Could Lancashire County Council elections this week hold key to general election?

County Hall
County Hall

As Lancashire prepares to go to the polls on Thursday a politics expert says the county could provide a key to the forthcoming general election.

Professor David Denver, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Lancaster University, said: “Lancashire as a key county will be watched carefully.”

The local elections this week will decide who runs Lancashire County Council.

With 315 candidates competing for 84 seats on a council which has swung both left and right in the past decade, it could be a close run battle.

Politics commentators say that where Lancashire leads, the whole country could follow in the general election on June 8.

Professor Denver said: “Lancashire is a big authority and certainly in the past it was a kind of swing county and at the moment with no overall control, the parties are desperate to win it.”

Last week a national analysis by academics from Plymouth suggested the Conservatives needed to gain seven more seats to gain power.

Meanwhile Labour, which has ruled for the past four years with support from the Liberal Democrats, is campaigning hard to get a clear majority.

The Liberal Democrats locally say they hope to continue to have influence but acknowledge they are not going to harness a majority vote. Their targets are in Preston West and South West, Burnley and Pendle.

UKIP is particularly focusing energies on areas such as Chorley and Preston – it has eight candidates seeking election in the city and seven in Chorley.

The Greens are especially focused in areas such as Lancaster and Wyre.

Pockets of the county face challenges too from minority parties such as TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition Against Cuts) which is standing in three Preston divisions.

The National Front has one candidate in Rossendale and two British National Party candidates are standing in Pendle.

In Fylde there is a Fylde Ratepayers’ Association candidate and three Independents. OWL (Our West Lancashire) has two candidates.

In Wyre, where the contest could be acute in certain divisions, three independents are standing.

While parties are fighting to win a battle of hearts and minds one of their biggest challenges is overcoming voter apathy. At the last county council elections in 2013 voter turn out was 31 per cent. Some 618,237 people eligible to vote turned their back on the polls.

Just 282,271 citizens cared enough to vote and have a say on the multimillion pound spending organisation.

Those who did vote returned 39 Labour councillors, 35 Tories, six Liberal Democrats, three independents and one Green party councillor. To achieve overall control the majority party needed 43 seats,

Professor Denver believes it is possible the looming general election could focus people’s minds and make them keener to get out and vote, even if ultra local debate is overshadowed by the general election.

“It’s certainly the case that with local elections after a general election there’s a great drop in turnout. People will not show as much interest. My impression is that it could probably stimulate a bit more interest. But the tragedy for local government and local politics is that people are very much interested by the national state of play rather than by what the council has done.”

•Swing County: How the county has swung left and right over last 16 years.

May 2, 2013 – No party in overall control: Labour 39, Conservative 35, Liberal Democrats 6, Independent 3, Green 1.

June 4, 2009 - Tories seized control: Conservative 51, Labour 16, Liberal Democrats 10, Independent 3, Green 2, Idle Toad 1, British National Party 1.

May 5, 2005 – Labour retained control: Labour 44, Conservative 31, Liberal Democrats,6, Independent 1, Green 1, Idle Toad 1.

June 7,2001 - Labour retained control: Labour 44, Conservative 27, Liberal Democrats 5, Green 1, No description 1.

• For full details of candidates and divisions see www.lep.co.uk