IF George Beckett is still in control of Winchester City Council after May 6 it will probably be
the greatest achievement of his political career.
His Tory party are vulnerable, defending 13 seats compared to the Lib Dems’ four, Labour’s one and Independents’ one.
The Tories are there to be shot down and the Lib Dems are quietly confident that they will hit the target.
Currently the Conservatives have 29 councillors; the Lib Dems 24, Independents three and Labour one. The last four years have been the first time since 1987 that the Conservatives have had complete
The Lib Dems need to grab three from the Tories to be the largest party; take five and they will win back overall control that they lost in 2004.
The Conservatives are defending the seats they snatched in 2006 only a few months after the Mark Oaten scandal undermined his local party.
Council leader George Beckett is hoping the public will recognise their record, pointing to below-inflation council tax rises as well as projects such as park and ride and the £2m repaving of the
He said: “We would like people to look at our record over the last four years, the prudent and careful management of council affairs.”
Cllr Beckett acknowledged the difficulty in defending so many seats: “Mathematically it is difficult but we will stand on our record.”
Certainly the Conservatives have had no major banana skins such as the Lib Dems’ disastrous loss of a six-figure sum in trying to support the Winchester Alliance for Mental Health.
Kelsie Learney, the Lib Dem leader, believes Conservative prudence has been based on running down the reserves to pay for the low council tax.
She predicted they would soon have to break the council’s debt-free status, achieved under the Lib Dems, to pay for its capital programme.
Despite the likelihood of victory, she declined to appear too confident, only saying: “We definitely have a good chance of taking control of the council.”
It is the first time since 1992 that a General Election has been held on the same day as the city council elections.
Cllr Learney said that favours her party. Younger voters tend not to take part in local elections but more will be at the polls because of the General Election and are more likely to vote Lib Dem,
She also believes the Lib Dems have a good chance of making history by taking the last Labour seat. Veteran councillor Chris Pines only had a majority of nine when it was last fought in 2006 in the
three-way marginal St John and All Saints ward that covers Winnall and Highcliffe.
The Lib Dems are also targeting Bishop’s Waltham which has been vacated by widely-respected Georgina Busher.
However the orange challenge is being muted by the priority being given to getting Martin Tod into Westminster.
One new factor is that the Greens have changed their strategy. Instead of putting up several candidates they will be only one, and the party will pour all its resources into that seat.
Green candidate Alison Craig said: “Although we’ve stood in the local elections before, this is our first real shot targeting a ward where we know people are already green-minded and dissatisfied
with the way things are going. Lots of people in St Bartholomew want a step change in the way the council is tackling climate change, for example.”
Among the issue she would be raising was the development at Barton Farm and the approval of the scheme for homes at
Meanwhile Cllr Pines is confident that he won’t be the last Labour councillor to lose his seat. Never before has Winchester City Council not had a socialist presence.