Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Sean Fear’s Friday Slot


    Local Election Round Up

Last week’s local elections were Labour’s worst since 1976/1977. The Party finished up 20% behind the Conservatives, in terms of projected national vote share, and suffered a net loss of 334 seats, from a low base. Taking into account some Labour gains, against the trend, the Party lost nearly one third of the seats it was defending. Some of the results were striking.

For instance, the Conservatives outpolled Labour by 1,800 across the ten authorities of Greater Manchester; they outpolled Labour in heartland seats like Penistone, Rother Valley, Wakefield, Labour since 1932, and Ed Ball’s Morley & Outwood; in Wales, Labour held just two out of twenty two local authorities, the same number as the Conservatives. Lest the Conservatives get carried away, however, they performed even better in Labour’s heartlands, in 1967-1969, and 1976-1978, but Labour still held these areas comfortably in subsequent general elections.

London saw the Conservatives’ greatest triumph, with Boris Johnson taking the Mayoralty with over a million votes. Paradoxically, it also witnessed Labour’s best performances of the day, with the Party pushing up its vote share in the London Assembly elections, retaining several constituencies with increased majorities, and taking Brent & Harrow from the Conservatives. However, the Conservatives still led Labour by 9% in the London Assembly constituency elections, enough to give the Conservatives a majority of London seats at the next election.

The Conservatives were successful in almost every part of the England and Wales, making a net gain of 257 seats and 12 councils. The party gained overall control of two Metropolitan Boroughs, Solihull and Bury, and an overall majority in a third, North Tyneside. They advanced strongly across the Midlands, Wales, and the North of England. In 2006 and 2007, the Conservatives performed strongly across much of England, but saw no real advance in the Metropolitan Boroughs. Not this time. The Conservatives made a net gain of 67 seats in the Metropolitan Boroughs, outpolling Labour across the former Metropolitan counties of West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and West Yorkshire. Boris Johnson’s victory in London was tremendous news for them, as was the party’s gain of two seats on the Assembly.

However, the Conservatives have still not matched their performances of the late 1970s in either London (where they led Labour by 15% in the GLC elections of 1977) or in the Metropolitan Boroughs, where they held a majority of councils by 1978. Elsewhere in England, however, their local government strength is probably greater than ever before.

The Liberal Democrats’ results were more mixed. The Party gained the great prize of Sheffield, effectively gained control of Oldham, and won Burnley for the first time. At the same time, they lost Liverpool, which they had held since 1998, although they subsequently retained control by persuading an independent to switch. They made a net gain of 33 seats, which, in the context of a strong Conservative advance, is a reasonable result. They were badly squeezed in London however, as Brian Paddick polled less than 10% of the vote, and they lost two seats on the London Assembly. There must be a risk that they will suffer in the same way if the next general election is a close contest between Conservatives and Labour.

Among the smaller parties, Plaid Cymru performed fairly well, making a net gain of 31 seats. However, it lost its stronghold of Gwynedd, and narrowly failed to take Ceredigion. The Greens performed very strongly in Norwich, becoming the official opposition, and retained two seats on the London Assembly, but made no real advance elsewhere. The BNP made a handful of council seat gains, and got onto the London Assembly, but must have hoped to do better in a year of extreme Labour unpopularity. UKIP also made a handful of council gains, but were completely wiped out on the London Assembly.

So where does this leave the two main parties? Relative to the Conservatives, Labour are in about the same position as they were in the late Seventies. They are stronger in London and the Metropolitan Boroughs, but weaker in the rest of England, particularly in the South. The Conservatives are weaker in the larger urban areas, and far weaker in Scotland than they were then, but much stronger in the rest of England, whose share of the population has grown over the past thirty years.

If history repeats itself, this points to a clear, but not overwhelming, Labour defeat at the next election, and suggest that spread markets which give the Conservatives a majority of 40 are about right.

There was just one by-election last night at Medway Unitary Council, Rochester South and Horsted. The result was Conservative 1847, Labour 819, Lib Dem 767, BNP 257, Green 104. An easy Conservative hold.

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