How we use Cookies

Journey into unknown on election day

CRUCIAL council elections this May are almost impossible to predict and Hynd-burn's political parties are already preparing their machines for what could be a highly unusual fight.

CRUCIAL council elections this May are almost impossible to predict and Hynd-burn's political parties are already preparing their machines for what could be a highly unusual fight.

There are so many unknown factors that all the usual calculations will be virtually useless in predicting the outcome, especially as the council is already on a knife edge, with Labour having a single seat advantage.

This year will be the first time just one seat in 12 of 16 wards is up for grabs and, in most wards that will mean a straight fight between Labour and Tory.

As part of a government pilot scheme the election will be carried out completely through postal voting and experience elsewhere suggests that could increase turnout from the dismal 35.8 per cent last year to around 50 per cent.

At the same time postal voting last year was blamed for hundreds of ballot papers being declared "spoiled" as voters failed to follow correct procedures.

This week Hyndburn's Chief Executive Mike Chambers said this year voting would be made simpler to cut spoilt votes and special anti-fraud measures were being introduced.

Each ballot paper will be barcoded and scanned into a computer to catch anyone attempting to vote twice. And 10 per cent of voters will be contacted after the election to make sure they actually did vote.

Mr Chambers said: "Under the experimental arrangements for this year's election the process will be much simpler.''

High turnouts are usually reckoned to favour Labour and some Tories believe the postal voting errors last year cost them control of the council.

The far right British National Party has already declared its intention to stand and Huncoat has been pinpointed as one of its Hyndburn targets. If it stands in one or more wards it may well erode the traditional Labour vote more than the Tory.

The absence of Labour Leader Ian Ormerod from the fray, following his slight stroke before Christmas, may have an impact on Labour if his return is delayed beyond next month, which now looks likely.

Predictably, Labour Party Chairman Jean Battle is confident of staying in power and Conservative Leader Peter Britcliffe is predicting a return to power after what he describes as "a 12-month sabbatical.''

The battle will be fought in just a few key wards. In Barnfield, where sitting Labour member Wendy Dwyer's seat is up for grabs, there was just a 59-vote overall Conserv-ative majority last year based on both seats being available and it is a prime Tory target.

In Central, where Tory Saddique Kazi finds his seat at risk, there was an overall 149-vote majority for Labour last year when both seats were available. It is a prime Labour target but Peter Britcliffe claims to be confident of holding on.

The Conservatives' other targets are Clayton, where Labour is vulnerable if the Independent candidate stands again, Milnshaw and, optimistically Altham.

In addition to Central, Labour will be targeting Immanuel, where the Tories have a 125 vote majority, Rishton and, on a good day, Overton.

The political battleground will depend to a considerable extent on whether or not the BNP stand, and in how many seats. Labour's Jean Battle admits it is tactically difficult to fight the right-wingers but believes councillors' growing contacts with voters will be a key factor.

She said: "We need to convince voters that were are willing to listen and we are doing everything possible to help them.''

Councillor Britcliffe said: "We will be fighting on our policies and we will put up first class candidates in every ward."

With or without the BNP he believes local issues will decide the day and is already highlighting more money on rubbish disposal, keeping council tax low and fighting to keep care homes open as key policy planks.

Both parties will be selecting their candidates for the 12 seats in the coming few weeks and there may be a few surprises.

There are also those who predict that, following the election, one or both parties may find themselves with new leaders.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist