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Essential guide to: Kent County Council elections 2017

PUBLISHED: 09:41 04 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:42 04 May 2017

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Everything you need to know about the vote on May 4

Almost a year on from the last time the county flocked to polling stations to cast their vote in the EU referendum, election fever will soon be sweeping Kent once again.

This time, it will be to elect our representatives on Kent County Council, in elections that are often considered a reasonable yardstick for the political picture on a national scale.

So before you head to the polls on Thursday, May 4, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about the election.

What is Kent County Council?

Kent has a three-tier system of local government: at the bottom are town and parishes, then there are 12 district and borough councils and on top of them all, one large county council.

These authorities all have different powers and responsibilities, with KCC being the biggest, and in control of things like education, transport and social services across the county, while it also sets the level of council tax we pay.

At this election, voters will choose a total of 81 councillors, down from 84 following a boundary review, to represent their own area of Kent.

Medway Council, however, is a unitary authority and completely independent from KCC, so no councillors will be elected from that area of the county on the day.

Voters in Medway will not take to the polls until May 2019.

Who is currently in charge?

The Conservative party currently governs KCC, as it has done for as long as many of us can remember.

Led by Paul Carter since 2005, the group cruised to victory last time out in 2013 with a total of 45 seats, though its majority was heavily slashed by Ukip, which is now the main party of opposition on the council with 17 members.

Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are also represented on a smaller scale.

How are the winners decided?

Councillors are elected using the First Past the Post system, much like how MPs are chosen in general elections.

In most areas, you vote for one candidate and the candidate with the most votes is elected.

However in nine areas (Birchington and Rural, Deal and Walmer, Dover Town, Gravesend East, Maidstone Central, Northfleet and Gravesend West, Ramsgate, Sheppey and Tonbridge), you can vote for two candidates and the two candidates with the most votes are elected.

The party which reaches the majority figure of 41 seats will then govern the council for the next four years.

Why should I care?

Turnout figures in local elections tend to be poor, but KCC provides a voice for Kent on a national level, and supporters of the current administration would say councillors have been successful in lobbying central government for things like more cash for social care, and investment in large infrastructure projects.

How do I vote?

The same way you might have voted in last year’s police and crime commissioner elections, simply put a cross next to the name of the candidate you want to elect.

However, there are of course some restrictions on who can vote, and to do so you must be registered to vote by April 13 at an address in Kent, be 18 or over on the day of the election, be a British, Commonwealth or EU citizen and not be legally excluded from voting.

As well as voting in person at a polling station, you can also elect your councillor by post, or you can get someone else to vote for you, known as voting by proxy.

Polling stations will be open from 7am until 10pm on Thursday, May 4.

Who is my councillor?

The 81 councillors will come from 72 council wards within the county’s 12 districts.

If you don’t know which ward represents your address, you can check on the KCC website.

The wards are as follows:

Ashford: Ashford Central; Ashford East; Ashford Rural East; Ashford Rural South; Ashford Rural West; Ashford South; Tenterden

Canterbury: Canterbury City North; Canterbury City South; Canterbury North; Canterbury South; Herne Bay East; Herne Village and Sturry; Whitstable East and Herne Bay West; Whitstable West

Dartford: Dartford East; Dartford North East; Dartford Rural; Dartford West; Swanscombe and Greenhithe; Wilmington

Dover: Deal & Walmer; Dover North; Dover Town; Dover West; Sandwich

Gravesham: Gravesend East; Gravesham Rural; Northfleet and Gravesend West

Maidstone: Maidstone Central; Maidstone North East; Maidstone Rural East; Maidstone Rural North; Maidstone Rural South; Maidstone Rural West; Maidstone South; Maidstone South East

Sevenoaks: Sevenoaks North & Darent Valley; Sevenoaks Rural North East; Sevenoaks Rural South; Sevenoaks Town; Sevenoaks West; Swanley

Shepway: Chirton, Sandgate & Hythe East; Elham Valley; Folkestone East; Folkestone West; Hythe West; Romney Marsh

Swale: Faversham; Sheppey; Sittingbourne North; Sittingbourne South; Swale East; Swale West

Thanet: Birchington and Rural; Broadstairs; Cliftonville; Margate; Ramsgate

Tonbridge & Malling: Malling Central; Malling North; Malling North East; Malling Rural East; Malling West; Tonbridge

Tunbridge Wells: Cranbrook; Tunbridge Wells East; Tunbridge Wells North; Tunbridge Wells Rural; Tunbridge Wells South; Tunbridge Wells West

What can we expect to happen?

It’s almost impossible to see anything other than a comfortably Conservative majority once again, but then perhaps the political landscape over the last 12 months has proved nothing is impossible.

The performance of Ukip will certainly be something to keep an eye on, and whether they can maintain their position as the main party of opposition on the council.

Many have suggested the party has no further purpose after helping to campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union, with Conservative MP for South Thanet Craig Mackinlay declaring last summer: “the reason for their existence has now gone”.

Ukip figures dispute that, however, and it will be interesting to see how they perform in Kent post-referendum, having already claimed its first district council in the country in Thanet in 2015 - albeit temporarily losing its majority in the chamber.

The performance of the Labour Party will also be interesting, with its stock seemingly at an all-time low as criticism grows of leader Jeremy Corbyn.

County councillor Roger Truelove told us recently the portrayal of Labour nationally would have an impact locally.

He added that his colleagues would have to be “realistic” going into the election, given the party has never won in Kent, but would campaign to do so, specifically targeting coastal areas.

The Liberal Democrats will also be eyeing a much improved performance, after party leader Tim Farron told us last year its membership was increasing post-referendum and that he wanted to target disillusioned Labour voters, perhaps opening up a window of opportunity for the party in Kent.

Whether the Green Party can maintain its one seat, or perhaps even build on it, will also be worth keeping an eye on.

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