One of the most striking aspects of the ballot papers for the Canterbury City Council election is the failure of Ukip and the Lib Dems to fill their quota of candidates. The Lib Dems are fighting all the wards in Canterbury, Whitstable and the rural areas, but are only putting up three candidates in Herne Bay – seven fewer than the full amount possible. It has not found candidates for five wards of the 21 in the district. Ukip, which may have hoped to follow on from its county council successes two years ago, has even fewer names going on the ballot papers. It is putting up just 22 candidates from a maximum of 39 over 15 wards – perhaps a sign that its star is on the wane. The Lib Dems blame a dearth of activity in Herne Bay in the years since the last election in 2011 for their lack of candidates. They are concentrating their efforts on the central Heron ward only, but are contesting all the other seats up for grabs and especially focusing on Canterbury, where they are particularly strong.
Elsewhere, our graphic highlights some notable absences as some of the district’s political giants have chosen not to seek re-election. Eighteen of the current 49 councillors are stepping down. They include Alex Perkins, who has led the Lib Dems since the late 90s, and James Flanagan who is fighting the Canterbury and Whitstable parliamentary seat, but is not running for council. The Tories are losing even more of their big guns: Leader John Gilbey and his deputy Jean Law are quitting, as finance supremo Peter Lee and stalwarts such as Tony Austin, Harry Cragg, Jeanne Harrison, Darren Ellis and the current Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Ann Taylor. Three councillors elected in 2011 have since died. They are Tories Mike Sharp and Hazel McCabe and Lib Dem Ron Flaherty, while Conservative Cyril Windsor emigrated to Australia. Former Labour councillor Phil Cartwright, who quit the group last year, is also not standing. But John Wratten, the other former Labour councillor in Whitstable, is standing again – this time as an independent. As a popular representative of the area, he is certain to take votes off Labour. There are also three candidates from the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, which may further divide the left-wing vote in a ward which will return three councillors from 17 candidates. Ex-councillors Peter Halfpenny and Wes McLachlan are seeking to make a return to the council for Labour in Whitstable.
In Canterbury, the Tories and Labour are involved in a dogfight for Northgate ward, which returned one of each at the last election in 2011. Barton is also likely to be hotly-contested between the Lib Dems and Tories in a ward with three seats and 14 candidates. Three of those are Ukip, including Blue Cooper, who is well known on the Spring Lane Estate where he could garner support. And St Stephen’s is a straight scrap between the Lib Dems and Tories with the controversy over Kingsmead Field likely to loom large. In the villages south of Canterbury sitting councillors Mike Sole, a Lib Dem, and Tory Simon Cook are fighting for just one seat, a result of the council switching from 50 members to 39. The other rural seats – Litte Stour & Adisham, Chartham & Stone Street and Blean Forest – are unlikely to return anything other than Conservatives. If the other parties want to unseat the ruling Tories, they will have to stop them winning 20 seats and then form a coalition – as they did between Labour and the Lib Dems following the 2003 election.
STANDING FOR PARLIAMENT…
Four people are taking on Sir Roger Gale in the North Thanet seat, which consists of the coastal areas from Herne Bay to Cliftonville. The Conservative first became an MP in 1983 and has won every subsequent election. His two stiffest challengers come in the form of Ukip’s Piers Wauchope and Labour’s Frances Rehal. Journalist Ed Targett is standing for the Green Party while the Lib Dem candidate is George Cunningham.
Herne Bay Gazette, April 16th 2015