HOW BADLY WILL LABOUR DO ON MAY 4TH?
Labour is in the fortunate position of being expected to do badly in the local elections on May 4th. Anything other than a complete disaster can be portrayed as a success by Labourâ€™s spin-doctors. So will Labour face a complete disaster, on a par with the wipe-outs of 1968, or 1976-1978?
In fact, this is unlikely. In 1968, Labour were reduced to 350 councillors in London (compared to 1,400 Conservatives). In the late seventies, they did not perform quite so badly, but still lost boroughs like Leeds, Tameside, and Oldham to outright Conservative control. By contrast, even in the mid-1990s, the Conservatives still managed to hold 520 seats in London, and itâ€™s hard to believe that Labour can do worse than that.
Labourâ€™s performance in by-elections since the start of the year (and in fact since Autumn last year) suggests a national vote share of 28%, which is about 9% behind the Conservatives. By-elections in London in 2005 implied a swing of 2-3% from Labour to Conservative and a similar swing from Labour to Liberal Democrat.
If Labourâ€™s performance on May 4th matches its by-election performance, then it will lose considerable ground in London. Several boroughs which Labour controls, such as Hammersmith, Bexley, Harrow, Croydon, Brent, Camden, and Merton, are vulnerable to small swings to their opponents. Labour were lucky to win 15 London boroughs outright in 2002 (compared to 8 for the Conservatives) despite being level-pegging with the Conservatives, in terms of vote share. A loss of 150 seats is plausible. That will hurt, but it would still leave Labour with c.700 seats in the Capital.
Outside London, the scope for Labour losses is smaller. In the Shire District and Unitary Authorities, there is little left for Labour to lose. They may well lose Crawley, one of their very few remaining authorities in the South outside London, and could easily lose 100 or so seats, but there will be few big headline defeats.
In the Metropolitan Boroughs, Labour may manage a small net gain in terms of seats. These were last contested in June 2004, which was a particularly poor year for Labour. Few authorities are likely to change hands, as only one third of the seats is being contested.
Last nightâ€™s by-elections saw two seats changing hands:-
Bradford MBC, Keighley West: Labour 1,819, BNP 1,216, Con, 627, LD 208. Labour gain from BNP. Clearly there was huge tactical voting from opponents of the BNP to oust their candidate, doubtless caused in part by annoyance at the sitting BNP councillor quitting and causing an unnecessary by-elections. It is notable however, that the BNP vote share, 31%, was unchanged from 2004, and may point to a high vote for that party in Bradford on May 4th.
Bracknell Forest UA: Con 921, LD 444, Lab 174, UKIP 119. An easy Conservative hold in a safe seat.
South Oxfordshire DC: Watlington; Con 737, LD 274. An easy Conservative hold.
Sunderland MBC â€“ Millfield: LD 566, Lab 397, Con 260, BNP 79. LD hold. This will be very pleasing to the Lib Dems as the other two seats in the ward are held by Labour.
Waverley BC â€“ Ewhurst: Ind 372, Con 360, LD 230, Lab 6(!): Ind gain from Conservative. A very curious result. Waverley is controlled by Conservatives with independent support. A Lib Dem win here would have given them control of the council. The victorious independent will be able to put either party in power on this council
Sean is a Tory activist in London