Monday, 3 May 2010

A Look @: Cleveland

The Cleveland area covers four Councils and six Parliamentary Constituencies. At least, from my point of view, the 6 seats fit quite nicely within the local government boundaries; the exception being the Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East Constituency. This post will contain the seats from Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland.



Notional Majority

Swing Needed



Stockton South

Dari Taylor




CON Gain

Stockton North

Frank Cook




LAB Hold


Iain Wright




LAB Hold


Stuart Bell




LAB Hold


Vera Baird




LAB Hold

M'boro S & Cleveland E

Ashok Kumar




LAB Hold


Stockton-on-Tees is currently under no overall control. Labour are the largest group with 22 of the 56 seats and the Conservatives have 13. There is also a great deal of support for local independents here with a few independent groups holding 13 seats between them. Stockton South was won by Dari Taylor off the Conservative incumbent in 1997 and with a majority of almost 6000 votes she'd normally be considered safe. However, this election isn't normal and although national opinion polls are only showing a 4% LAB>CON currently Taylor should be worried. The regional swing and marginal swing appear to be higher than this and if you factor in any backlash resulting from Taylor claiming almost £20,000 for food this is looking like a close contest. On top of that, Labour only hold one council seat in this constituency compared to the Tories' nine. James Wharton is their candidate and as his party don't have any other targets in this area they should be campaigning hard here. It'll be tight, but I think this will switch; Tory Gain.

Stockton North is slight worry for Labour. Frank Cook has represented this seat since it was created in 1983 and he's standing again this year, only this time as an Independent. This was after they'd deselected the 74 year old in favour of a younger candidate. Realistically, Labour's new candidate Alex Cunningham should end up miles ahead of Cook, and any of the other candidates for that matter; Labour Hold.

Labour lost control of Hartlepool council in 2008 but this wasn't as a result of a massive decline in support. They've dropped from 25 to 23 councillors in the 48 seat council since the last election, so there hasn't been a lot of movement. Considering Hartlepool's MP Iain Wright has a pretty large majority I don't think he'll be too worried. He won his seat in a 2004 by-election following Peter Mandleson's appointment to the EU as Trade Commissioner. Wright was initially caught up on the expenses scandal as questions were raised over claims for a second home he'd yet to buy. This might help the Lib Dem candidate Reg Clark shave a bit of Wright's majority, but I don't there will be a gain here; Labour Hold.

Middlesbrough is another council which saw very little movement in their council elections this Parliament. Their 2007 election was for the whole 48 seat council yet Labour only lost a couple of seats and they currently have a small majority with 26 Councillors. Middlesbrough MP Sir Stuart Bell has defended MPs over the way the expenses scandal has played out, but this hasn't always gone down well. Of course, Bell will only care about what his constituents think of him, and they'll almost certainly return him; Labour Hold.

The Redcar constituency is wholly inside the Redcar and Cleveland unitary authority boundaries. In the 2007 elections Labour gained 6 seats but they were unable to secure a majority on the council with 28 of the 59. Labour have held this seat since its creation in 1974 but this has become a surprise target for the Liberal Democrats. Vera Baird was first elected here in 2001 and her 12000 vote majority should be pretty comfortable. But the Lib Dems are becoming stronger in this constituency, scoring three by-election victories here since 2007 and they now have as many councillors elected from within this seat as Labour. Baird herself has managed a somewhat high profile this Parliament but for all the wrong reasons. First she had to apologise for criticising a judge for getting the sentencing 'wrong' when they had in fact followed the guidelines. Then her expenses were under scrutiny, in particular her attempts to claim for Christmas decorations and metal wall sculpture. Finally, she enjoyed some bad press over a dog fouling incident that resulted in a 'row'. On top of all this there is the contentious issue of the Redcar steel plant, which is to be mothballed. All in all it is not good news for Labour but with such a large majority Baird must hang on, surely?! Without some news on the ground I'm taking the safe option but I think this will be surprisingly close; Labour Hold…perhaps!

It didn't feel right striking through Ashok Kumar's name. The Labour MP had served Middlesbrough as an elected official for over twenty years before his unexpected death two months ago. The popular Kumar would have almost certainly held his Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East seat on Thursday but voters are generally not very sentimental and Labour will have to work hard to ensure they win here. This seat is fairly evenly split between the Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland council boundaries and Labour outnumber the Conservatives in council seats within this constituency. But despite the largish majority and the councillor advantage local issues are going to complicate their campaign here. Tom Blenkinsop has been hastily deployed as the Labour candidate and he'll be up against Paul Bristow for the Conservatives. The Tories fall short on current national and regional swings but if they can tap into the anger over the steel plant closure this could get very close. Again, I'm sticking with the safe bet but comments are welcomed, nay - encouraged! Labour Hold.


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