Lib Dems fight with Tories to hang on to vital seats in electionsBy Victoria Corbett
April 29, 2008
Wokingham Liberal Democrats are hoping for their best local election year since 2001, but previous years’ results indicate the Conservatives could increase their majority at Wokingham Borough Council.
And the gloves have truly come off in this year’s local election battle for council seats, as the Lib Dems are hitting out the dominating Tory group for their methods of running the borough.
Members of both parties, as well as candidates from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, Labour and the British National Party (BNP) are busy doorstepping taxpayers in a bid to win their votes when the polls open on Thursday, May 1.
The council has 54 seats, and of these 43 are Conservative. One third of the council seats will be up for grabs next week.
The Wokingham Conservatives have 14 seats up for re-election, while the Liberal Democrats are defending four seats.
Councillor Prue Bray, leader of Wokingham Lib Dems, is confident the group can achieve its best result in seven years, although the group is likely to still be outnumbered after the election.
She said: “We are hoping for our best result since 2001.
“We have lost seats in some numbers since 2001, we are hoping this will be the year where we make some gains.”
Key issues the Lib Dems are campaigning on include protecting vulnerable and elderly people in the borough.
The Lib Dems have criticised the council’s decision to make cuts to adult social care services, so only those with critical needs receive care.
Cllr Bray said: “They have had a really bad time. We think people who had their services withdrawn, such as the grass-cutting service, have really suffered.
“We want to do something about schools because we think the council should be investing in the future and not what it has done in the last few years, which is reduce the amount of maintenance funds.”
The Lib Dems are also concerned about how the borough will cope with the housing numbers being forced on it by central Government, and wants the council to strongly consider Arborfield Garrison as a place for a large housing settlement.
The party has also hit out at what it says is a lack of democracy over issues such as the potential Elms Field development and the Cantley Park 250-seat football stand plan.
But Cllr Frank Browne, leader of the Wokingham Conservative group, said the party has a “strong track record of delivery”.
He pointed out the Conservatives are also keen to fight the number of homes being forced on the borough and the party had made crucial savings while also caring for the most vulnerable.
Cllr Browne said: “Working with our partners, Wokingham is now recognised as one of the best boroughs in the country to live in.
“We are committed to keeping it that way.
“Over the next three years we plan to continue investing significantly into our core services; enabling our senior citizens to live longer at home and bringing more of our schools into the 21st Century with over £45 million earmarked for capital investment.
“We are also committed to continuing our weekly bin collection and plan to extend our green waste collection right across the borough.
“We will continue to fight for a more sustainable level of housing for the borough and where housing is allowed, we will work to ensure more investment is made into the local infrastructure.
“We will also continue working with our partners to tackle crime and reduce the fear of crime.
“We hope we have demonstrated that we will provide strong, clear leadership on the issues that matter to you and have not been afraid to tackle difficult deep seated issues.
“We have the vision and energy to continue this work.”
Meanwhile, BNP candidate Mark Burke has defended his party’s national reputation, and insists residents need an alternative opinion on the borough council.
Mr Burke, who is standing for the Wescott seat in Wokingham, said: “Most of the people in this party are not anything like what it used to be and pretending it was never like that would be wrong.”
Mr Burke is campaigning against high Council Tax rises and cuts to important services and is also concerned about the high number of housing developments in the borough.
He is a member of Ruscombe Parish Council, where he has campaigned against housing development.
This view is echoed by members of UKIP, Labour and the Green Party, who believe Wokingham residents may be ready for more varied voices and opinions on the borough council.
Among those up for re-election in the Lib Dem group is its own deputy leader Cllr Stephen Conway.
While some candidates are long-serving councillors defending their seats, others could become new faces on the council.
Many key figures in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are standing down this year, including Cllr Browne, who has been party leader for eight years.
The new leader of the council will be decided by the Conservative group after the elections.
Other long-serving members who are leaving after May 1 include Norreys councillor Iain Brown, a former chairman of the council, and Lib Dem councillor Alan Spratling.
This year there are also uncontested elections for parish council seats in Charvil, Finchampstead, Hurst and Ruscombe.
The Wokingham Times will have full coverage of the election results in its edition of Wednesday, May 7, and will be publishing the results as they are announced on Friday, May 2, on The Wokingham Times website at www.getwokingham.co.uk.
- UK Independence Party (UKIP): Today, local councils have no real power and they are told what to do by central Government and the EU. UKIP believes in true independence from Whitehall interference.
Council Tax has risen dramatically over the past few years, hitting pensioners in particular. UKIP proposes slashing Council Tax by 40 per cent and UKIP also wants independence for local decision making.
UKIP wants to make police forces accountable to local authorities for policing priorities, improve local control and management of public transport, keep control over planning issues local and independence for headteachers over teaching, examinations and discipline.
- Conservative: Over the last six years, the Conservative-run council has focused on delivering for local residents.
We have restored sound finances for the council, kept Council Tax increases as close to the rate of inflation as possible, concentrated on delivering quality services to the borough’s residents and tackling the issues that matter to the local population.
We have specifically increased investment into our social care services, education and played our part in tackling crime with the police and other partners. At the same time we also made £12m savings by reducing council overheads and bureaucratic waste.
On May 1 we ask for your support to carry on this work and keep the borough a fantastic place to live and work.
- Liberal Democrats: We believe the council should act fairly and openly, enabling every resident of Wokingham Borough to take part in the decisions that affect them and achieve a good quality of life.
We believe the council should support all the communities in the borough, to enable them to enhance their prosperity and vitality.
Liberal Democrats believe in involving people in the decisions that affect their lives. We believe that openness, fairness and transparency are vital if you are to trust politicians. As a party we have always campaigned to protect the environment, to care for the vulnerable and to invest in the future.
The ruling Conservative majority has failed to address any of the issues that we Lib Dems think are important. We believe in a community where everyone matters, a community where our young people are equipped for life, and a community where our environment is safeguarded.
- Labour: We understand people need to see their policemen and women in their communities to feel safer so this Government has ensured that every community in England will have its own dedicated neighbourhood police team patrolling the streets.
Across the country, Labour councils share people’s concerns about those who make life a misery for others and are using tough powers to combat anti-social behaviour, to tackle fly-tipping and ensure cleaner neighbourhoods.
And Labour councils are working to provide high quality, efficient local services that offer value for money.
- Green: Life on Earth is under immense pressure. It is human activity, more than anything else, which is threatening the wellbeing of the environment on which we depend.
Conventional politics has failed us because its values are fundamentally flawed.
The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics guided by these core principles.
British National Party (BNP): We stand for British withdrawal from the European Union and are opposed to the Single European Currency and we are against the ‘trendy’ teaching methods that have made Britain one of the most poorly educated nations in Europe.
Increased investment is needed in Britain’s public transport system to bring it up to the highest standards in the world. The first step is to end the crime and squalor that puts so many people off public transport.
Our ideal for Britain is that of a clean, beautiful country, free of pollution in all its forms.
- How important do you think it is to vote?