Are the latest results a pointer to Thursday’s Battle for the Town Halls?
April can be a bit of a poor month for local by-elections, in April 2005 there were only three across the entire country. Thankfully April 2006 has been a bit more interesting with 24 council by-elections being held up and down the country, and with the local elections being held in 176 councils next Thursday everyone will be wondering whether we have have a precursor to those elections. First of all though, a summary of the main events.
The Conservatives were trying to defend 13 seats in April 2006 and ended the month also with 13 seats (by the most complicated means possible). Things didn’t get off to a good start when they lost Lesbury in Alnwick to the Lib Dems, but the same day they picked up Wythall South in Bromsgrove from the Independents. And just as their hearts gladened at the gain of Winster and South Dorsely in Derbyshire Dales from the Lib Dems, along came a Lib Dem gain from Con in Warminster East in West Wiltshire. Still overall having polled 47% in three cornered fights in April, a very strong starting line for the Locals next week.
Considering all the trouble Labour has had on the local by-election front the party has had a month almost akin to 1997. Defending two seats, they managed to end up with four! They gained Cleaton Moor North in Copeland from the Independents and also managed a marvellous hit in Mablethorpe East in East Lindsey by gaining the seat from the Liberal Democrats. And yet despite all this sucess they were only able to poll 18% in all three cornered fights.
If Labour had a spectactular month, the Lib Dems were sort of happy just to survive the month. Defending six seats, they managed to lose one (Mablethorpe East in East Lindsey) and gain three (in Lesbury in Alnwick from Con, Frome Keyford in Mendip from Ind and Warminster East in West Wiltshire also from Con) and polled a modest 28% in all three cornered fights. Could this indicate tactical voting? People voting for the Liberal Democrats as the most likely person to defeat the incumbent (regardless of which party that incumbent is from)? We’ll just have to wait and see.
You have to feel sorry for the Independents on occasions. There they are determined to stand out on their own forcing their own political agenda without any party whips and in April 2006 they were wiped out. They lost Wythall South to the Conservatives in Bromsgrove, Cleator Moor North in Copeland to Labour and Frome Keyford in Mendip to the Liberal Democrats and only managed to poll 1% in all three cornered fights. Is the age of the Independent councillor over? If so, what implications could that have on the Scottish elections next year (where several councils are controlled by Independent groups)?
So, what about Thursday?
Well, if at the end of the night Jeremy Vine produces a projected national share like April 2006’s local by-elections every Labour MP in the country will be nervous as anything the following week. The three cornered figures suggest: Con 47% Lib Dem 28% Lab 18% UKIP 5% Ind 1% which when translated into UK national shares is: Con 43% Lab 30% Lib Dem 22% Others 5%. A Conservative lead of 13% over Labour (representing a swing of 8% to Con since Election 2005). Or to put it into Parliamentary terms: Conservatives 360 (+162) Labour 219 (-137) Liberal Democrats 43 (-19) Others 24 (-7) giving a Conservative majority of 74.
And whilst we are on the subject of Parliament, we can’t gloss over Moray now can we? SNP hold with an increased majority over the Conservatives with the Labour vote collapsing and going predominately to the Liberal Democrats. A sign of things to come in next year’s Scottish elections to Holyrood?
Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem activist in Wales
Mike Smithson note Getting good visual images to accompany our threads are important and the pictures Iâ€™ve chosen to illustrate Harryâ€™s piece are, from left to right, the town halls of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Ealing – all the subject of betting activity and where there might be changes in control.
Pictures play an important part on the site and if anybody has good shots that I can use then please email the picture or URL to me. Polling day pictures – posters, rosettes or groups of happy/unhappy activists are particularly welcome. So if you are carrying camera phone next Thursday donâ€™t forget PB.C.