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UK election 2010: Erratic swings snap Labour’s thread of support (7 May 2010)

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UK election 2010: Erratic swings snap Labour’s thread of support (7 May 2010)

Posted on 07 May 2010 by admin

While Labour has lost support, no clear swing to the Tories and the Lib Dem losses leaves this election without a real verdict

The 2010 election was even more fractured than one might have expected. There was no real national verdict, except perhaps that the thin thread of public support by which Labour had clung on to power in 2005 had snapped. The results were a kaleidoscope of peculiar local results.

National swing broke down in the 1970s; now it seems that even regional swing has become a thing of the past. Nor can one read off politics from social composition any more – how could Birmingham Edgbaston stay Labour, but Nuneaton go Tory, without politics having assumed a new form?

The swing from Labour to the Conservatives was uneven. Apparently clear patterns in past polls and local elections, such as a Conservative surge in the Midlands, did not appear when the votes were counted, and Labour even held on to the Nottingham suburb of Gedling (a seat the party had not won before 1997).

Most observers expected the Conservatives to do better than average in their target marginals, but in some that had been showered with resources and worked hard for years there were feeble swings.

In some seats, like Corby, Hastings and Stroud it was just about enough to eke out a gain. In others, mammoth swings blew away the competition – Leicestershire North West fell with a double-digit swing.

But Labour has held on well in marginals across Scotland and in ethnically mixed areas of England (holding both Luton seats, for instance).

2010 was supposed to be one of the great Liberal revival elections, alongside 1974 and 1983, but as well as the irregular gains of the Conservatives, one of the stories of the night has been the dashing of so many Lib Dem hopes. Not only did they miss most targets, including low hanging fruit in academic Labour seats like Durham and Oxford East, but some established Lib Dem seats like Harrogate and Hereford fell to the Tories – and Rochdale, supposedly Brown’s Waterloo, was a surprise Labour win.

There is better news elsewhere, and surprise victories like Redcar (where a steelworks closure led to a landslide swing against Labour), but breaking the mould of Westminster politics (as opposed to breaking the two-party grip, which happened years ago) will remain an ambition rather than a reality.

Nor has it been the year of the Independent – party politics having reclaimed Blaenau Gwent and Wyre Forest, and Esther Rantzen having flopped in Luton. The anti-Westminster mood at the time of the expenses crisis in 2009 is certainly not reflected in these results.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/07/erratic-swing-snaps-labour-support

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In much of the south, Labour is a fringe party (5 June 2009)

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In much of the south, Labour is a fringe party (5 June 2009)

Posted on 05 June 2009 by admin

Even through the dark days of the 80s there were still active branches and elected councillors even in small towns, but no longer, reports Lewis Baston

The Conservatives have done extremely well in terms of seats in the county council results. It was almost a foregone conclusion that they would hold on to what they had, and sweep Labour out of the remaining county councils in the Midlands, but they seem to have done rather better.

They were not just beneficiaries of a Labour collapse, but also made considerable progress against the Liberal Democrats, notably gaining control of Somerset. So far the Tories even look as if they are doing well in the new Cornwall unitary council, winning Redruth Central – a town where the party scraped barely 10% of the vote in the 2005 county elections. It seems possible that they will manage a clean sweep of all the county councils, a feat at the most optimistic end of their hopes.

For Labour the results are utterly miserable, with extremely few exceptions (the party strangely gained a couple of seats in Nelson, Lancashire, despite the general collapse, and nearly held firm in Hastings). Across a lot of southern England, Labour is running in fourth, fifth or even sixth place in the county elections behind candidates of more or less any other party that fancies its chances – Greens, Ukip, English Democrats …

In much of the south, Labour is in effect a fringe party. It has been practically eradicated as a force in politics in these areas and may well never recover. Even through the dark days of the 80s there were still active branches and elected councillors even in small towns, but no longer. There have also been some spectacular collapses in northern England – in Burnley Rural ward, which Labour was defending, the party came fourth and lost the seat to the Lib Dems.

The county elections reveal an English electorate attracted by populist rightwing parties, a predictable expression of the widespread indiscriminate cynicism about mainstream politics. The BNP has polled at the upper end of expectations, getting 7% even in some areas (such as Chelmsford and the Clacton area) outside its traditional stamping grounds.

The far-right party has so far won seats in Lancashire and Leicestershire, albeit only on 27%-31% of the vote through fractured opposition. If David Cameron objects to electoral systems that let in extremists, is he now going to condemn first past the post in local elections?

Aside from the BNP, the rightwing mood is apparent in the high votes for Ukip where it has stood in local elections, small rightwing parties and perhaps the surprise package of the lot, the English Democrats, who won the demolition derby that was the Doncaster mayoral election.

They have also achieved some quite impressive shares of the vote in county elections – Essex, for instance – despite the lack of knowledge of the party among the media.

The total vote for these parties plus the Conservatives could make the 2009 European election the most rightwing expression of opinion the British have made collectively since 1931.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2009/jun/05/local-elections-labour-lewis-baston

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Cold comfort (4 May 2008)

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Cold comfort (4 May 2008)

Posted on 04 May 2008 by admin

Local elections 08: Just how bad were these local election results for Labour? Very. Gordon Brown may survive until 2010, but his party is in real danger

Outside London, in urban England, the election results for Labour were an utter disaster. The dimensions of this defeat have so far escaped much analysis because of the impact of Johnson’s victory. In 2006 and 2007 Labour were getting hammered in the south and the suburbs, but the vote was holding up in the cities and working class towns in the north, and even recovering noticeably from the Iraq-blighted elections of 2004. Those local results looked like a post-New Labour political geography. Elections seemed to be reverting to the previous Two Nations pattern of the Thatcher years. The 2008 elections, however, are different.

The regional differences were less apparent, with a few scattered examples of Labour holding or gaining ground in the south, such as in Hastings and Slough, and some epic collapses in the north. Some of the local detail is almost unbelievably bad for Labour. What is one to say when the Conservatives pull ahead in Rother Valley, of all places? The Tories showed considerable strength in smaller working class towns around Manchester. While their gain in ever-marginal Bury attracted some attention, the rise in their share of the vote in places such as Failsworth, Swinton and Eccles was up since their relatively good results in 2007. This was not a feat of targeting, picking off a couple of vulnerable northern councils as in 2007, but a broad increase in popularity in places where the Conservatives have been nearly absent for decades.

On the face of it, the core cities looked exempt from the trend, with no Conservatives on the councils of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Newcastle, although even in these dead zones the Conservative vote improved noticeably on last year.

Local elections, while basically determined by the national trend, do have local variations and in some areas there were movements of opinion in 2008 that compensated for unusual electoral behaviour four years ago. For instance, the Conservatives won Coventry a bit ahead of the curve in 2003, and lost ground this time as their local administration grew stale. But in other places, like Reading and Wolverhampton, the Labour vote that had been resilient in 2004 collapsed in 2008. The Conservatives were 13 points clear of Labour in the heavily working class Wolverhampton North East constituency, a seat that the Tories have only ever won once, in 1987. The Tories even won Heath Town ward, a poor, troubled and much-redeveloped area of the city.

Labour can find very little consolation in these elections, except – oddly – at the scene of the most painful defeat, London. Ken Livingstone gave Labour voters something to fight for, and the party’s vote stood up reasonably well in inner London. Labour even won an extra seat on the London Assembly. But this is cold comfort indeed.

Comparisons have already been made between these local elections and the wipeout Labour suffered in 1968. In some ways, Labour’s defeat in 2008 was worse because the party’s share of the vote was lower, but in other ways it was less drastic. In 1968 anti-Labour voters lined up behind the Conservatives, with the result that the Tories won nearly everything that year. In 2008 multi-party politics is a reality in many local authorities, and Labour retained seats even with a low share of the vote because of split opposition. The Conservatives are nowhere near as dominant in local government as they were in the late 1960s or even the late 1970s, when they had a majority in Merseyside. Their national share of the vote, and lead over Labour, are smaller than in 1968, but to win around 44% in a multi party system is still an impressive accomplishment, reminiscent of Labour’s sweeping triumphs in 1995 and 1996.

Historical comparisons naturally lead to speculation about what the 2008 elections might mean for the general election, due before mid-2010. In 1968, 1977 and 1995, the governing party at the wrong end of the landslide went on to lose the general election. However, in 1968-70 and 1977-79, if not in 1995-97, the defeat was not a foregone conclusion and there were times when re-election even looked likely.

Another point of comparison is the position of the prime minister. Traumatic defeats in 1968 and 1995 led to bouts of speculation and conspiracy aimed against Harold Wilson and John Major respectively, although both survived. Jim Callaghan came out of his 1977 drubbing almost unscathed because he was personally popular, and could both hold the Labour party together and retain the confidence of the Liberals in a finely balanced House of Commons.

Parties, and prime ministers, can ride out local election landslides, but the long term effects are insidious. Parties become demoralised and organisation decays. The emergence of a new political landscape confuses election planning. In 1970 and 1979 Labour lost seats that had previously been considered safe, and the same thing happened on an even greater scale in 1997 to the Conservatives. The logic of general election campaigning insists that Labour prioritise seats where the party’s presence has been reduced almost to vanishing point in local elections, such as Portsmouth North and Harlow – but in such circumstances, how is effective local campaigning possible?

The risk, as the Conservatives discovered, is that one misdirects resources by defending lost causes (like Mitcham and Morden, which some Tories convinced themselves even on the election night of 1997 had been held), while suffering enormous swings and losing seats in areas that had not seemed to be in much danger. This year’s local elections saw a dam break. When that happens, the floods can reach the most unexpected corners, and may never recede to their previous levels.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/04/coldcomfort1

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