After a good June do July’s results spell trouble for the Tories?
In June the Conservative advance in local elections continued. The Conservatives were defending 13 seats this month and ended up with 17 seats (the majority of which were gains from the Independents). Mind you, they did manage to lose Nascot in Watford to the Lib Dems but it wouldn’t be a local by-election without a Lib Dem hiccup (remember Bromley?).
So what does this mean in a national context? The three cornered vote shares were: Con 43% Lab 24% Lib Dem 21% (which isn’t that dissimilar to the national projected vote share at the 2006 locals) and when you take the changes that you can expect between a local election and a general election, the shares become: Con 40% Lab 33% Lib Dem 15% Others 12%.
In other words, compared to May 2006, the Lib Dems had been hit for six (well 7% actually and almost all of that support has gone to Labour).
June also marked the end of the second quarter of the year, so instead of doing a national vote share projection and calculation for June, let’s do one for the whole of the second quarter. And considering that the number of votes cast in that second quarter amounts to 83,000, it should be moderately more accurate than most opinion polls.
Conservatives 41.14% winning 360 seats (+162 seats)
Labour 29.33% winning 226 seats (-130 seats)
Liberal Democrats 18.72% winning 29 seats (-33 seats)
Others 10.81% winning 31 seats (+1 seat)
Conservative overall majority of 74
On the surface, July’s local by-elections seemed really quite tame. Lib Dems gaining seats from Con and Con gaining seats from the Independents and Lab reestablishing itself it in it’s urban heartlands. But take a closer look and you begin to note some howling bloopers by all three major parties. Take for instance, Hucknall West in Ashfield.
In 2003, when Ashfield last voted, Hucknall West was the only Conservative ward in the entire district, so when the by-election was declared as pending, you would naturally assume that at the close of nominations you would find a Conservative candidate. You can therefore imagine the slight amount of head scratching when at the close of nominations there was a Labour, Liberal Democrat, Independent and even a BNP candidate but no Conservative candidate. Net result? Lib Dem gain from Con.
That’s not to say that the Lib Dems are blameless either. At the last local elections prior to May 2006, Bolton had 21 Lib Dems, 20 Labour and 19 Conservative councillors and was seen as a prime Lib Dem chance to gain overall control. Now in Bolton the Lib Dems did blow it slightly by losing 4 councillors (whilst the Conservatives and Labour gained two each), but that doesn’t explain how in Crompton ward, the Lib Dems went from winning the seat to ending up a dismal 3rd with only 7% of the vote allowing Labour to gain the seat.
Not that Labour has anything to be that smug about either. Sure they held all the seats they were defending and gained Crompton, but in the West Wittering ward of Chichester not only did they get beaten by the Lib Dems, but also an Independent and the BNP!.
So where does this put us in the old parliamentary stakes? Well, using our old formula for converting local shares into national shares we get: Con 33% Lab 34% Lib Dem 21% Others 13%, and that when we bung those numbers into a parliamentary forecaster give us a House of Commons comprising: Lab 342, Con 220, Lib Dem 52 and Others 32, giving Labour an overall majority of 38. Well, we are the political silly season after all, so you have to expect at least one forecast to go against the grain of a hung parliament!
Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem activist in Wales