Are Labour Past the Worst ?
Prior to Mayâ€™s local elections, I had anticipated that Labourâ€™s projected share of the national vote would fall below 25%, and that they would clearly finish behind the Liberal Democrats. I had thought that the Liberal Democrats (and some minor parties) would make considerable gains at Labourâ€™s expense. These were reasonable assumptions, given that Labourâ€™s local by-election record in the months leading up to the local elections had been dreadful, the Partyâ€™s poll ratings seemed to be sliding, membership was in decline, and their activists had plainly given up in many areas, with only 60% of English council seats being contested by them.
In the event, Labourâ€™s performance, while very bad, was still better than I had anticipated. The partyâ€™s vote share was, at any rate, no worse than it had been the year before (and in 2004), and the anticipated losses to the Liberal Democrats did not materialise. Importantly, the Party did not come third in terms of vote share. In some metropolitan boroughs, the threat of losses to the BNP stimulated a recovery in the Labour vote. Since then, Labour has seen its poll ratings rise a little, so that is now only a couple of points behind the Conservatives on average. Underlying poll ratings, on trust and competence issues, are encouraging for Gordon Brown, and it is clear that the Conservatives are not going to surge into the sort of lead that some opinion polls had suggested, when voters were asked how they would vote if Brown were Prime Minister.
Unless things go very badly wrong for Labour, over the coming year, it is hard to see them losing very much in the next round of local elections. Reading and Barnsley will probably fall to No Overall Control, and the Conservatives will probably take control of Bury, but Labour may well be able to win back Coventry, where they performed well this year. The big prize for the Conservatives would be to win the London Mayoralty. In my view, a reasonably competent Conservative candidate ought to win, given that the Conservatives have a clear lead in London, and given the relative narrowness of Ken Livingstoneâ€™s win in 2004. However, the Conservativesâ€™ failure to get their act together, and to choose a candidate, must enhance Livingstoneâ€™s chances of winning.
Last nightâ€™s results were generally good for the Conservatives.
Suffolk CC Stowmarket North and Stowupland Conservative 628, Lib. Dem 431, Labour 317, Green 296, UKIP 185, Independent 172. Conservative hold. Labour fell to third place.
South Staffordshire DC Featherstone/Sharehill Independent 557/383, Conservative 310/211 Labour 242/168, UKIP 132. 1 independent hold, 1 independent gain from Labour. This was a delayed poll from May, and this result means that South Staffordshire is another council without Labour representation.
Gravesham BC Meopham North. Conservative 681/662, Lib Dem. 200/178, Green 104, Labour 59/57, Looney 31. Conservative hold. This too was a delayed poll, and showed an easy Conservative win in a safe seat.
Vale Royal BC, Davenham and Moulton. Lib. Dem., 758/525/479. Conservative 680, 642,612, Labour 489, Independent 418, Green 168. Conservative hold two, Liberal Democrats hold one. This was a delayed poll, and the result gives the Conservatives overall control of the council by one seat.
Oxfordshire CC, Carterton SW. Conservative 934, Lib Dem 348, Labour 102. Conservative hold.
West Oxfordshire DC, Carterton NE. Conservative 427, Independent 133, Labour 50.
Oswestry BC, Llanyblodwel and Pant: Conservative 254, Independent 91, Independent 81, Independent 34. Conservative gain from Independent. I discovered from Vote 2007 that Welsh was spoken in this part of Shropshire as late as the eighteenth century, which explains the wardâ€™s name.
Mid Devon DC: Upper Culm. Conservative 422, Lib Dem 287, Independent 181, UKIP 75. Conservative gain from Independent.
Ryedale DC: Pickering. Liberal 577, Conservative 313, Independent 185. Liberal gain from Independent. The winner should not be confused with a Liberal Democrat. This is a gain for those Liberals who refused to accept the merger with the SDP.
Cannock Chase BC, Hednesford South. Labour 397, Conservative 243, Lib Dem 117, Independent 114. Labour hold.