Editor’s blog: why the local elections in Reading are going to be a fascinating contest to watch

On Thursday, May 22, millions of us will vote. And on Sunday, May 25, all over Europe, millions more will do the same. The reason? The European Elections. But it’s not the only show in town.

There are borough elections taking place in Wokingham, Woodley and Reading. Parish elections are also being held in parts of the Thames Valley, including Swallowfield, Wargrave and Remenham.

If you live in Bracknell Forest, Henley or West Berkshire, you can relax: there are only European candidates to vote for.

Reading’s contest is particularly interesting: it has several wards where the balance of power could shift depending on numerous factors. In 2010, it did leading to the coaliation between Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, only to see it end when Labour won seats back from the opposition in 2011, and finally regaining overall control in the last elections, back in 2012.

In it, the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed and the party fell to fourth largest in overall votes cast.

Across the borough, the party polled 3,406 votes compared to the Green Party’s 3,787.

In 2011, the position was different as the Lib Dems polls 5,719 (13% of the vote) compared to the Greens 4,999 (11.2%).

It’s hard to know if this is a like-for-like comparison as the 2011 poll saw a higher turn out due to the Alternative Vote referendum – Reading was one of the few areas to vote in favour of the scheme.

Reading’s Green vote is interesting for a number of reasons: across the borough it’s growing slightly but it is in Park Ward, which had been a Labour stronghold, that it has its powerbase. All three of its seats are Green, having switched from Labour over the past three elections.

Rob White is up for re-election and the resignation of Melanie Eastwood has forced a by-election, so there are two Green seats that Labour and the Conservatives have their eyes on.

In the last election, nearly 9 in 10 votes (87%!) in Park went to either Labour or the Green Party, so it’s a very left-leaning part of the Borough.

In 2012, UKIP, which is going into the European Elections with a strong showing in national opinion polls, only achieved 220 votes across the borough in the last council elections; they didn’t stand in 2011, so we can’t compare to then.

What will happen to the share of their vote locally? It’s entirely possible that it will follow the national trend and see the party steal votes from the others – but it’s fair to say that the Conservatives are more likely to see their fortunes decline at the ballot box as a result of UKIP’s challenge.

It could mean that tightly contested seats, including Peppard where Indpendent Mark Ralph is standing in a seat where there is a two-way tussle between him and the Conservative candidate means that every vote counts and if there is a swing away from the Conservatives to UKIP, it could see the Independent take victory.

In the last election, Labour came third in Peppard, with nearly half the votes of Jamie Chowdhary (Independent, now deceased). Lib Dems wre fourth with 297 and the Greens had 210.

Another wildcard in this election is the demise of the Common Sense Party: Howard Thomas is this time standing as UKIP. He has made little headway with the voters but the party has been prolific letter writers to a local newspaper and used its columns to announce the switch.

There are other independent candidates standing. Jean-Louis Pascual will be once again asking voters in Battle Ward to join the Roman Party Ave! and hoping to improve on his 42 votes from last time.

In Whitley, Jamie Wake will be standing as an independent in Whitley. He says: ” I stand as an Independent Candidate as it means that I am not subject to any party politics. I feel that I could can genuinely meet the needs of local residents rather than the needs of a political party.”

He is standing against Labour’s incumbent Rachel Eden. Nicholas Brown for the Conservatives, Keith Johnson for the Greens and Janel Blattler for the Lib Dems.

John Dickson is an independent in Thames Ward, while Silvia Vousden is standing for the Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts in Caversham and the party’s only local candidate.

For the full list of candidates standing in Reading Borough Council’s elections, click here.

To help make choosing from the candidates easier, we’ve compiled a brilliant guide that allows you to see the candidates standing in every ward. They have written a brief statement and you can compare and contrast their promises ahead of polling day.

At the time of writing, approximately half of the candidates have responded; we’ve found it very difficult to track some of them down, particularly UKIP which has no local online presence, nor a national press office.

Xn aims to be impartial in its coverage – we have a wide of views among the team. But be assured of the best local coverage in the run-up to polling day.

Now, don’t forget to vote!