SOME wards are easier than others. There, got the excuses in early. Over on our sister paper (YourHarlow), we had a by-election and we predicted that the winning (Labour) candidate would get 738 votes. We were out by three. And now we come to Ockendon…..
Psephlogically it is a funny old ward. Over the last ten years, there have been Labour councillors: the much-missed Barry Lawrence, the deeply underwhelming Aaron Kiely.
At one stage there was a very good Conservative team of Barry Johnson, Amanda Arnold and Lynn Carr.
At the moment Ockendon is represented by two members of the Thurrock Independent Party, cllr David Potter and cllr Jan Baker. They were elected as UKIP councillors. There is a certain irony in that we can’t remember either councillor uttering a single word in the council chamber. However, we can recall their former Ockendon colleague, Kevin Wheeler uttering at least one word…..which brings us to a by-election on Thursday March 22nd.
2002: Labour: 61% Maj 272
2004: Conservative: 831-789 and Labour: 743 (Three candidates elected)
2006: Labour: -45% Maj 125
2007: Conservative-34% Maj 14
2008: Conservative-45% Maj 210
2010: Conservative-41% Maj 236
2011: Labour-41% Maj 87
2012: Conservative-43% Maj 91
2014: UKIP-46% Maj 414
2015: UKIP-44% Maj 694
2016: UKIP-45% Maj 404
What can we conclude from the above? UKIP have been very popular in this ward. The ward was a sea of purple during the General Election of 2015. Look at those thumping majorities in 2014, 2015, 2016.. But then came Brexit, then, in 2017, came the startling collapse of the vote for Ukip in local elections. However, there wasn’t any local elections in Thurrock but there was a General Election. UKIP’s vote went down from 15,713 to 10,112. It was bad but not a disaster. Then came the decision for all the Thurrock UKIP councillors to leave UKIP and set up a new party called the Thurrock Independents.
Will voters make a switch from UKIP to Thurrock Independents (TI)? Some may but a number will not vote. There is a tendency for many of us to live in a political bubble. There may be many of the 1038 Ockendon residents who voted UKIP at last time of asking in 2016, who may turn up looking for their UKIP candidate and no nice pictures of bumble bees or mantras of rising above punch and judy politics may tempt them over.
We don’t think the Thurrock Independents will win and we think the Thurrock Independent candidates will struggle to retain their seats between now and 2020.
They talk the talk of a residents party and around the country, residents associations have survived and thrived (Loughton, Havering, Uttlesford etc) . we just wonder if, apart from a few notable exceptions, whether there is the appetite amongst the TI’s for the long run.
The Thurrock Independent candidate is Allen Mayes, who has worked hard in the background of politics for a fair amount of time.
So, the winner may well come from either Labour or Conservative.
Labour’s campaign has been led by the Orsett Hospital question. It has been a key campaigning issue since Jackie Doyle-Price made her comment in the hustings last year. It has been compounded by the controversy over the consultation process and reports that some services won’t be staying in Thurrock. Place that next to Lower Thames Crossing, crime, potholes, council tax increases, fly-tipping and it all gives Labour a fair amount of ammunition, the like of which we don’t think we have seen in a long time. Oh…and the council tax has gone up.
The Labour candidate is Les Strange. The local man made the news regarding what he had shared on Facebook. Obnoxious stuff. Will it affect his vote. Not sure. It has probably affected the willingness for a number to go out campaigning for him and some may feel a win is a phyrric victory.
You may also wonder about the Jeremy Corbyn factor. They don’t have much time for the left wing in Ockendon, they say.
By all reports the Conservatives are working hard and trying to counter all those points made above. They will naturally point to the Conservative-led Thurrock Council’s investment plan, it’s record on cleaning the borough and plans to tackle anti-social behaviour. Who knows, it might break through. Veterans like former councillor Barry Johnson will attest that there are plenty of loyal Conservatives in Brandon Groves and beyond, who might not have a lot of time for local personalities but are blue to the core.
Finally, we guess we need to go back to the last local election in 2016 and ask a question.
The Tories beat Labour by 76. But where will those 1038 votes go? Many won’t turn up. A couple of hundred to the Thurrock Independents.
There is a temptation to predict that the Conservatives will win it but for the fact that traditional Labour pessimists seem quite bullish. Two weeks ago, there were several by-elections across the country and not a single Tory win, hold or gain. You just wonder if there is an appetite for voting Conservative just now.
So: Labour gain….but is is going to be close.