When Rallings and Thrasher established the Elections Centre in the early 1980s the principal aim wasÂ to collect and publish local election results in the same way that F.W.S. Craig was covering theÂ parliamentary equivalent. In establishing the website, www.electionscentre.co.uk, the aim is toÂ provide easier access for a wide variety of users to the huge amount of data compiled over theÂ intervening years.
Many readers of Political Betting will already be acquainted with the site but a glimpse of futureÂ plans can be had from visiting the new interactive pages relating to council political compositions.
The current party political composition of most councils is generally available on their own websitesÂ although in many cases it takes a bit of finding. There are also individual data-gatherers that haveÂ consolidated these, meaning that listings for particular years are available. Some months ago weÂ took the process a stage further and posted files that enabled users to examine for each year sinceÂ 1973 (1964 in the case of the London boroughs) the full range of councils across post-reorganisationÂ Britain.
This approach was useful if users were interested in what happened in year â€˜xâ€™ but was a bitÂ tiresome if the interest was primarily in council â€˜yâ€™ and how its political control had altered overÂ time. It also required a knowledge of spreadsheets which is far from ideal.
Now, we are introducing interactivity (hats off to Robert Merrison-Hort for assistance) on to theÂ website. By clicking on the linkÂ the user canÂ simply type in the council name and then see its full council history presented from its origin year toÂ the present.
Because the file that supplies the data is currently about 21,000 rows long (hard-core fans canÂ download the entire file) it takes a little time to load and to have the results displayed. Because theÂ application also searches by text it will provide multiple councils if the user simply inputs words likeÂ â€˜southâ€™ or â€˜shireâ€™ for example. But by the same token it will only find Barking & Dagenham if â€˜barkâ€™ isÂ typed.
Data are organised into columns â€“ authority name, year, council (total number of seats) and thenÂ the seats won by the various parties are shown. The final column states the type of control,Â including NOC for no overall control. We are strict about whether a council is majority run or not â€“Â only if a single party has more than half the seats. While hardliners prefer to include the â€˜mayorâ€™sÂ casting vote there is no possibility of knowing this for all councils over a half century or longer. ForÂ the same reason our files do not allow for occasions when councillors are elected for one party onlyÂ to defect to another or to sit as independent. Even with those caveats in place there is still scope forÂ differences between our file and the information published elsewhere but nothing is perfect.
The selection of parties may upset purists. Additional to Conservative, Labour, Liberal DemocratÂ (including all other predecessors but now excluding current Liberals) and Nationalists (SNP and PlaidÂ Cymru) there is the ubiquitous â€˜Othersâ€™. More than anyone we know that local government has itsÂ Independents and a whole raft of smaller parties but this is time series, big picture stuff. TheÂ alternative was to have many more columns to display.
Because the data are organised by columns this provides the user with possibilities other than simplyÂ listing a particular councilâ€™s composition. So, if someone inputs â€˜2015â€™ only council compositions forÂ that year appear. If â€˜2015 NOCâ€™ is typed then only councils currently under no overall control in 2015Â are displayed, while the text â€˜Ply Labâ€™ would only display a list of the years when Labour had majorityÂ control of Plymouth.
It is also possible to sort the data in each column. This is particularly useful if there is a desire toÂ know the best (or worst) year for any party.
This is our first venture in making the data available interactively but we hope that it attracts interestÂ not only from election watchers but also from a wider public. Feedback and suggestions for otherÂ data presentations can be sent to email@example.com but weâ€™d like users to subscribe soÂ news about up-dates can be sent automatically.