How the Parties Are Performing?
None of the three main parties can take that much comfort from their performance in local by-elections since the start of July. In all contests during that period, the Conservatives have made a net loss of 1 seat, Labour are unchanged, the Liberal Democrats have made a net gain of 6, Scottish and Welsh nationalists have made a net gain of 2, and Others have made a net loss of 7.
There have been a total of 36 contests involving the three main parties during this period. 9 were in seats last contested in 2003; 4 in seats last contested in 2004; 6 in those last contested in 2005, and 17 in those last contested in 2006. Changes in vote share are shown in the following table which shows the year last contested and the change in vote share for the three main parties.
2003 C-2.3% L-12.7% LD +9.8%
2004 C-9.0% L+7.0% LD -23.3%
2005 C +8.0% L-5.1% LD -2.6%
2006 C-4.0% L-0.5% LD +2.6%
It is necessary to point out that there have been a large number of unusually odd results. The Conservative figure for 2006 is distorted by last weekâ€™s result in Blackburn and Darwen, for example (even if I add the Conservative share to that of the Independent, it still knocks 2% of the average Conservative share in seats last contested this year); likewise, the poor Liberal Democrat score compared to 2004 is explained by a terrible result in Bolton, and Labourâ€™s figure is affected by a couple of awful Scottish results.
Equally, local contests are reflecting national opinion polls in showing a growing vote for minor parties, particularly the Greens and British National Party, who won 33% in Redbridge, and 29% in Charnwood, last night.
With all these caveats, I estimate the Conservative national equivalent vote share at 35%, compared to 28% for the Lib Dems and 25% for Labour. No party can be pleased with this.
Mayâ€™s Conservative vote share of 39% has not been maintained. Indeed, the Conservative vote share has fallen in 13 out of 17 contests in seats which were last contested in May. The Labour Party is still hugely unpopular; its vote share is as low as that of the Conservatives in 1995. However, the anti-Labour vote is not converging on the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrat vote share, while certainly not bad, shows no sign of a major breakthrough.
If next Mayâ€™s results are similar, then the Conservatives will make gains in the low hundreds, from Labour, rather than the much larger gains I had previously anticipated. The three main parties could all expect to lose seats to the minor parties.
There were three by-elections, last night:-
Charnwood DC: Loughborough Shelthorpe: Labour 643, BNP 478, Conservative 386, Lib Dem 155. Labour hold. The Conservative vote held up, compared to 2003, and the Labour vote rose. Turnout, however, rose sharply, which suggests the BNP were able to motivate former non-voters to vote both for and against them, as in Barking and Dagenham.
Ellesmere Port and Neston BC: Little Neston. Labour 420, Conservative 386, Lib Dem 81. Labour gain from Conservative. In fact, the Conservative vote share was 5% up on 2004, but former Green voters seem to have switched heavily to Labour.
Eden DC: Penrith Carleton: Lib Dem 223, Conservative 186. Lib Dem hold in a seat which was unopposed last time.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist.