It's time to look ahead and think about what the future might hold for our rural environment in the Shinfield-Arborfield area. We are less than a week away from local elections which could give one or other political party the power to destroy that environment forever. One party put Hall Farm/Loddon Valley in the Local Plan, the other keeps it in there. Wokingham Borough Council is currently ‘no overall control’. If either the Lib Dems or the Tories gain an overall majority of seats in the upcoming election, they will be able to do what they want.
The council seats coming up for election this May were last contested in 2019. Six of them were won with a majority of less than 100, four by the Conservatives, and two by the Lib Dems. The outcome in those marginal wards could play a key role in the make-up of the next council. Are there any pointers to what will happen?
Of those six marginal seats, four are for the Tories to lose - Barkham, Norreys, Shinfield North, and South Lake. The (un)popularity of the party in government at Westminster influences how people vote locally. In May 2019, the Conservatives were faring very badly in the national opinion polls, down to around 25% support, according to a ‘poll of polls’ published in Wikipedia. The same source for April 2023 has the Conservatives slightly higher, at about 29%.
Of course, local factors in particular wards have an effect on outcomes, but over the last ten years or so, the trend in the Tories’ share of the vote in Wokingham Borough elections has tended to follow how their national opinion poll rating performed:-
Conservative % share of W’ham borough election vote*
National poll-of-polls rating Conservative % (Wikipedia)
*Under the local election system in the Borough, council seats are uncontested every 4th year. The 2020 elections were cancelled under the Coronavirus Act and deferred to 2021.
In most years when the Tories’ national poll rating improved or declined, so did their performance in the Borough elections. If that’s anything to go by, Wokingham Tories should not do worse this time than in 2019 - the Tories nationally are fairly unpopular at the moment, but they are not less popular than four years ago. So their support locally may at least hold up, and they shouldn’t necessarily expect to lose those four marginals.
The two Lib Dem marginals, Maiden Erlegh and Wescott were both formerly Conservative seats. They went Lib Dem with 35% and 37% shares of the vote in 2019. National trends don’t seem to be so important when considering how Lib Dems fare in local elections, because they often get support as a temporary protest vote. Still, for what it’s worth, the Lib Dems’ nationwide poll-of-polls rating in 2019, when those wards were last contested, was 10%. It was 9% most recently. If that is any guide, we shouldn't expect the Lib Dems to gain or lose significantly in vote share this time.
All these figures are publicly available information, and Wokingham Lib Dems might well have reached the same conclusion as I have - compared to 2019, the Tory vote can’t really be squeezed much more. In addition, in two of the four Tory marginals in 2019, the Lib Dems came third. So the run of Lib Dem gains from Tories since 2018 could be over. That may be why they went back on an agreement with the Shinfield South Independent councillor Jim Frewin, and are now running a candidate against him. Since they aren’t likely to make many inroads against the Tories now, perhaps they want to unseat an Independent and pick up another seat that way.
A very good result for the Lib Dems would be to gain Barkham and South Lake from the Tories, Shinfield South from Independent, and to hold on to their two marginals, Maiden Erlegh and Wescott. That would give them 26 councillors, slightly short of an overall majority (28). A very good result for the Tories would be to hold on to all their marginals, and capture perhaps one of the Lib Dem marginals. There would then be 27 Conservative councillors, though the Lib Dem mayor would have the casting vote in the event of a tied vote, so the Tories would have to do better than this to regain control of the Council.
As the man said, prediction is very difficult, "especially about the future"! This survey of past voting patterns can of course hold no guarantee of anything this time round. Also, there are 12 other council seats coming up for re-election which I haven't mentioned. Though they are not marginals on the 2019 results, you never know what upsets might happen there. But here's what we can say with a fair degree of confidence. Victory for Independent candidates in Barkham, Shinfield North and Shinfield South would deprive the Tories and the Lib Dems of three seats that each of them surely need to take control of the Council.
The concern for readers of this blog who are worried about Hall Farm/Loddon Valley must be : After 4th May, will either the Tories or the Lib Dems be able to run the council by themselves? If they are, there'll be nothing more residents can do to get the 4,500-houses proposal out of the local plan.
Voting Independent is the way to go.
Further information on the four Wokingham Independents can be found here:
Further information on ALL the election candidates in Wokingham Borough can be found at:-