On your marks, get set, go! Not quite the Grand National but the runners and riders for the 2013 Shropshire Unitary Elections have been published, so it now feels like the race is officially on. All 74 seats are up for grabs and we are all chomping at the bit to get going. The months leading up to today have felt very different to previous elections.
Normally I would start to get a feeling of who would be standing against us, ‘new’ people turning up at Town or Parish meetings and letters to our local newspaper for example. But this time nothing! We selected our candidates early with everyone being in place by September last year which meant that we have managed to deliver two leaflets already, one in October and the other in January/February.
With the large rural Divisions we have in Shropshire that was no mean feat but it gave us the opportunity to remind the electorate that we have saved £86 million while freezing Council Tax for four years. In two areas we have reduced Council Tax by 4.4% as we equalised tax downward across the county.
So who are we up against and how is this different from normal? Quite astonishingly seven Conservatives have no opponents and will be elected unopposed. Good news for us but I have never heard of this many candidates getting a free ride at Unitary level. The second major difference to 2009 is that we have twenty nine UKIP candidates standing against us.
This compares to two in 2009. In six divisions it is a straight Conservative v UKIP fight. Looking at the people standing for UKIP it would appear that most, if not all, will be paper candidates. That being said I believe the Party needs to wake up to the growing threat that UKIP is starting to pose. A number of the UKIP candidates, including the one standing against me, are ex Conservative Party members and I believe that most of the UKIP votes will come from people who would normally support us. It would be helpful if central office could come up with a strategy to neutralise the growing threat that UKIP are becoming.
If the surge in popularity continues I am sure they will come up with something by the General Election in 2015 but that might be too late for some of our excellent, hardworking Councillors.
How do I think we will do? I've been in politics long enough not to take anything for granted, but I am confident that we will return a Conservative majority even though it might be slightly smaller than in 2009. I believe this because we have a group of Councillors who have stuck with and delivered core Conservative policies.