Blog: Battle lines are drawn for Crawley elections

Results will be announced from 2pm
Results will be announced from 2pm

Crawley Observer chief reporter Karen Dunn takes a look at the nominations for May’s borough elections.

The knives are out, the mud-slinging has started and a few old faces have taken up political arms again – it’s election time.

It’s been said before and it’s worth saying again, politics in Crawley is rarely dull and our elections always spring a surprise or two.

But this year there is an edge to the campaigning which was sharpened during a year from hell for the town’s Conservatives.

Putting aside the controversy which led to the dethroning of former leader Bob Lanzer, and the way in which areas of his private life were paraded in public, the disharmony in the party ranks will have done untold damage.

To lose a councillor to UKIP, closely followed by several non-council party members should have seen those who remained closing ranks and showing a united front.

Instead, they lost arguably the most important vote of the year – the submission of the town’s Local Plan – because one of their own refused to toe the party line and voted against it.

A year ago, this would have been unthinkable.

Every politician has their own ways of convincing people they are the right one to vote for, that they are much better than the other guy.

This is expected by the man in the street. It’s part of the game. But recently, the nasty side of party politics has seen Crawley feature heavily on political gossip sites where UKIP hopefuls have seen their names and characters hauled across the coals in a shroud of accusing anonymity.

Can it be that the 11 candidates standing for election on May 22 have ruffled a few feathers?

Looking at the list of candidates, it’s not hard to work out which wards are valued by which parties.

The loss of both Claire Denman and Lee Burke has left two Pound Hill South & Worth seats up for grabs.

If ever there was a safe seat – or two – for the Tories, it’s Pound Hill. But they are so keen to keep hold of the ward that they have brought back the experienced Beryl Mecrow while leader Howard Bloom has abandoned his Southgate Ward in favour of a nomination there.

The message sent to the people of Southgate is clear – the Tories have given up on them by either defecting to UKIP or leaving all together.

With Liam Marshall-Ascough’s seat not up for election this year, the unknown quantity of Jan Tarrant has been left to fly the blue flag against three people with established track records when it comes to serving the people of Crawley.

Both Lee Gilroy and Raj Sharma have dedicated much of their time to the town’s younger generation – but it is Mike Pickett who may be the one to watch.

Given the soaring popularity and success of the Southgate community forum – of which he is chair – could it be that our town is about to elect its first independent councillor?

When it comes to the chances of the UKIP candidates, the most interesting battle will pit former Tory councillor Alison Burke against deputy mayor Vanessa Cumper in West Green.

The loss of the neighbourhood’s surgery has left many residents feeling let down. Will they choose to elect a new face and, if so, will they edge over to UKIP or aim their trust in a completely different direction.

To do so would either secure Labour a vital win or elect the first Lib Dem councillor for Crawley since the loss of Gordon and Linda Seekings.

Ask any councillor and they will say there is no such thing as a safe seat but, looking at the nominations, there are one or two seats which would lead to raised eyebrows should they change hands.

Peter Lamb, who has guided Labour to new heights since taking over as group leader, should have no trouble holding on to a seat which hasn’t elected a Tory in decades.

Richard Burrett looks unsinkable in Pound Hill North and few can claim to have dedicated as much time to the people they represent as him.

At the end of the day, it is up to the residents of Crawley to decide whether they vote for the party they support at a national level or for the person who wants to represent them closer to home.

Either way, there will be new faces in the town hall on May 23.