Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Sean Fear’s Friday slot


    Is London Really So Good for the Conservatives?

Lots of commentators have drawn attention to the comparatively strong performance of the Conservatives in London, in recent year. From winning outright control of four boroughs in 1998, the Conservatives advanced to eight in 2002, and fourteen in 2006. Over the same period, they have increased their number of councillors from 538 to 785, the largest of any party, and regained ten Parliamentary seats, a third of the gains they have made at Parliamentary level.

Look more closely, however, and the position is less encouraging. In 1998, generally regarded as a pretty dismal year for the Conservatives, they won 32%, across London. Last year, which was seen as something of a triumph, they won 35%. Back in 1992, which was one of the worst years for any incumbent government, the Conservatives won 31.3%.

    Compared to the mid 1990s, Conservative support has risen by just 3.7% across the Capital. By contrast, it has risen by at least 10% across the country as a whole, during that period.

Two things account for the Conservatives’ success in winning seats, despite a modest increase in vote share. Firstly, and obviously, Labour’s support has fallen, from 40.6% in 1998, to 28% last year (Liberal Democrat support has remained at 21% over the period). Most of London’s boroughs are Conservative/Labour battlegrounds, where a decline in Labour’s vote share enables the Conservatives to win seats, in many cases, even if their vote share is static. Instead of uniting behind Labour, as it mostly did in the 1990s, the non-Conservative vote has now migrated to a variety of minor parties, who have seen their vote share rise from 6.5%, in 1998, to 16% last year. But the principal beneficiary of this shift, in terms of seats, has been the Conservative Party.

Secondly, and just as important, the Conservatives seem to have got their targeting right, and put on support just where it is most needed. Since 1998, the Conservative vote has tended to decline, or remain static, in boroughs where they have little chance of gaining seats, such as Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Brent (outside Brent North), Newham, and Lewisham. By contrast, boroughs with plenty of marginal seats, such as Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing, Harrow, and Hillingdon, have witnessed some particularly strong Conservative performances. The same pattern was seen at the last general election, where a rise of only 1.5% in the Conservatives’ vote share in London, saw the Party net eight seats, in which their vote share rose by 4.1% on average, while seeing their vote fall in most of their no-hope seats.

This is a striking demonstration of how it is so important under First Past the Post to win your votes in the right places.

Last night saw a large number of by-elections, and delayed contests from May. Although only one seat saw a change, several of the results were interesting. Overall, the Labour Party did fairly well.

Rochford DC: Hockley North. Conservative 297, BNP 176, Lib Dem 127. Conservative hold. Although the Conservatives held the seat fairly comfortably, this result, along with that in Havering, shows that there is considerable support for the BNP in South Essex.

Calderdale MBC: Warley. Lib Dem 1,319, Conservative 418, Independent 360, BNP 355, Labour 236, Independent 145, English Democrat 51. Lib Dem hold. This was a delayed poll, and showed a striking swing to the Liberal Democrats, compared to last year, when the Conservatives won the seat. The Conservatives now have real difficulty making headway in Calderdale, which they controlled outright a few years ago, and the BNP are in decline here.

Havering LBC, St. Andrews. Resident 993, Conservative 583, BNP 580, Labour 511, Third Way 184, UKIP 169, Liberal Democrat 80. Resident hold. This result showed a strong swing to the Residents, compared to last year, when the Conservatives won one out of the three seats. The Labour vote held up well, in a borough where they were decimated in 2006.

Newcastle MBC: Wingrove (2 seats). Labour 1050/908. Lib. Dem 948/869, Green 186/183, Conservative 173/140, BNP 81/80. This was one delayed poll and one by-election, and showed one Labour hold and one Lib Dem hold. On balance, this was a good result for Labour, and showed little change compared to 2006.

Manchester CC; Charlestown. Labour 1,373, BNP 628, Lib Dem 239, Conservative 188, Green 81. Labour hold. This was an easy hold for Labour, who took more than half the vote, but the BNP won a surprisingly strong second place, in a City which has been stony ground for them, up till now.

North Lincs UA, Brigg and Wolds (3 seats). Conservative 1691/1576/1476, Labour 890/711/609, Independent 424, BNP 134/121. Conservative hold. This was a delayed poll, and produced a solid Conservative win.

Torbay UA, Berryhead & Furzeham (3 Seats): Independents 1006/952/510/397. Conservative 853/727/689. Lib. Dem 483/27/245. BNP 159/152/151. UKIP 145/129/93. Labour 71/67/66. One Independent gain from Conservative, one Independent gain from Lib Dem, and one Conservative hold. This was a delayed poll, and was in clear contrast to the Conservatives’ big win in Torbay in May.

New Forest DC, Bramshaw, Copthorne and Minstead. Conservative 436, Lib Dem 123. Conservative hold.

Sean Fear

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