Local Elections Roundup

BBC © 2013

BBC © 2013

In which I offer some personal observations, loosely cobbled together in an almost-plausible narrative.

The Big Three 

Personally I wouldn’t read too much into the dynamics between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat results in this election. For one thing, expectations are always so massaged and spun that any result will be portrayed as a fantastic victory for ‘Us’ and a crushing disaster for ‘Them’. Secondly, even leaving aside the spin and going with the detached objective projections of Rallings and Thrasher, its clear that the pattern of results was more or less as expected; Tory and Lib Dem losses, respectable Labour gains.

29% for Labour is impressive considering that this in across the most Tory parts of the country. Remember that 29% was the average vote Labour achieved nationwide in 2010 – for it to be a the new base level in the party’s worst performing areas bodes well for the national vote share.

On the other hand, hype about how this was the best mid-term results for these “Shire elections” shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Previous cycles – in 2009, 2005, 2001, and 1997 – took place in such a totally different political context that the comparison is rather meaningless. For starters the result in 2009 was such a Labour wipeout that the Tories made gains in unprecedented places – gains easily eroded now with even a modest swing back on the political pendulum. Similarly, while Labour may have gained the single largest increase in councillors in these elections ever, that only represents a more rapid recovery of an opposition party. Total Tory gains in 2001 2005 and 2009 were equitable with those seen on Friday. The rate of political recovery is impressive, but the pattern meets known “midterm” trends.

Green Party

The Greens were the big disappointment for me. Outside of Birmingham they are currently my supported party. Yes they won 5 new seats; but in the context of the UKIP surge, as a far more established yet still alternative party, and for one offering a genuine economic alternative it was a weak performance.

Five new councillors is below even the modest target (“double figure growth”) as set by party leader Natalie Bennett. Now overtaken by UKIP in the national councillor totals, in MEPs, and only ahead by their one elected Member of Parliament; the Green’s claim to be the Fourth Party begins to stretch credibility.

One silver lining might be that, with more focused local campaigns, established party branches, and reliance on genuine Green voters rather than ephemeral protest votes, their gains might be better consolidated and more robust in the longer. Even so, they’ve been soundly leapfrogged. Has being pigeon-holed as a party for middle class Guardian readers and NIMBYs led them into an electoral cul-de-sac? 2014 might be their last chance to breakthrough as a Left-alternative when more urban, working class, and deprived council seats come up for election.

UKIP

The big and horrific story. It hardly bares thinking about all the people across the country now lumbered with extreme right-wing councillors, obsessed with single issues and tabloid myths, and hostile to modernity.

[Secret footage from a recent UKIP branch meeting]

UKIP won less than a quarter of the vote nationally. In fact with no party breaking past the 30% barrier the real outcome of these elections was to display just how easily First-Past-The-Post can be used and abused. Winning 6.2% of the council seats, UKIP actually massively underperformed. I’ve yet to look into the results in any great detail, but what I would anticipate is a vote share distributed evenly and inefficiently across the country, with the tide rising just enough for the party to break through at the exceptional high points or where there was more divided opposition.

Both UKIP and the Greens stood record numbers of candidates, and yet of the two only UKIP benefited from a tide anti-politician protest voting. My personal hope is that the bulk of their support really is just protest votes – rather than a sincere endorsement of all that these reactionary isolationists stand for. Last week on the doorstep I spoke to a strongly pro-EU lifelong Labour voter who was considering voting UKIP at the next election; these are strange times indeed.

Independents

A big story entirely unreported by the media is the simultaneous increase in Independent councillors. 24 new independent councillors were elected across the UK, making them as a group the third biggest winners after Labour and UKP. Whether completely independent, or represented by an umbrella group as in Lincolnshire, they have also capitalised on an anti-partisan sentiment and the desire for a genuine alternative.

Without wanting to read too much into this, I’d say it bodes very well indeed for any future Independent council campaign.

Also making modest gains were Mebyon Kernow and the continuity Liberal Party. Again, maybe further success for the “Anyone but that lot” vote. Alternatively we could be entering a brave new world of Cornish nationalism and striped shirts with one colour collars.

First-past-the-post

Another real winner of the night was the first-past-the-post electoral system. Although much of the country remained safe Tory-blue, increasing political polarisation meant an increased number of three- or even four-way marginals.

Of the 12 council seats won by Labour in the Westminster Tory heartland of Lincolnshire, at least 4 were won with majorities less than the combined Tory-UKIP vote, one (Lincoln Moorland) on only a 38.6% vote share[1].

Looking at Cornwall, one new councillor was elected with just 20% of the vote in what could realistically be described as a seven-way marginal. In this pocket-electorate the Labour candidate Robert Webber defeated a UKIP candidate by just seven votes. With six established parties and a host of independents, winners with vote share percentages in the 20s and low 30s was common across the county.

First Past the Post - making everyone's vote count!

First Past the Post – making everyone’s vote count!

In fact, take a look at the results nationwide, and you might start to understand why the Electoral Reform society has launched their Rotten Boroughs campaign against safe seats in local government.

Party

Vote %

Seats %

Seat:Vote Ratio

Conservative

25

47.2

1.88

Labour

29

22.7

0.78

Liberal Democrat

14

14.9

1.06

UKIP

23

6.2

0.27

Green

?

0.9

Independent

?

7.0

Ironically the two parties of government were the real winners last week – each achieving disproportionately larger numbers of councillors than their vote shares might warrant. And  in terms of over-representation the big three main parties all got to have the last laugh at UKIP’s expense. Will they be laughing in 2014?

NASH

[1] – Incidentally the Lincolnshire County Council elections pages are by far the most professional, easy to navigate and downright beautiful I have ever seen for a local authority. Birmingham take note.

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This entry was posted in Election Results, Electoral Strategy, Greens, Local Politics, Nash, UKIP and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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