Key battles in election 2007

A brief guide to the interesting contests for the late night election junkie.

With an unpopular Government, a new Prime Minister in waiting, a resurgent Conservative Party, the Lib Dems struggling under an ineffective leader and the SNP on the brink of power, these elections promise to be of particular interest.

We should start in Scotland, where the likely victory for the SNP in the Parliamentary elections could represent the next step towards independence (and for those of us watching from south of the border, a step towards permanent Tory domination in England).

The SNP has consistently held its lead in the face of an increasingly frantic Labour campaign. Was it wise for Labour to allow Blair and Brown to lead the negative attacks on the SNP and the prospects for an independent Scotland? A Scotsman poll of polls this week predicted the SNP to be the largest party with 46 seats, still some 19 seats short of what is needed to form a majority.

The most interesting contest will be in Gordon, where Alex Salmond himself is seeking election. Held continuously by the Lib Dems since 1983, currently with a 4,000 majority, it is 18th on the SNP hit list.

The SNP didn’t even manage second place last time, and Salmond will have to outperform the current polls to win this seat (something this charismatic politician is surely capable of doing?).

If Salmond fails to win Gordon, he has a second chance of election as he tops the SNP north-east regional list. But as the SNP already holds four of the nine regional seats, and could win two more – Aberdeen Central and Dundee West – with just a small swing from Labour, the party is unlikely to gain any additional regional seats. So it is possible that the SNP could be the largest party in the new Parliament, but without their leader at their helm!

Other key SNP targets include Glasgow Govan, where Nicola Sturgeon the SNP deputy leader is seeking to overturn a 1,200 Labour majority; David Steel’s old seat, Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, which has a Lib Dem majority of 538; and Galloway and Upper Nithsdale with a Tory majority of 99. The SNP will also expect a repeat of the 2005 Westminster victory over Labour in the Western Isles. A key role could be played by the Greens, who currently hold seven seats. Their poll rating is the most volatile of any party, ranging from 3% to 10%. The better they do, the fewer seats the SNP is likely to win. Lastly, with the local council elections contested for the first time on a proportional representation system, the political map of Scotland is likely to be completely rewritten.

In England, the Tories are riding high in the polls with around 36% of the vote, but they would hope to be attracting nearer 40% and 600+ seats to be on target for a victory at the next general election. They will certainly win swathes of council seats in the South from Labour and the Lib Dems. Some key Tory targets include Dartford, Dover, Maidstone, Gravesham (typical Kent seats that they will need to win at the next general election), Braintree, Brighton, Ipswich and Labour-controlled Plymouth. They will expect to advance in the Midlands, perhaps winning Rugby and Tewkesbury, and making gains in towns like Derby. A bigger challenge for the Tories will be to make gains in the north, where there is very little evidence of a Cameron-led revival. Targets here include Barrow-in-Furness and Bury (and other towns in East Lancashire/West Yorkshire), whilst they will also hope to make some symbolic gains in the northern towns where they currently have no representation, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

In the South and Midlands, the Lib Dems will just be looking to hold off the Conservative challenge by keeping control of South Norfolk and Bournemouth, whilst preventing the Tories winning control of hung councils such as Mid-Suffolk, North Wiltshire, Waverley and Woking, and perhaps taking Northampton. In the North, they will want to retain control of Liverpool, Newcastle and York, and even triumph in the old Labour stronghold of Hull.

Labour did badly in 2003, the last time these seats were fought, so if it loses further ground it will be a truly awful night for the Government. In addition to the seats already mentioned, it is likely to take a battering practically everywhere, losing its last representatives in many Southern councils. Perhaps the most it can hope for is to hold onto its northern heartlands, so it will be desperate to keep control of Blackburn, Bury, Oldham, even though it will take only a small swing for them to become hung.

It could be a good night for the smaller parties. The Greens are putting up a record 1,200+ candidates and will hope to increase their current 91 councillors to over 100. In particular, if the Greens poll strongly in Brighton, where they already have 6 councillors, they could stop the Tories taking control.

The BNP is also fielding a record 750+ candidates and is campaigning in many new areas. In addition to fighting in its traditional working class territory, such as Essex, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, parts of Lancashire, it is seeking to exploit discontent about immigration by taking its message to suburban and rural areas, targeting Torbay, Solihull, Shrewsbury and Harrogate.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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