongst the two main parties and for whom Essex appears to be fertile territory. The Liberal Democrats, who have fewer council seats than Independents, have no realistic prospect of success and will undoubtedly turn their attention (and their activists) to constituencies with an incumbent MP such as Colchester.  

All of this (except the Lib-Dem part) makes a general election in South East Essex far more interesting than it would normally be. So who is standing and what are their prospects?

Map of South Essex Council Ward Map 2014 (from right to left); Thurrock, South Basildon and East Thurrock, Basildon and Billericay, Rayleigh and Wickford, Castle Point, Southend West and Rochford and Southend East.
Thurrock: An almost certain loss for the Conservatives in 2015. This would be expected as Thurrock was only won by less than a hundred votes by the Tories when Labour was at their most unpopular in 2010. However, support hasn't necessarily swung back to Labour and in recent elections UKIP have gained seats from both main parties. More concerning was the recent Lord Ashcroft poll which identified 36% of voters as UKIP and only 30% Labour. While this doesn't fit in with other projections or previous polling, its not surprising considering the deep level of distrust people have towards politics. Saying that it appears that many in UKIP are over confident about Tim Aker’s prospects in Thurrock. When presented with a choice between a Labour or Tory government and UKIP's national agenda gets further scrutinised Farage's party might not be able to win as easily as they think. This is a seat Labour needs to become the largest party in the Commons and it’s a seat Polly Billington can win next May. 

South Basildon and East Thurrock: Perhaps one of the most difficult to call next year. This certainly will be a 3 horse race between the incumbent Tory, Labour and UKIP. Labour has made gains off the Tories here since the 2010 election a trend that was stopped recently with UKIP victories across the constituency. In 2014 it was places like the two Pitsea seats and Stanford East and Corringham Town that Labour should have won off the Conservatives. UKIP have not selected their candidate yet while Labour's Mike Le Surf has appeared to be very active over the past year. As said before, it’s too close to call and unlike Thurrock the Tories have a chance of retaining this seat.

Basildon and Billericay: This constituency discredits the notion that UKIP takes votes from the Tories and let’s Labour in. In the 2014 local elections the Billericay wards and Crouch remained Conservative. While, seats considered safe by Labour, Lee Chapel North and Fryerns went UKIP. While Anne Marie Waters (UKIP's candidate) has a national profile (sort of) I have not seen much work done by her in the constituency. As opposed to Labour's candidate and current Basildon councillor Gavin Callaghan who seems to be very active on the local political scene. Given the recent election results and the constituency’s history, Labour and UKIP will both be keen to get second place and the very least. 

Rayleigh and Wickford: This constituency does not have any Labour councillors. But unlike any other part of South Essex its does have two Greens, a husband and wife team in Hullbridge. There wasn't much of a UKIP break through in May, only Wickford and a few parts of Rayleigh turned purple. This must be comforting for sitting MP Mark Francois, who at the last election secured over 57% of the vote. It doesn't seem like any party will pose a serious challenge to the incumbent Tory MP in 2015. As for Labour, perhaps focusing on the eastern part of the constituency might yield results in terms of council seats in the future.  

Castle Point: This borough felt the full force of the 1997 Labour landslide with the Labour Party controlling the council and winning the parliamentary constituency. Unfortunately, this was a brief period in Castle Point’s electoral history and since then has been strongly Conservative. Labour has struggled to gain a council seat since, a situation made worse by the emergence of the Canvey Island Independent Group. While Rebecca Harris won with a comfortable majority in 2010 the borough council is now in No Overall Control as the Conservatives only managed to win 3 of the 14 seats up for election this year. UKIP could do well here, it could depend on how Independent voters in Canvey vote in the general election. What is clear is that Labour need to focus their resources and get some Labour representation back onto Castle Point council.

Southend West: It was suggested online that this constituency would be one of many in South Essex that should be targeted by UKIP. In reality it seems unlikely that David Amess will be succeeded by a UKIP candidate at the next election despite their 3 gains here. In 2010 this seemed like an opportunity for the Lib Dems. However, in the past 4 years they have seen their number of councillors diminish with Leigh as their sole stronghold. Labour made two gains in Westborough in the recent local elections and I am sure will want to expand their campaigning into neighbouring wards. There has been a decline in Conservative support in Southend, while Amess is undoubtedly the favourite other parties will give him strong competition.

Rochford and Southend East: Finally, my constituency! Where I suspect we will see a massive Labour landslide resulting in the ousting of the unpopular (even amongst his own members) Tory MP. But in all seriousness Labour have performed well here in the past, being close to victory on a few occasions and are the 4th most winnable in Essex for Labour. Ian Gilbert, Labour’s PPC, is now Deputy Leader on the borough council and has a growing number of activists and councillors to help him run a good campaign. The Lib Dems have had shockingly poor results across the constituency in local elections, for them getting less than 100 votes is common place, it would be safe to assume they will be 4th (if not lower). UKIP are almost certain to improve on their result, but with a semi-official election pact with the Independent Group they may have denied themselves a chance to build up a base of councillors and activists. Most importantly, the Conservatives didn't manage to win a single ward in this year’s local election - a result which should be making James Duddridge worried!

While this is only a brief overview it's clear that the Tories in South Essex should be more worried than usual, Labour will need to campaign hard over the next year to make gains but will have to contend with UKIP who will try to portray themselves as the alternative to Cameron's Conservatives.