Sean Fear’s Friday slot
Several contributors to this site have drawn attention to the fact that there has been no evidence that the improvement in Labourâ€™s polling position, since Brown became Prime Minister, has not fed through into local election results. They are quite correct. There have been 17 seats in England that have been contested by all three main parties since the start of July, which were last contested in 2006 or 2007, when the Conservatives had a very big lead over Labour.
In the seats that were last contested this May, Labourâ€™s vote has been unchanged, on average, compared to the last time they were fought. The Liberal Democrats have also been unchanged, on average, and the Conservative vote share has fallen by 2%, on average. In the seats that were last contested in May 2006, the Labour vote share is down 1.5% on average, the Liberal Democrat vote share is up 1.5% on average, and the Conservative vote share is down 1% on average. So should we conclude that Labourâ€™s poll bounce is illusory? Probably not.
For a start, most of the contests have come in areas of Labour weakness. We really have no idea how Labour is likely to perform in its key marginal battlegrounds against the Conservatives â€“ the seats that will really determine the outcome of the next election. Fortunately, there are a whole crop of Conservative/Labour marginal seats coming up over the next few weeks, in Rossendale, Birmingham, Dover, and Portsmouth. Labour hardly needs to worry about performing badly in places like Walton on Thames, and Squirrels Heath. But if it performs badly in the marginals, then that is ground for concern.
Secondly, while local elections can be useful pointers in individual seats towards future general election performance, they are much less useful as predictors of overall general election results. Labour won a landslide victory in 2001, despite suffering in the previous yearâ€™s local elections, and won a working majority in 2005, despite being 12% behind the Conservatives the previous year. In the mid 1990s, appalling local election results did point to a Conservative landslide defeat at the general election, but that relationship seems to have diminished in recent years. That is not to say that Labour can simply shrug its shoulders and take the view that local elections donâ€™t matter. If people get out of the habit of voting for a party at local level, and a partyâ€™s local councillor base is destroyed, then that party can underperform in individual seats, even when its poll ratings are strong.
There were two by-elections last night:-
York UA, Heworth Without
Lib Dem 914, Conservative 703, Labour 219, BNP 63, Green 58. Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative. This was a remarkable result, with turnout at 61%, which is almost unheard of for a local election. The Conservative and Liberal Democrats both pushed up their vote, in absolute terms, the Liberal Democrats particularly strongly. The constituency this is located in, York Outer, will be a key Conservative/Liberal Democrat battleground at the next election.
Bromley LBC, Crystal Palace
Lib Dem 1051, Labour 537, Conservative 398, Green 129. Liberal Democrat hold. All the three main parties advanced slightly, at the expense of the Green Party.
Sean Fear is a London Conservative activist and the pb.com 2006-7 poster of the year