Tag Archive | "metropolitan boroughs"

Local elections explained (30 April 2007)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Local elections explained (30 April 2007)

Posted on 30 April 2007 by admin

The 2007 elections will mark a milestone in the deterioration of the Labour party as an organisation with a nationwide presence, writes Lewis Baston

For nearly all of England outside London, Thursday will be local election day.

The number of seats being contested is the largest in the complicated four-year cycle of local elections, and, although these elections will be overshadowed by those in Scotland and Wales, they are still important, both for local services and as an indicator of how the political parties are faring in England.

There are elections for 312 English councils, from big cities like Birmingham and Leeds to pocket-sized district councils like Teesdale and Maldon.

For the big provincial metropolitan areas the parties will be defending the seats they won in 2004, but in most of the rest of England the seats were last fought in 2003.

Neither 2003 nor 2004 was a particularly good year for the Labour party in the English local elections.

The 2003 elections followed shortly after the Iraq war and, although Labour still led in the polls, the party’s support was slipping rapidly.

The Conservatives did relatively well in this set of elections, although there was still a shadow over the party’s prospects and direction, and its leader, Iain Duncan Smith, was not faring well.

For the Liberal Democrats it was a good year, with gains from Labour in urban areas and a solid performance against the Conservatives in some rural and suburban areas.

The metropolitan boroughs and some of the unitary authorities were last contested in 2004, the only year in recent times when Labour has come third in the national vote share in the local elections (see table above).

Labour tends to do worse and the Conservatives and Lib Dems a little better than their national poll rating in local elections, in large part because of differential turnout.

If April’s poll figures are a guide for May’s results, the Conservatives are doing considerably better than in 2003 or 2004 and Labour worse.

The implied swing from Labour to Conservative since 2003 is 6%, according to these very rough and dubious calculations, but since 2004 only 3%.

Labour is in a similar position vis-a-vis the Lib Dems as in 2004, but a fraction worse off than in 2003.

The Conservatives also look as if they should make some progress against the Lib Dems, with a 4.5% swing since 2003 and 3.5% since 2004.

The relationship of these rough national swings and the territory being contested is interesting.

The swing to the Conservatives may be even larger in some of the shire districts last fought in 2003, particularly those in southern England where David Cameron seems to have gained most ground.

The 2006 swings in Crawley, for instance, were massive, and it is possible that similar results could take place in 2007.

In much of rural and suburban southern England, and the smaller towns of the Midlands, this could be an extremely good year for the Conservatives.

It is possible that Labour could be left with only two councils, outside London, south of a line from the Severn to the Wash, namely Reading and Stevenage.

The 2007 elections will be a further milestone in the deterioration of the Labour party as an organisation with a nationwide presence.

These losses will hurt because they are in places where the party needs to defend marginal parliamentary seats.

The Conservatives’ heavy local election losses in 1993-96 helped wreck the party’s organisation and make recovery from their 1997 defeat all the more difficult.

Labour is now undergoing a similar destructive retreat.

However, the swing from 2004 to 2007 is smaller. It will also probably be least evident in the metropolitan boroughs of the north and Midlands where the Conservatives did not perform well in 2006 and where Mr Cameron is less popular.

The pattern of gains and losses of votes and seats in 2007 is therefore likely to be very regionally skewed with Labour suffering massive damage in the south and its remaining outposts in rural and suburban England, but a lot less in the northern cities.

Labour might even make net progress against the Lib Dems in some areas (Luton, Leicester, Bradford) where Muslim voters turned against the party in 2003 and 2004 but have since swung back a bit.

The total of seats changing hands will exaggerate Labour’s defeat, as the smaller authorities electing all-out tend to have smaller wards; Labour’s worst performances will be in places where the number of seats lost looks bad, while holding steadier in the large urban wards where only one seat in three is at stake.

The Conservatives will hope to strike some blows against the Lib Dems and seize back authorities like rural Uttlesford in Essex which the Lib Dems won in 2003.

The Conservatives may do well against the Liberal Democrats, but it is likely that the British National party will also be able to boast some victories, both in its established areas in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, and sporadically in some suburban and rural areas where it has previously not seemed much of a threat.

Not invariably, but often, it is neglected party heartlands that provide the BNP with most potential, coupled with a local political culture of xenophobic social conservatism with which Cameron cannot really connect.

Where the BNP is active, it has been able to scoop up a lot of discontented voters who feel ignored by the other parties, as in West Yorkshire towns such as Dewsbury and Batley.

The United Kingdom Independence party is also contesting a lot of seats, in what may be a last ditch attempt to prevent the BNP gaining primacy on the nationalist right of British politics.

The Conservatives should be able to claim an overall majority if the voting patterns are repeated in a general election, something they have not managed since 1992.

They are also likely to emerge the clear winners in the media’s favourite (but highly misleading) measure of success, the tally of the net number of seats won and lost, and will be appearing to do well in contrast to both Labour and Liberal Democrats.

A national vote share equivalent of more than 41%, or net gains of more than 600 seats, would be good news for the Conservatives.

Look on election night for what happens in the traditional party conference resorts.

The Conservatives currently control none out of Blackpool, Bournemouth and Brighton but if they win all three they will be doing very well.

All they can ask of Manchester, Labour’s 2006 conference venue, is to gain their first seat in years on the city council.

The Conservatives may be doing well, but they are a long way short of the national sweep that Labour managed in Blair’s first set of local elections all the way back in 1995.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/apr/30/localgovernment.localgovernment

Comments Off on Local elections explained (30 April 2007)

Volatile voters get a glimpse of the post-Blair landscape (6 May 2006)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Volatile voters get a glimpse of the post-Blair landscape (6 May 2006)

Posted on 06 May 2006 by admin

It has been so long since the Conservatives had a good election result that it takes a little time to recognise it for what it is. Their total of gains, at 273 seats and counting, is at the upper end of expectations for the party, and they polled quite convincingly in a range of local elections from Plymouth to Bury, as well as in London.

Labour’s losses are a little less than I had predicted, mostly because there was much more give and take between Labour and Lib Dem than I had bargained for. For every Labour calamity in, for instance, Lewisham, there was Lambeth to balance it up; and the party also made gains rather than losses vis-a-vis the Lib Dems in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

While in the northern metropolitan boroughs and some of the shire districts Labour were resilient and even improved on their result in 2004, in London the swing went further than merely catching up with what had happened in the rest of the country between 2002 and 2004.

Labour’s terrible results in parts of London should be deeply worrying to the party. There is not even the excuse of low turnout, as turnout was significantly up on 2002. The electoral landscape is starting to look distinctly post-Blair. In the very areas where electors responded so warmly to shiny New Labour in 1997 and 2001, they have turned away in droves in 2006.

The Greens are a far more successful minor party than the BNP, but have so far attracted less attention. They fought on a much broader front, while the BNP is a highly localised force that comes and goes. By contrast, the Greens have staying power and have elected effective and durable councillors.

Local elections can provide interesting straws in the wind. The West Yorkshire borough of Kirklees has once again – as it did in 2004 – refused to award any party a higher share of the vote than 25% and its politics are a kaleidoscopic mix of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and BNP. An additional element this time was the success of a “Save Huddersfield NHS” candidate. The appeal of purely local politics seems to be growing.

The Lib Dems have carved a niche in politics as the party of local government, but these results put this into question. They failed to take relatively easy target councils in Portsmouth and Bristol, and where they held power, or had recently held power, they tended to do badly.

The 2006 elections hint at a revival of an older political geography, with the Tories gaining in suburban areas of former strength and Labour holding up better in its traditional areas. It is perhaps not surprising that a civilised west London liberal Tory like David Cameron struck a chord in metropolitan suburbia, but did little for his party in earthier parts of England. Perhaps the 2009 election will resemble the patterns of 1992 or 1974 more than it does the rather classless electoral landscape of 2001.

But despite the Conservatives’ promising results last night, there is no sign that the electorate has any nostalgia for two-party politics, and even three-party politics now seems distinctly passé. The electorate seems volatile, grumpy and unconvinced, but it has given Cameron more cause for encouragement than it ever did for his three luckless predecessors.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2006/may/06/uk.localelections20061

Comments Off on Volatile voters get a glimpse of the post-Blair landscape (6 May 2006)

Post-Blair, but not quite convinced of Cameron (5 May 2006)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Blair, but not quite convinced of Cameron (5 May 2006)

Posted on 05 May 2006 by admin

The electorate is in volatile mood and even three-party politics is now looking distinctly passé.

It has been so long since the Conservatives had a good election result that it takes a little time to recognise it for what it is. Their total of gains, at 273 seats and counting, is at the upper end of expectations for the party, and they polled quite convincingly in a range of different local elections from Plymouth to Bury as well as in London.

They did well enough to wrest control of a larger haul of councils than they can have hoped for. Conservative satisfaction must be all the greater because of the uncanny symmetry with which their gains mirror Labour’s losses.

In the last few rounds of local elections Labour have tended to slip back, but the spoils have been shared between the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and a variety of minor parties and independents. Labour’s losses are a little less than what I predicted before the elections, mostly because there was much more give and take between Labour and Lib Dem than I had bargained for. For every Labour calamity in, for instance, Lewisham, there was Lambeth to balance it up; and the party also made gains rather than losses vis-à-vis the Lib Dems in the northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

While in the northern metropolitan boroughs and some of the shire districts Labour were resilient and even improved on their result in 2004, in London the swing went further than merely catching up with what had happened in the rest of the country between 2002 and 2004. Labour’s terrible results in parts of London should be deeply worrying to the party. There is not even the excuse of low turnout, as turnout was significantly up on 2002 and in some areas where Labour took a terrible beating (like Bexley) the increase was above average.

The electoral landscape is starting to look distinctly post-Blair. In the very areas where electors responded so warmly to shiny New Labour in 1997 and 2001, they have turned away in droves in 2006. A scary result for Labour outside London was the runaway success of the Conservatives in the borough elections in Swindon, a town with two close-fought marginal parliamentary seats.

But the London suburbs were the most dramatic illustration of the trend. Harrow has been a close fight in the last couple of borough elections, but the Conservatives won by miles this year. In Ealing, Labour’s most shocking loss, there was a 10 per cent swing to the Conservatives, who regained control of a borough some had privately believed to be beyond them permanently thanks to demographic change.

This was even bigger than the 8.5% swing in the thoroughly anticipated Conservative gain in the gentrifying borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. Ealing topped their four gains from Labour and three from no overall control (for the loss only of Richmond to the Lib Dems) to put the Tories in control of exactly half the London boroughs, not quite where they were in their last good London borough election year in 1982.

Back in the 1980s when Labour’s image was poor in London and the party had trouble winning elections, Labour’s local authorities contributed a lot to the damage. It was not so much the well-advertised and often entirely fictional ‘loony left’ excesses, but the general feeling that Labour was not capable of running a local authority efficiently and in the interests of local residents. High local taxes and poor services were not an attractive mix and the national party leadership was keen to distance itself from the boroughs.

Patricia Hewitt, in her capacity as one of Neil Kinnock’s senior advisers, wrote in 1987 that London local government’s policies “were costing us dear among the pensioners”. This must have raised a bitter smile from a few dispossessed London Labour councillors today. In this campaign, Labour’s borough councils felt rather proud of their record, and were brought low by the sorry display put on by the national government.

While Labour weren’t on course for a triumph before the government fell into disarray, it may well have made the difference between holding on and losing in Merton and possibly Croydon, and dashed any chance of a surprise pick-up in Enfield.

While suburban London politics is reasonably straightforward, the politics of inner city London is contradictory and complex. Voters in some authorities such as Lambeth and Islington seem to be short of patience – in Lambeth Labour felt surprised and rather hurt to lose control in 2002, only for their Lib Dem successors to feel the same now. Camden, and more surprisingly Lewisham, chucked out reasonably successful Labour authorities. One of the small band of Lib Dems previously on the council in Lewisham is Councillor Harry Potter, but Labour had obviously missed a lesson or two in Defence Against the Dark (Electioneering) Arts.

In Tower Hamlets there was a most peculiar result, with Labour (subject to recounts) looking on course to retain control having lost seats to the Conservatives and Respect, and picked them up from the Lib Dems. Results from Hackney are slow in arriving, but it is a borough that has produced more than its share of weird results in the past. The Green Party is becoming established in parts of inner London, particularly Lewisham where Darren Johnson, their only councillor in 2002, is joined by five colleagues. Less obvious is the steady 10 per cent or more of the vote Green candidates polled across boroughs such as Camden and Lambeth.

The Greens are a far more successful minor party than the BNP, but have so far attracted less attention. They fought on a much broader front, while the BNP is a highly localised force that comes and goes. In its stamping grounds of a few years ago, Burnley and Oldham, it has faded away (after considerable anti-fascist campaigning by opponents), while it has flared up in Barking & Dagenham and West Yorkshire more recently. By contrast, the Greens have staying power and have elected effective and durable councillors.

Local elections can provide interesting straws in the wind. The final collapse of the Liberals as a party of government in the first quarter of the 20th Century started in local elections. The continuing decay of the party system is most apparent in some florid examples in local government. The West Yorkshire borough of Kirklees has once again (as it did in 2004) refused to award any party a higher share of the vote than 25 per cent – its politics is a kaleidoscopic mix of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and BNP. Its wards have delivered surprise after surprise as the votes have been counted, with hardly any local politician resting securely.

An additional element this time was the success of a “Save Huddersfield NHS” candidate in one ward, making Kirklees a six-party system. Hospital campaigners also got elected in some hitherto safe Conservative wards in Enfield and the appeal of purely local politics seems to be growing.

The Liberal Democrats have carved out a niche in politics as the party par excellence of local government, but the 2006 results put this into question. In previous rounds of local elections they have tended to outperform uniform swing and most people’s expectations before the result, but this time they have fallen short (despite their high share of the vote). They failed to take relatively easy target councils in Portsmouth and Bristol, and where they held power (or had recently held power) they tended to do badly. With the Conservatives apparently restored to acceptability as an alternative for voters cross with Labour, the Lib Dems must show more dynamism and strategic vision.

The 2006 elections hint at a revival of an older political geography, with the Conservatives gaining in their suburban areas of former strength and Labour holding up better in its most traditional areas of support. It is perhaps not surprising that a civilised west London liberal Tory like Cameron struck a chord in a swathe of metropolitan suburbia, but did little for his party in earthier parts of England like Gosport or Thurrock.

Perhaps the 2009 election will resemble the patterns of 1992 or 1974 more than it does the rather classless electoral landscape of 2001. But despite the Conservatives’ promising results last night, there is no sign that the electorate has any nostalgia for two party politics, and even three party politics now seems distinctly passé. The electorate seems volatile, grumpy and unconvinced, but has given Cameron more cause for encouragement than it ever did for his three luckless predecessors.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/may/05/lewisbaston

Comments Off on Post-Blair, but not quite convinced of Cameron (5 May 2006)