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Power struggle may put Preston Council in limbo

UKIP CANDIDATE: Chris Rigby, a Preston businessman, STANDING DOWN: Bill Shannon of the Lib-Dems, TORY: Bobby Cartwright faces a fight for her seat, COUNCIL LEADER: Peter Rankin, whose seat is under threat

UKIP CANDIDATE: Chris Rigby, a Preston businessman, STANDING DOWN: Bill Shannon of the Lib-Dems, TORY: Bobby Cartwright faces a fight for her seat, COUNCIL LEADER: Peter Rankin, whose seat is under threat

The perennial power struggle at Preston Town Hall in a fortnight could end with no real winners.

Three years of Labour control might come under threat now the UK Independence Party has muscled into the argument for the first time.

UKIP, which claims to have replaced Lib-Dem as the nation’s protest vote, is targeting 10 wards in the city on May 22.

But, while the Conservatives should have more to fear from Nigel Farage’s upstarts than Labour, no-one yet knows the damage they could wreak in areas where both main parties have previously seen good support.

Preston lived with a hung council for 12 years until Labour got their noses in front in 2011. Yet, with the party having only a five seat advantage over the rest, it might not take much to push the authority back into limbo.

The ruling Labour Party is taking an optimistic view despite the unknown factor that UKIP brings to the election this year. Indeed some are predicting an even larger majority.

But if things fail to work out as the politicians hope, there could be some big casualties when the results are announced the day after polling, on May 23.

None bigger than council leader Peter Rankin whose majority four years ago was a meagre 52 and who admits this election is bound to be a nervy affair - especially with UKIP fielding a candidate in his Tulketh ward.

“I am always a nervous candidate,” confessed the Labour chief who has served on Preston Council for 24 years. “My agent tells me I’m the most nervous he has ever come across.

“I only had a 52 majority last time and two years before that I only got in at the bi-election by something like 23 votes. So it will be interesting to see whether I get back in or not. I certainly hope so.”

A total of 20 of the council’s 57 seats are up for grabs this time - two of them in Town Centre ward where Coun Drew Gale is up for re-election and the council has to find a replacement for Michael Lavalette who resigned in February.

Labour are contesting both, while the Conservatives have put up only one candidate, Louise Petherwick from Fulwood.

Tory stalwarts Coun Bobby Cartwright and Coun Christine Abram are also defending slender majorities in College and Lea wards.

For Coun Cartwright the election has a double meaning. Her son Robert is also standing in Larches ward, hoping to make it a family affair in the council chamber with mum Bobby and dad Neil, just as he did between 2008 and 2012 when all three served together as councillors.

Preston loses more than a century of council expertise this year with six councillors standing down, one already having resigned (Coun Lavalette) and the sad death in January of Coun Tom Burns. Tory leader Ken Hudson leaves after 36 years service, as does Labour member Albert Richardson. Amongst the long-servers up for re-election are Coun John Browne (Labour) after 31 years and Jonathan Saksena (Labour) 28 years.

Since local government reorganisation in the early seventies, Labour has held power in Preston for 25 years, the Conservatives for just four (1976-80) and there has been no overall control for 12 years.

Voters in three wards - Ashton, Deepdale and Preston Rural East - will not be involved in the city council elections, although they will be able to vote in the Euro elections which take place on the same day.

Labour are fighting all 20 seats available, the Conservatives are putting up 19 candidates, UKIP 10, the Lib-Dems nine, the Green Party three and one Independent.

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