Our first “guest” contribution by Sean Fear
Local by-elections might be thought to be of interest only to political trainspotters. However, they matter because they have, historically, been a very good indicator of the standing of the three parties in local contests.
The share of the vote won by each of the three main parties in local elections each May will always be much closer to the vote share won in the preceding few months’ by elections than to the parties’ standing in opinion polls. In 1999 for example, Labour lost over a thousand seats to the Conservatives, despite having a lead of 25-30% in opinion polls. Local by-elections however, had indicated a much smaller Labour lead of 3-4%, and gave a much more accurate
One week’s results should usually be taken with a pinch of salt however. The results will always be affected by local issues, the strength or weakness of local campaigns, and the intervention of independents and minor parties. The Press Association’s attempt to extrapolate one week’s results into national vote shares should be treated with caution. My view is that one needs to look at about three months’ results in order to spot a trend.
How then, have the parties performed since the start of the year? There have been 39 contests so far. The Conservatives have won 22 seats (a gain of 6), Labour 8 (a loss of 2), the Lib Dems 5 (No change) and Others 4 ( a loss of 4); 4 of the Conservatives’ net gains have come from Indpendents and Plaid Cymru. Of these 39 seats, only 14 have been contested on both occasions by the three main parties.
My back of the envelope estimate, based on those 14 seats, is that the Conservative vote share is at about 37%, Labour at about 28%, and the Lib Dems at about 27%.
Last night’s results emphasise my point about local circumstances. They were as
South Kesteven; Market and West Deeping. A Conservative gain from Labour,
Staffordshire Moorlands, Werrington. Con 265, Lab 206, LD 196, BNP 162, UKP 29, Independents 117. The last time this seat was contested in 2003, it was a straight fight between Conservatives and Labour, so no direct comparison is possible. The seat is on the edge of Stoke, however, and the relatively high BNP vote points to a good performance by that party in Stoke on May 4th.
Conwy; Rhiw. Con 716, LD 479. This was previously held by Plaid Cymru. It
suggests a continuation of the Conservative Party’s modest revival in Wales.
Wear Valley District – Coundon: Lab 360, Lib Dem 331.