There's going to be a Labour Party hustings on Nov 23rd to decide their candidate for the next election, which we know will take place in May 2015, which makes for a lengthy and convoluted campaigning process. Currently, there are four hats in the ring, three of which could reasonably be described as strong.
Keighley/Ilkley is an interesting seat (hence why I'm writing about it, when I actually live a few hundred yards inside of Shipley's boundaries!). It's not an extreme bellwether, but broadly moves with the mood of the nation, going Labour in '64, '74, and '97 and to the Tories in 2010. The two townships dominate, of course, with a strong Labour majority in Keighley and a strong Tory one in Ilkley and surrounding villages. The trick is to pick up enough votes in the 'other half' to get a majority. And sometimes strong characters can help. I'd be willing to bet Ann Cryer got a fair few Ilkley votes because of her image, especially when she started banging on about immigration and forced marriage. And this tendency to look for strong MPs was, I felt, one of the reasons Karl Poulsen failed in 2005--not enough respect from the Ilkley twin-set and pearls brigade.
However, where once a brick with a red rosette would win Keighley votes and a paving-slab with a blue one would win Ilkley votes, things have grown more complicated. The Muslim population in and around Keighley itself, up to 25% of the populace, can't be taken for granted for Labour in the way it once could. The Iraq War's still fresh in the memory, and the rise (and then fall) of the Respect Party provided another outlet for Muslim votes.
Meanwhile, while the LibDem support has been growing over past elections (probably not likely to be reflected in 2015), fourth and fifth parties have also made themselves known. The BNP has put up candidates of the stature of Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, and picked up 5-10% of votes cast, presumably mostly from the white proletariat and lumpenproletariat of Keighley (though when the BNP address lists were published, there were a few members in Ilkley and surrounds). BNP schisms and splits possibly make them less strong for 2015, and there has been less coverage of the racial issues that spark off their support. However, there are a solid 2,000 or more far-right votes across the town.
Meanwhile, over the other side of the Moor, Ilkley Tory votes will be split by UKIP. Likely candidate (giving his frenetic letter-writing to the Gazette) is Paul Latham. They lack a strong ground-organization, and Latham is given to sometimes difficult-to-understand-the-relevance-of rants. Key will be whether they can get some councillors in before the general election, to improve their profile and give them a base from which to work. Nevertheless, 2-4,000 votes aren't unlikely, unless Farage implodes.
All of which makes it crucial that Labour pick the right candidate. Shore up the traditional votes, see off the threat from the extreme right and appeal to enough Ilkley-ites, to pull a coalition together.
National issues we all know. The economy keeps expanding, unemployment keeps falling, a late 2014 tax cut, the Tories win. Bit of a no-brainer.
But local issues will play a part. Housing's going to be near the top of the agenda I would have thought for Ilkley. Bradford's council have just agreed a new Local Development Plan that will see 800 new houses built around Ilkley and 200 in Addingham. Bradford's Labour leaders are spinning this as slashing their previous proposals, but, still, it's not going to be popular. We're not NIMBYs exactly, but services are already strained. Schools are massively over-subscribed, IGS is way too big (and don't mention the sell-off of the Middle School site). So a Labour council will be imposing new building. Not going to play well. Except, possibly, to developers (what, you thought they might be 'affordable' houses? In Ilkley that means<£500,000).
Of course, the local Tory MP is, since the last re-shuffle, the Minister for Housing. So that's another twist to the debate.
So Labour will have to pick carefully. Last time out they had an All Woman shortlist. They've abandoned that this time, so we have three men and one woman standing. More details on them in the next post....