How have the parties been performing since May 5th?
The Conservatives have continued to perform strongly in local by-elections, since the last round of local elections on May 5th. Over that period they have made a net gain of 7 seats, compared to a net gain of 3 for the Liberal Democrats and a net loss of 2 seats for Labour. The bulk of the gains have come from rural Independents, who have often not contested the seats which have come up in by-elections.
In terms of calculating national equivalent vote share for the three main parties, one looks at the three way contests. There have been 38 in total, of which 17 were in seats last contested in 2003; 8 in seats last contested in 2004; 7 in seats last contested in 2005, and 6 in seats last contested in 2006.
The seats which were last contested in the period 2003-2005, all show the same picture of a strong Conservative performance. By my reckoning, the national equivalent Conservative vote share in such seats ranges from 38-42%. The picture for Labour is more mixed. The urban and county council seats, last contested in 2004 and 2005, suggest that Labourâ€™s vote share is holding up reasonably well at about 30% or so.
Labourâ€™s performance in the shire districts, on the other hand, which form the bulk of the seats which were last contested in 2003, has been truly dire. Labour has contested 9 of these seats, in three-way contests, and has suffered an average reduction in vote share of 12%.
If that performance is repeated in May 2007, then what remains of Labourâ€™s English council base, outside of the main urban authorities, will disappear.
The Liberal Democrats are holding steady, on an average vote share of about 25%.
The contests in seats last contested this May show a rather different picture. Average vote shares for all three main parties are down sharply; the Conservatives by 9%, the Liberal Democrats by 7% and Labour by 4%. The reason for this is quite straightforward. 5 out of these 6 contests have seen the British National Party field candidates for the first time, and they have won an average of 18% of the vote, culminating in a near-victory over the Conservatives in Redbridge on Thursday.
Thursday nightâ€™s by-elections provided a good deal more drama than those of the previous fortnight.
Ashfield DC – Hucknall West: Lib Dem 848, Lab 514, Ind 389, BNP 331.. Lib Dem gain from Con. Apparently, the Conservatives filled out their nomination papers wrongly, and accordingly surrendered the seat.
Barnsley MBC – Penistone West: Con 897, Lab 558, Green 328. Con gain from Ind.
Bolton MBC – Crompton: Lab 1793, Con 978, Lib Dem 224, Green 96, Socialist Lab 35. Lab gain from Lib Dem. The Liberal Democrat vote share fell by 40% compared with May, an astonishing turnaround.
Devon CC – Alphington and Cowick: Lib Dem 1265, Con 1211, Lab 568, Green 174. Lib Dem hold. The Lib Dems had a majority of nearly 1,700 over the Conservatives (in third place) in 2005. This continues the Conservativesâ€™ strong recent recovery in Exeter, a city where they have underperformed for years.
Essex CC – Brentwood Rural: Con 2062, Lib Dem 1150, Lab 142.. Con hold.
Exeter City Council – Alphington: Lib Dem 890, Con 703, Lab 227, Green 142. Lib Dem hold. This mirrors the result in the same County Council seat.
Fenland DC – Slade Lode: Con 259, Lib Dem 194. Con hold.
North Wiltshire DC – Colerne: Lib Dem 425, Con 399. Lib Dem hold. A strong Conservative performance in crucial battleground with the Lib Dems.
Peterborough UA – Northborough: Con 393, Ind 388, Lib Dem 64, Lab 36. Con hold. Old style rural independents may be dying out, but their urban counterparts, and the new smaller parties, continue to gain ground, as shown by this near loss for the Conservatives.
Redbridge LBC – Bridge: Con 1014, BNP 857, Lab 299, Lib Dem 245, Green 147. A real shocker. Up to now, BNP support in London has been largely confined to predominantly white wards, largely made up of skilled and semi-skilled workers. This ward, on the other hand, is very middle class. The result points to huge potential support for the BNP right across the North Eastern corner of London, and adjoining parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
South Derbyshire DC – Swadlincote: Lab 562, Lib Dem 301, Con 231. (Lab hold. A good result for Labour.
Stafford BC- Fulford: Con unopposed. Con hold.
Staffordshire CC – Cheadle and Checkley: Con 791, Ind 560, Lib Dem 311. Con hold.
Staffordshire Moorlands DC – Cheadle West: Con 354, Ratepayers 239. Con hold.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist