The State of the Parties
Since the start of September, there have been 74 local by-elections on principal authorities. Of these, 41 involved the three main parties, competing with each other.
Overall, the Conservatives made a net gain of 5 seats, the Liberal Democrats made a net gain of 6, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and SNP a gain of 1 each, while Labour made a net loss of 5, Others/Independents made a net loss of 7, and the Democratic Unionist Party lost 1. It should be noted that the totals for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been flattered by large gains from Independents in rural wards.
However, analysis of the voting figures confirms that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are faring quite well, and Labour are faring very badly.
In three way contests, the changes in vote share can be expressed in the following table showing average Change in Vote Share and the year the seats were contested:-
2003 (9) C-4.8%: L -17.0%: LD+3.4%
2004 (4) C+3.0%: L -4.7%: LD +5.5%
2005 (5) C +11.3%: L -3.5%: LD -3.8%
2006 (23) C -1.4%: L 1.8%: LD +5.4%
Some horrendous results from Scotland and rural wards, both last contested in 2003, make the Labour performance look worse than it really is. But even if those nine seats are excluded, the Labour performance is still very poor.
Overall, based on comparisons with 2004, 2005, and 2006, I would estimate the current national equivalent vote shares as Conservative 39%, Lib Dem 30%, Labour 24%. Were these sorts of figures to be repeated next year, then Labour could expect to lose heavily to both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
However, itâ€™s probable that, in 2007, the vote share for minor parties will be higher than the 7% suggested by by-election results. Labourâ€™s national equivalent vote share could fall to as little as 22%, 3% worse than the previous record low achieved by the Conservatives in 1995.
Although it is not a like for like comparison, it is worth noting that the Greens have contested 13 by-elections over this period, winning an average 8.9%, and the BNP have contested 15 by-elections, winning an average 17.2%.
Yesterday, there were three results:-
Epping Forest DC, Grange Hill: Conservative 609, LibDem 586, BNP 302, Lab 48. Conservative gain from LibDem. This result gives the Conservatives overall control of this council for the first time since the late 1980s. It is also a demonstration of the strength of support for the BNP in the area, who have again polled well in a mainly middle class ward.
Lancaster City Council, Skerton West: Labour 493, Conservative 172, BNP 93, Independent 76. An easy Labour hold in a safe seat.
Coleraine BC, Skerries. Alliance 694, DUP 678 , UUP 625, Sinn Fein 253, SDLP 219. Alliance gain from DUP. The former DUP councillor was the Mayor of the Borough, and resigned after being found guilty of electoral fraud. This presumably explains why 212 UUP voters transferred their vote to Alliance, in preference to the DUP.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist