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The gloves are off as election fever grips the region
WITH just a few weeks until voting day, election fever is in the air and letterboxes are being rattled by faithful pamphleteers.
On May 22, 5.2 million people are eligible to vote for one of eight Euro MEPs to shout up for the North West in Brussels.
However, only 1.6 million (31.7 per cent) bothered to do so in 2009 - higher than the 19.7% of 1999.
The full list of prospective MEPs, each paying £5,000 to stand, will not be known until nominations close today.
What is known is that the final list will include sitting MEP Chris Davies of the Lib Dems; Cumbrian Kevin Beatty of the Conservatives, Labour's Wajid Khan, Green Party candidate Peter Cranie, and Lee Slaughter for UKIP.
And also on May 22, a third of South Lakeland District Council’s seats will be fought over.
The 17 seats are currently held by 15 Lib Dems – including several frontbench Cabinet members – one Conservative and one independent.
The power balance on SLDC is 33 seats held by Liberal Democrats, 14 by the Conservatives, three Labour and one independent, who defected from the Lib Dems.
While it is not mathematically impossible, few seriously consider the Lib Dem majority to be at stake in May.
But it is regarded as a ‘taste test’ of how the electorate might, or might not, vote come 2015.
“We are working hard for every vote and taking nothing for granted,” said a Lib Dem campaigner in Kendal this week.
“And we have a great track record on which to work from.”
The Tories are optimistic that they can prise Lib Dem fingers from some seats in the chamber.
“These seats are a trial run for next year and the General Election,” said a Tory party official at its Stricklandgate HQ.
“They are not about the local MP but about the local council and its performance, which we think has been abysmal.”
In the red corner, the Westmorland and Lonsdale Labour Party is putting up candidates and has noted the ‘great reception’ to them on the doorsteps of South Lakeland.
UKIP South Lakeland will field their most candidates ever in an SLDC election, and the Kendal Green Party is seriously upbeat about making gains on SLDC.
It said this week: “The Kendal Green Party has confirmed that it will have a candidate standing in every ward on May 22.”
The deadline for nominations, the point by which would-be councillors have to put their hats into the ring, closes at 4pm today.
Wards are being contested in Kendal Castle, Kendal Far Cross, Kendal Fell, Heron Hill, Highgate, Kirkland, Mintsfeet, Nether, Oxenholme and Natland, Kendal Parks, Romney, Stonecross, Strickland and Underley.
Also up are seats in Ambleside and Grasmere, the narrow swing seat of Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, and the Tory territory of Mid Furness.
In terms of platforms, Coun Peter Thornton, the Liberal Democrat leader of SLDC, has said at virtually every meeting that locally, his party represents ‘1,000 new homes and 1,000 new jobs’ and have frozen their share of the council tax for four years and plan to do so again next year.
The Tories floated a cut in the council tax back in February but were defeated and have warned the Liberals that in South Lakeland a backlash is coming against its Local Plan and its promises of 5,200 homes and 20 employment sites.
‘Concrete Pete,’ is now the open nickname for mischief makers on the Tory front benches.
They know they can capitalise on the community frustration with the planning process, and given the chance of power say they would cut back the high car parking charges which sees millions of pounds funnelled into supporting local council services.
But the animosity is a two-way street. Although the General Election is still 12 months away, the latest edition of The Westmorland Herald, the Lib Dem freesheet, contains an ‘attack piece’ on Dr Ann Myatt, the newly-selected Tory prospective parliamentary candidate.
Its headline reads: “Tories select outsider for general election’. The accusation being that Dr Myatt is, an ‘outsider’ an ‘unknown’ and has no connection to the area.
However Tim Farron is also a Lancashire lad - born in Preston, educated in Leyland and now of Milnthorpe.
Dr Myatt’s new campaign leaflet now makes much of her localism. It points out that she ‘grew up on Cumbria’s west coast,’ and adds that she ‘went to school in Egremont’ and ‘returned to the Lakes frequently’ and now works at the ‘Westmorland General and Furness General Hospitals’.
A local Conservative Party official said: “This is usual election bluster from the Lib Dems. They are obviously very worried about the selection of our candidate.”
Closer to home, all 28 seats on Kendal Town Council are up for grabs, and on Sedbergh Parish Council that total is 11.
Make no mistake voters, the gloves are well and truly off from now until May 7, 2015.
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