Until October last year the bulk of my political activism was in Harrogate and North Yorkshire. A huge swath of blue, with a few spots of yellow.
But Harrogate and North Yorkshire have not always been so fruitless for Labour. True, Harrogate Borough has not seen a Labour councillor since the excellent Andy Wright lost his Knaresborough seat in 2002. Also true is that at the last County elections four years ago the Labour delegation to County Hall was reduced to just one solitary councillor in Selby, Brian Marshall.
|North Yorkshire County Council Composition 1997-2009|
|Sources: BBC News (2009) and North Yorkshire LibDems (2001).|
However, in no small part due to the resilliance of the County Party (or Local Government Committee, or Local Campiagn Forum as we are now required to call it!) organised by the fantastic Roy Hutchings, this year the ONLY party to be fielding candidates in ALL 72 seats being contested for North Yorkshire County Council is the Labour Party.
In true-blue North Yorkshire, Labour are standing in 72 out of 72 seats. The Tories have managed 71, the Greens a respectable (for their size) 25 along with the usual 30 or so Independents. But, the other story in North Yorkshire must be the collapse of the opposition. The LibDems have managed to find candidates in less than half the seats, just 35 out of 72. Even UKIP can find 46 candidates.
Fellow activists will know what the majority of voters will never know – the reality of fielding candidates in majority Tory or LibDem areas. First, finding members to put their name forward can be difficult. But the hardest job, especially in a rural authority like North Yorkshire is collecting the nomination signatures. Having done this almost single-handily in Harrogate Borough for a couple of years in the past; I congratulate all involved in North Yorkshire. It is the sign of a party on the rise and enthused when you can relax on nominations day knowing that every vacancy has been filled. Conversely, parties that fail in this are sending a message out that they are deflated, disillusioned and are lacking in members and organisational structure. I have long championed the need for Labour to field a candidate in every vacancy and at every election, and I am delighted that we have done it this year.
North Yorkshire is often written off for Labour, but there are pockets of strong support, not least in Scarborough and Selby but also Knaresborough and even some wards in Harrogate. Thirsk has also returned a Labour county councillor within the last 12 years. It is worth noting too that both the 1993 and 1997 elections saw the Tories in a minority administration and a sizeable contingent of Labour councillors. With the LibDems in apparent meltdown in the County, by standing a candidate for every vacancy Labour are sending a clear message to the voters of North Yorkshire: you can vote Labour here, Labour can win here, Labour are the only serious alternative to this government of Tories and LibDems.
For the Tories in North Yorkshire, 2013 should produce few shocks. They will retain control of the Council. UKIP may perform well in some divisions, but are unlikely to unseat many (if any) Tories. Labour are in a strong position to take back seats in Scarborough and Selby that were lost in 2009, and perhaps a few others lost since 2001. The big losers will be the LibDems. Despite their national poll ratings, they should be looking to hold onto their seats in North Yorkshire. They face a huge challenge in Harrogate, where they won Oatlands division against the odds in 2009 and also in Knaresborough where a strong Labour challenge could oust the remaining LibDem in that market town. LibDems ought to wake up on 3rd May with their status as the second largest party at County Hall – if they don’t then these elections will have been the biggest disaster in their history within North Yorkshire.