So a big night all round in Reading. I take my hat off to the senior Conservative councillor who predicted correctly to me the way 15 out of the 16 seats would go last week (he got Tilehurst wrong). I certainly wasn't expecting all of these results. I was expecting an increased vote share for 'AN Other' and similar seat results to last year: instead the key message is Labour has done very well indeed but turnout has been disappointing while the Conservatives have arguably had an even worse time than the Liberal Democrats locally.
Out of 16 seats up for election a combination of seats changing hands and retirements means there are 10 new councillors (although 2 are returning after time away), which I think will mean quite a different mood in the council, as well as Labour now having overall control.
Below is a blow by blow debrief of my views. Overly detailed perhaps but I wanted to get this off my chest today. As is always the case this is my personal opinion, indeed the Labour group haven't had a chance to absorb the results properly yet - quite a few of them are meeting for lunch today, but I decided to have a quiet day, catch up on casework this morning, play with last night's numbers and pop into work for a couple of hours this afternoon.
The results have been trailed a lot elsewhere and the best place to look for the detail is the Reading Council spreadsheet.
The key points for me by party from what I imagine to be the most disappointed group to least disappointed:
Conservatives: It was pretty much a disaster for them in Reading last night: failing to win a single ward in the West Reading constituency, failing to win a single ward "South of the River"; winning 3 out of 16 seats across the borough, one of them single member Mapledurham. Whichever way you cut it it wasn't good news for them.
I think they can be glad that their key manifesto pledge of all out elections hasn't been implemented - it would mean in an all out election they would have just 7 councillors out of 46! As it stands they are left with 12, although newly independent Cllr Mark Ralph still describes himself as having Conservative principles.
Something the two Conservative MPs can take comfort in is that their constituencies contain quite large parts of West Berkshire and Wokingham respectively so it doesn't mean automatic meltdown for them at a general election. Perhaps however they will take the message that negatively attacking Labour and every decision we make in the council at every opportunity doesn't appear to be a vote winner and will consider starting to work constructively with us on issue that matter for the town as a whole. Leader Tim Harris said "a little worse" than expected.
Liberal Democrats: avoided a repeat of last year through being able to hold on to the seat in Tilehurst the Conservatives were hoping to gain. However further falls in their vote share across the rest of town and the loss of the two seats up for election in Redlands and Katesgrove, with further swings away from them to Labour in those previous strongholds means it's hard to see a way back for them as a major force in Reading any time soon. They will be glad however to remain the 3rd party on the council and as their Redlands and Katesgrove councillors were stepping down they avoided councillors actually 'losing their seats'. Leader Daisy Benson was in fairly good spirits last night.
Independents/Small parties: not a good night for them in Reading overall, surprising to me as I thought the national 'anti-politics' mood should have helped them. The best result was for newly independent Jamie Chawdhary, a special circumstance if ever there was one, while the next best result was I think for UKIP who received just under 10% of the vote in Tilehurst (haven't done the number crunching but if I'm wrong I'm sure someone will be along to correct me).
Greens: The bulk of their energy was focused on Park ward, and obviously they will be as delighted with their win as I am disappointed. However looking at the rest of town on the numbers I would find it hard to see what other seat they could target, they will be disappointed to have received the low vote shares they did in wards where they might have hoped to become a serious force. Ever the optimist however leader Rob White was however very positive and said he was glad to have taken some 3rd places.
Labour: Regardless of whether you think it was deserved I think it was clear we had the best night of any party winning 11 seats, this was well ahead of our expectations and would mean 33 out of 46 in an all out election. We now hold 26 seats and have overall control. We were however very disappointed with the Park ward result, where we had an excellent candidate (see below). Our vote shares in the other seats we already had at least one councillor were all over 50% and in three wards were well over 60%, the sort of result that we don't often see in Reading. Jo Lovelock reminded us that Kentwood and Caversham results were as good as in 1997 and pledged to continue to engage with and consult with the public.
Stay at home: In my view everyone's a loser when this option wins. It's not entirely fair to compare to last year as the referendum boosted turnout but it would be interesting to see a comparison with, say 2008. My suspicion is that turnout is a little lower than even that. Of course the weather will also have had an impact but it's my strong belief that we need to start working now on encouraging residents to be voters. I don't agree with the view that if you don't vote you can't complain - of course you can, although voting is more effective! I do though believe that ensuring that voters believe it is worth their while to vote is essential. I may post on this at a future date. I was glad to see Ed Milliband focusing on this in his TV interview earlier
Now on to thoughts ward by ward. I've ignored spoilt ballot papers in calculating my numbers and they are 'back of envelope' so may not be totally accurate.
Liberal Democrat hold:
Tilehurst was a hold with a seat for new Councillor Meri O'Connell but importantly for them reversing the result from last year when the Conservatives took it. The majority of 293 appears relatively strong - talking to retiring councillor Peter Beard I think they were delighted with the result. My guess is that the result reflects both hard work and the fact that nationally the Liberal Democrats have faired better when up against Conservative opponents.
In Mapledurham, which is a ward that has a single councillor, Cllr Isabel Ballsdon was expected to hold this seat very easily and the landslide result was no surprise. It had the biggest percentage turnout although smallest vote as it is a 1 member ward.
Thames, the ward that she had previously represented was held by new Conservative councillor Ed Hopper, very much a solid Tory hold.
Peppard was the most 'exciting' of the Conservative holds. I had a good chat with Mrs Chawdhary and we agreed her that regardless of the result Jamie Chawdhary would be able to walk away feeling like a winner. In the end perhaps the shortness of the period of him acting as an independent, the strong traditional Conservative support in Peppard and perhaps also a Liberal Democrat candidate with a similar surname meant that Janet Stamford-Beale, another new Conservative councillor was elected.
Park ward was a really disappointing result for Labour as Rachael Chrisp would be an absolutely outstanding councillor for both Park ward and the borough as a whole. Of thin comfort is that she and the dedicated Park team managed to increase the Labour vote share by 8% although the swing from the Greens to Labour was smaller with a squeeze on the Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote meaning that the Greens also saw an increase in vote share by 3%.
Minster ward: 59% of the vote to new Councillor Liz Terry, who has already shown her ability and insight at group meetings. She ran a great campaign and 59% in a so called 'marginal' speaks for itself. A Labour hold as Cllr Deborah Watson was stepping down due to a change in her work role.
Whitley ward: 65% of vote to amazing ward colleague and lead Councillor for Adult care Mike Orton. He was remarkably calm all day and it's a great result for Whitley residents. Not much more to say about the Whitley result, apart from that means I am now the Whitley councillor elected with the smallest share of the vote, although - as Cllr Paul Woodward pointed out - 'that was in 2010'.
Southcote ward: 65% of vote to our wonderful Mayor Debs Edwards. No shock there at all, a hugely popular representative for Southcote, but again given this was a serious Conservative target only 2 years ago it shows real strength.
Battle ward: 55% of the vote for our kind and gentlemanly Deputy Mayor Gul Khan. Well deserved, a real champion for Battle ward and very well known and trusted across the town.
Norcot: Leader of the council Jo Lovelock held her seat with a phenomenal 69% of the vote. A testament to how hard she works and well liked she is in the ward. She's taken the Labour group through opposition and minority control but never let it get in the way of being a top ward councillor - felt right that she would get the highest vote share of the night.
Abbey: a Labour hold for Deputy Leader and Abbey's long serving champion Tony Page with 59% of the vote. A very good result in what was a Tory target in 2010, again a strong and committed campaign. I think former Deputy Leader of the Council Liberal Democrat Kirsten Bayes was privately realistic in assessing her chances here and really stood for 'old times sake'.
Katesgrove: We had expected to take a second seat in this ward, and returning Councillor Rose Williams, a former Mayor, was duely elected but the surprise for me was the change in vote shares. She received 56% of the vote with a swing from the Liberal Democrats of 9% meaning they are now down to at 16% vote share and only 20 votes ahead of the Conservative candidate. It was an 'ouch' moment for them and shows Rose and the team have been effective out and about in the ward.
Redlands: Another former Mayor and returning Councillor Tony Jones, took the first seat to change hands on the night with 52%. He ran a highly effective and determined campaign and thoroughly deserved a further swing from the Liberal Democrats, of 6% following on from the phenomenal vote that he helped to campaign for last year. He will be a strong representative for Redlands ward.
Church: New Councillor Eileen Mcelligott - elected with 51% of the vote unseating Cllr Azam Janjua. We had expected this to be a tight election as this year the Conservatives had not been complacent and had an incumbent councillor. However looking at the numbers there was a small swing to Labour of 2%. This masks a squeeze in the smaller parties' votes with the Labour share up by 5% and the Conservative share also up by 1%. Eileen will be a top notch Councillor for Church ward and now with two hard working Labour councillors in that ward I hope long gone will be the days when residents in Church contact me because they don't know who their own councillor is.
Kentwood: New Councillor Dayapal Singh elected with 47% of the vote unseating Cllr Emma Warman. A real surprise here and a swing of 9%. A great result and even one Conservative councillor said he felt that the work that Dayapal has put in showed such commitment he 'almost' felt he should get it. Dayapal had great support from his family and I know he will be a committed councillor and do all he can to serve Kentwood.
Caversham: This had to be the shock of the night and a couple of people in tears (certain committed Labour activists not Conservatives: departing Cllr Dave Luckett behaved impeccably). New Councillor Richard Davies, elected with a 49% vote share on a swing of 13%. Again, the smaller parties were squeezed here: although the Conservative vote share fell by 8% Labour was up by nearly 18%. I had been hearing good things from 'north of the river' the last few weeks and we knew the Conservatives were concerned. When I popped up on Tuesday it was to help with a particular set of issues so it was hard to get a true feel. I think an energetic campaign by a small committed group of activists, along with a really good candidate has to be a big part of this result. They ran a very positive campaign emphasing why Richard will be an excellent councillor.
In other good news nationally "The BNP may face electoral meltdown".
Please do feel free to comment and add your interpretation on the results, but please no abuse about any candidate, councillor or party. None of them deserves that the day after the night before!