The current composition of Harlow District Council is 16 Conservatives, 11 Labour and 4 Lib Dems, and there are two vacancies, giving the Conservative Administration a wafer thin majority of just one vote.
Harlow District Council elects by thirds, so 11 seats are up for grabs this year. Harlow is traditionally an indicator constituency, which we took at the 2010 General Election, electing Robert Halfon with a 4,500 majority.
Although the constituency has a number of villages that are in Epping Forest District Council area, the town of Harlow is traditionally more left-wing.
Harlow town was a Labour-held Council, solidly from its creation for about 50 years. This was broken in 2002 with a short (18 month) Conservative/Lib Dem coalition followed by a Lib Dem minority administration supported by Labour, and then a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition.
The Conservatives working hard, led by Robert Halfon and leader Cllr Andrew Johnson managed to take the council for the first time in 2008 and have made a series of tough financial decisions to get the budget under control. These include pursuing shared services and outsourcing of services, and breaking the dependency culture that many organisations had with the council. This has resulted in a Council Tax freeze for the past two years.
The Lib Dems are a spent force in Harlow with the Labour party, a nasty “1970’s & 80’s socialist” bunch, in resurgence despite having no ideas and alternatives. This year both opposition groups failed to put up an alternative budget, with the Labour party arguing (to cheers and applause from the unions in the gallery) that they disagreed with the Government Settlement and so would not be moving a budget based on it….
This is a Council that Labour will be keen to win back to show that they are making ground in the home counties / south east. With no alternatives, their campaign literature is classic “anti government”. Will they succeed in capitalising on that feeling?