Cllr Duncan Crow is Leader of the Conservative Group on Crawley Council.
While the EU referendum will be the vote that Britain will remember, when looking back at 2016, we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the major set of elections coming up on the 5th of May. This will be the first major test for all the main parties since last year’s general election.
All eyes will be on the London Mayoralty as well as the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assembly. We also have the Police and Crime Commissioner elections but if we want to get the best indication of how the parties are doing one year after the general election, then we need to look at the local council elections being held in 124 English local authorities.
Out of the 124, Crawley is the council that stands out because we are the most marginal between Conservative and Labour in the whole country. Our council of 37 councillors is made up of 19 Labour and 18 Conservative councillors. Crawley has 13 of our seats up for election with Labour defending eight and Conservatives five. These seats were won in 2012 which was the high water mark for Labour in the polls during the last parliament.
Historical context is helpful to see how we got to be such a marginal council. Crawley Borough Council had always been Labour-run from its creation in 1973 but after 33 years, we Conservatives broke through in 2006 with a one seat majority. We rapidly increased that majority while Labour were in government and managed to hold the line well in 2011, but then had bad defeats in the following years which enabled Labour to win back the council after an eight-year gap with a majority of five in 2014. We bounced straight back in 2015 and made two gains from Labour, taking their majority down to just one seat and making the Conservatives the largest opposition council group in the country representing 48.65 per cent of the council.
As a councillor in Crawley for the last 13 years, whose local council elects by thirds, I’ve been doing this long enough to ‘know the script’ of how local elections usually go between general elections. Whoever is in government will be fighting to limit council seat losses and whoever is in opposition is fighting to make gains. Crawley is a perfect illustration of this with Labour not gaining any Conservative council seats from 1998 up to the 2010 election and we Conservatives not gaining any council seat from Labour post 2010 and prior to 2015.
So here we are, six years into the Conservatives being in government and back in contention to make Crawley Borough Council a direct Conservative gain straight from Labour.
For the Conservatives to win, we need to rewrite the script that says parties in government lose councils and parties in opposition gain them. Can we do it? I think we can. We are fighting an energetic and positive local campaign and are getting good feedback from our residents. We have a great team of candidates and a fantastic Agent in Tom Liddiard who is bringing focus and drive to our campaign. Look out for Crawley on election night as there will be no better barometer on how the two main parties are doing than what happens here.