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Comment: One way or another, the next MP may be down to Dorothy
Watford Labour emerged from last week’s election count in a triumphant mood.
It made three gains on the borough council, in Callowland and Leggatts, and came second in the mayoral race. This, the party said, was visible progress.
However the Liberal Democrats were also pleased with their work. Mayor Thornhill retained the mayoralty with a comfortable majority for the fourth time in a row and the party’s core vote held in Watford.
This resilience stands out considering the drubbing the Lib Dems suffered elsewhere in the country. It was also a similar case in Three Rivers where the Liberal Democrats remained comfortably in charge of the council following all-out elections and ward boundary changes.
As attention now moves to Watford’s tight parliamentary race, this Lib Dem durability could prove the most significant insight from last week’s elections.
Next year, Labour is hoping to recapture the parliamentary seat from Conservative MP Richard Harrington. To do this, they will need to regain a sizeable portion of the votes the Liberal Democrats took from them in 2005 and 2010.
This reflects the party’s national “35 per cent strategy”, where Ed Miliband is banking on there being enough defections from the Liberal Democrats nationally to bolster his vote to the relatively slender vote share needed for a Labour majority.
Tony Blair’s majority in 2005 was based on Labour winning 35 per cent of the vote. Likewise Mr Harrington is hoping the Lib Dem vote holds up enough to help him see off Labour next May.
That’s why the most important intervention in the parliamentary race could come in the next few weeks as Mayor Thornhill mulls over her future. She was pushed into saying before the mayoral vote that she was undecided about running for Parliament in 2015.
If she does run, she clearly still has a considerable ability to mobilise the Lib Dems’ sizeable base in the town. Her decision either way could be a crucial factor in deciding who is Watford’s MP next year.
Watford's political map after last week's elections.
Meanwhile, last Friday was a disappointing day for UKIP. Elsewhere in the country the insurgency party enjoyed unprecedented successes and topped the national vote in the European elections.
But again in Watford and Three Rivers the purple surge fizzled out as the results came in. The party came third in the mayoral race and just beat the Conservatives into missing out on the wooden spoon.
Their average vote share across the borough was around 15 per cent – pretty much the same as last year in the county council elections. UKIP also failed to top the European elections in the town, coming second behind Labour.
Yet most importantly it failed to make a breakthrough in the borough elections and take a seat. This was the real test of UKIP’s electoral mettle in the town and they came away empty handed.
It was the Greens in Watford who had the worst time of it.
The party lost two of its three seats on the council in Callowland. In the last two years it has lost three quarters of its holdings in the town, when you add in the Leggatts and Callowland county council seat it lost to Labour last year.
Labour was jubilant as it swept up both seats available in the ward on Friday. Yet a closer look at the election results shows their success appears to have been partly down to a sharp collapse in the Green vote share, which slumped by more than half.
The party has often won impressive majorities with more than 50 per cent of the vote in Callowland, turning the ward into a resilient Green bastion in the heart of Watford.
But on Friday, that bastion was stormed by Labour leaving the Greens a potentially fatally wounded force in Watford.
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