How the political land lies

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POLITICALLY a sea of blue stretches from Hambleton to Bleasdale - a sign of the Conservative's strength in rural Wyre.

Throughout the borough's 30-plus years existence the rural area has invariably returned a large majority of Tory councillors to the seat of local government at Poulton-le-Fylde.

Unless there is a political earthquake on May 3 it is a situation which is likely to continue - given the strength of Wyre's grassroots Tories and the relative weakness of Labour and the Lib Dems in Wyre's countryside.

The only non-Tory island in the azure ocean is Catterall/Churchtown where the Lib Dem's only councillor in the whole of Wyre, long-serving Dave Sharples, is even this weekend wondering whether to stand down or stand again.

Even though the energetic Coun Sharples, a former Wyre mayor, is one of the area's best known politicians, the small Lib Dem organisation in the area is known to fear that if he doesn't stand this time his hard work over a generation may not be enough to prompt voters in the two neighbouring villages to support a lesser known Lib Dem candidate.

Without Coun Sharples in the frame the Tory candidate, Val Wilson (currently the area's Tory county councillor), would be in with a strong chance of grabbing Catterall/Churchtown - which would be the biggest story of the 2007 local election.

Fifteen to 20 years ago Garstang was well represented at town and borough level by a strong, progressive,

Liberal/Liberal Focus team of councillors.

In those days local politics were far more cololurful. But a squabble at the top of the Liberal team, and the withdrawal from local politics of respected Liberal activist Peter Herbert, left the party firmly on the fringes.

The Conservatives have more than refilled the vacuum in Garstang - offering a steady approach to local issues, with their two leading personalities, Lady Dulcie Atkins and Tom "Bring Back the Birch" Balmain rarely out of the headlines.

The Labour Party nationally used to have a Militant Tendency; in Garstang and district it appears to have an Invisible Tendency, and looks likely to be fielding only a handful of candidates in eastern Wyre next month.

The Garstang area's two leading Labour members, Stan Harvey (Garstang) and Marilyn Levey (Forton) are understood to be unlikely to be standing, certainly at

borough level.

Mr Harvey, once known for his outspoken letters to The Courier, stood for Labour at borough level at the 2003 municipal poll (failing to be elected) but also stood (on a non-party ticket) for the town council, on which he gained a seat.

The highest profile and best known Labour activist in rural Wyre is June Jackson of Stalmine, who is standing in Hambleton/Stalmine. Her husband, farmer Darryl Jackson, will be standing in Preesall alongside Nic Fogg, who has kept Wyre Council on its toes with his letters to the press asking tough questions about Wyre's initial stance on Canatxx.

The Jacksons and Mr Fogg were early opponents of the Canatxx gas plans, before most rural Wyre Tories joined the anti-Canatxx lobby at the time of the last poll four years ago.

Whether Mrs Jackson's powerbase at Stalmine and her anti-gas store campaining is strong enough to win her a Wyre seat remains to be seen.

Preesall is one of the few rural areas which has, in the past, returned Labour representatives and it will be interesting to see the strength of the Labour vote this time.

One rural seat where there could be upsets for the Tories is Pilling/Winmarleigh, where sitting councillor Don Lawrenson could face a challenge from a Lib Dem candidate with local roots.

Pilling has seen some of the most tumultuous local politics in recent months, with the vexed question of beach access being at the top of the agenda.

It looks as if at least one long-standing political personality, Peter Pimbley, of Out Rawcliffe, is stepping down from Great Eccleston ward. Tories have picked his wife Susan for the ticket, running alongside Alf Coop.

Another Tory change is at Brock, where ex-policeman Pete Murphy will be the Conservative candidate, replacing Roy Harrison, who is stepping down.

Dr Anthony Hesketh has been announced as Tory candidate in Wyresdale ward.

In urban Wyre, Labour is strongest in Fleetwood and Thornton Cleveleys, but is likely to face a tough fight from a Tory pary, energised by its national revival.

Wyre's Labour group suffered a huge shock recently when, following his de-selection for his Fleetwood seat,

ex-mayor Coun Stan Leadbetter, joined the Conservative benches.

At parish level, if the apathy of previous years is anything to go by, traditional will rule, and it is likely only a handful of the 20 town/parish councils will have a poll because there will be fewer candidates than seats or as many candidates as seats.

Garstang Town Council currently has a majority of Conservative members. There has been talk of a string of independents standing, but whether that is "just talk" will be known after the nominations close on Wednesday.

* The Courier will publish a list of all the nominations as soon as they are released by Wyre Council. Polling day is on Thursday, May 3.

* Nomination packs for the borough and parish/town council elections are available from Joanne Porter at Wyre Council, Civic Centre, Poulton. Nomination details for parish/town councils are also available from the relevant parish clerks.