Has Labour’s Southern Discomfort returned?
â€œLabourâ€™s Southern Discomfortâ€ was the title of an influential Blairite pamphlet in the mid 1990s. Last yearâ€™s general election results suggested that Labour was once again starting to struggle in the South, and East Anglia, and Mayâ€™s local election results suggest this is an increasing problem.
Across Southern England, and East Anglia, Labour holds just 1,775 council seats out of more than 10,000, 18% of the total. However, of these 684 are in London. Labourâ€™s share of council seats outside London is a mere 13%.
Labour has an overall majority on just three authorities, Reading, Gravesham, and Stevenage, and controls Plymouth on the Mayorâ€™s casting vote. The Conservatives will almost certainly take control of Gravesham in 2007.
There are numerous authorities across Southern England where Labour no longer has a single councillor. The position will worsen for Labour next year, when the majority of District Council seats are contested.
Labourâ€™s strategists wonâ€™t lose any sleep over the fact that they have no, or little, representation on authorities like Chiltern, Broxbourne, or Maldon, which they would not come close to winning in a General Election. But they must surely be worried at the erosion of their local government base in a number of marginal constituencies, and areas where Labour was historically competitive.
In Watford, for example, held by Labour at Parliamentary level, they hold 1 out of 36 seats; in Weymouth, where Labour hold South Dorset, they have 7 out of 36 seats; in Swindon, with two Labour marginal seats, they are on 14 out of 59; in Peterborough, historically a tight Conservative/Labour marginal, they hold 4 out of 56. There are numerous additional examples.
This matters, because all parties depend so much on their local councillors to canvass, leaflet, and keep their organisation going at Constituency level. In addition, if voters get into the habit of voting for other parties at local level, over time, this can carry through to Parliamentary level.
There were just two by-elections, yesterday:-
Eden DC: Orton with Tebay. Lib Dem 165, Conservative 162. Lib Dem gain from Independent.
Newry and Mourne; The Fews. Sinn Fein 4,092, Independent Unionist 1,427. Sinn Fein hold.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist and long-standing contributor to the site