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Parties confident, but defections may mean hard-fought battle too close to call

Solihull News focus on the local council elections on May 22.

Coun Ian Hedley, Coun Ken Meeson and Trevor Eames
Coun Ian Hedley, Coun Ken Meeson and Trevor Eames
 

* Lib Dem leader Ian Hedley said the upcoming elections are “too close to call” after four of his party members defected in three years.

Four Liberal Democrat members have left the party to join the Greens since 2011 over decisions taken by the party nationally. It leaves the Lib Dems with nine seats, just two ahead of the Greens.

The Tories remain the ruling party of Solihull Council, with 28 councillors.

Coun Ian Hedley admitted that compromises made as part of the Coalition Government could affect their vote but warned there was also a risk that the defectors’ supporters would not follow them to the Green party.

“This is probably the openest election I’ve ever been part of,” he said.

“There is a risk on the Green side as well as the Lib Dem side. Only the ballot box will tell.

“The raising of the bottom tax threshold, the change in pensions, and the pupil premium; we have achieved a lot but there are some things that some of my colleagues don’t want to accept.

“In order to get some of the really good things we have done, we have had to accept other things we really wouldn’t have liked to have done.”

* But the leader of the Conservative Group in Solihull, Coun Ken Meeson, was “confident” of his party’s success.

“We’re quite confident we will do well this election but you never can predict a result.

“Last year it was predicted the Conservatives would lose seats across the country and be pretty much wiped out. In fact, it went the other way.

“We lost a seat but we’ve been gaining seats in the Shirley area and now we’ve got the majority there.

“It’s difficult to know just how much interest there is in the European Elections.

“The interest tends to come and go depending if there’s been something highly controversial about a European policy in the media.

“But in local elections people do vote for the person if they know them well.”

* Independent Ratepayer Trevor Eames was also positive his party would win another seat, and hopeful it could be third time lucky for himself as he stood for election in Shirley East ward.

He previously had two failed bids in Shirley South.

“We’re pretty confident we’ll get an extra member in this election,” he said. “We came in second place in Meriden last time.

Coun David Jamieson, Coun Andy Hodgson and Debbie Evans
Coun David Jamieson, Coun Andy Hodgson and Debbie Evans
 

“Our councillor Linda Brown has proved immensely popular and changed a lot of things on the ground. I think she has helped pave the way.

“We think we’ll also do quite well in the European elections where they don’t have a UKIP member.

“I’m never confident about me, but this is my third attempt so you never know.”

* Road safety, unemployment and improving training for young people will be at the top of Labour’s campaigning list.

Leader of the local Labour group Coun David Jamieson said not enough is currently being done to tackle youth unemployment in the borough and his party would focusing on making sure more young people had specialist training to secure jobs when they leave school. “There is still a high proportion of 18 to 25-year-olds who are unemployed and this is simply unacceptable,” Coun Jamieson, who is hoping to retain his seat in the Kingshurst and Fordbridge ward at the forthcoming elections, said.

“There are huge opportunities in Solihull for employment like HS2 and Jaguar Land Rover but to keep local jobs for local people we need to invest more in training people for these type of jobs.”

Labour have a candidate standing in each ward in Solihull and despite only currently holding six of the seats on the council, Coun Jamieson said he remains ‘hopeful’ the party will regain some of the seats.

“David Cole, the candidate for Smith’s Wood, is proving himself to be a first class candidate. He’s the chairman of Kingshurst Parish Council, he’s experienced and he’s local through and through. He has been getting some great feedback on the doorstep.”

* Debbie Evans, the UKIP candidate for Kingshurst & Fordbridge says: “I’m passionate about the north of the borough and the people of Kingshurst and Fordbridge – they have been let down enough.”

Debbie is standing against the incumbent Solihull councillor David Jamieson (Labour and Co-op).

Previously a Conservative councillor, the outspoken candidate decided to join UKIP after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Tories.

She told the Solihull News: “With the Conservatives you had to toe the party line but in UKIP it’s about freedom of speech and I wanted to stand up freely without the shackles and represent my residents.”

“It’s the poorest ward in the borough and I believed the Conservatives were hitting locals too hard and too fast. I do feel confident – I’ve been delivering leaflets and people have come up to me and said ‘you’ve got my vote already!’

“We’ve lost a tremendous amount of council accommodation and ordinary people here can’t afford to buy a house – we need more rented council accomodation. “

Talking about UKIP’s often controversial policies Ms Evans said: “UKIP want to control the amount of people coming into the country, not stop them full stop.”

* Solihull’s local Green Party will become one of the largest in the country if it wins more than the seven seats it currently holds.

The Green Party is defending just one seat, long-standing Shirley South councillor Andy Hodgson, who defected from the Liberal Democrats two years ago. His son Tim Hodgson is eyeing up the Shirley West seat.

In the North of Solihull the party hopes to take their third seats in Smith’s Wood and Chelmsley Wood, where they would hold all three seats for the first time.

Coun Hodgson (Green, Shirley South) said: “The Green Party is growing fast in Solihull while the Lib Dems and Labour continue their decline. But the Conservatives still have a big majority on the council and most probably will retain control after May 22.

“The key choice facing voters at these elections is do they want a strong opposition party councillor to speak up for them on the Conservative council?

“What we are offering is real opposition to hold the council to account, ensuring people are put before politics.”

 

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