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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

Posted on 12 June 2012 by admin

Local election results – England and Wales

The 2012 local elections, leaving the London mayoralty aside, were a considerable success for Labour. While in 2011 Labour did very well in the big urban areas and not so well elsewhere, in 2012 Labour advanced pretty much everywhere that the party is a viable proposition, including such places as Weymouth, Tamworth and Great Yarmouth where the Conservative vote held up well in 2011, suggesting that the party is making progress on a much wider front than last year.

In terms of benchmarks and targets for party performance, Labour exceeded all realistic expectations. The party made a net gain of 823 seats across Britain, comfortably over the 700-720 that was the highest legitimate benchmark for a good performance. The party also took nearly all of its target councils, including some which had been regarded as rather ambitious targets: my previous paper describes Dudley, Cardiff and Redditch for instance as tough asks for Labour, but the party won the first two easily and the third narrowly. The only failures were Swindon (where the Conservatives retained a 1-seat majority despite Labour polling more votes) and the always peculiar West Midlands borough of Walsall.

As expected, Labour won the inaugural contests for the new mayors of Liverpool (in a landslide) and Salford (easily).

However, given the low turnout in these elections, it may be more a case of the Conservatives being in much worse shape in 2012 rather than a large positive movement to Labour. Turnout at around 32 per cent in England was poor, particularly in comparison with last year when it does appear that the AV referendum increased turnout (also significant is that the 2011 elections took place in more suburban and rural areas where turnout is higher anyway, while 2012’s elections were mostly urban). However, while it was pretty low, turnout was not as bad as it was during the first term of Blair’s government and not too much worse than years such as 1995 (which saw a big drop in turnout and a Labour landslide). In most areas, for every ten people who voted Conservative in 2011 about six did so this year, while for every ten Labour voters in 2011 there were about eight or nine this year. The net effect was a significant swing to Labour.

Looking at the local elections, another ‘hung parliament’ general election emerges as a strong possibility. A strongly regionalised swing, favouring Labour in the north and the Conservatives in the south, has interesting consequences, particularly when combined with the Liberal Democrats’ resilience in many of their stronger constituencies and the success of the SNP in Scotland. A swing to Labour will take out a few Tory remnants in the north, a swing to Tory will conquer Labour’s remaining outposts there – but these swings may well not be enough to win a Commons majority if there are 30 Lib Dems, 16 Northern Ireland MPs and perhaps 15-20 Nationalists.

The swing was less regionalised than it was in 2011, but it was still clear that Labour were doing less well in the south than in the north in terms of their recovery since 2008. Perhaps the main difference from 2011 was that the Midlands joined the North in swinging hard towards Labour, rather than joining the Tory South as it did last year. The Midlands will be the key battleground in political strategy in the next period – the Black Country marginals west of Birmingham and the smaller towns outside the metro area, and the towns and suburbs around Nottingham and Derby – will be crucial.

In general, it was another appalling year for the Lib Dems, and the hostility to the party in some areas (particularly the big cities) was just as evident as last year. The Lib Dems did worse in Liverpool, and were once again at the wrong end of a wipe-out in Manchester. In the areas where Conservatives compete with Lib Dems, honours were fairly even between the two parties, in contrast to last year when there was a strong trend to the Conservatives. The Conservatives did manage to gain Winchester from no overall control, although the Lib Dems had a swing in their favour in Portsmouth.

Local elections always demonstrate the peculiarities of some political micro-climates. The Conservatives did well to cling on in Swindon (despite Labour winning more votes), and there were a few strong Liberal Democrat showings against the national background of devastation. In Eastleigh and Watford they won landslides, and in Portsmouth they made significant gains from the Conservatives. There were even a few patches where wards that had gone Labour with a vengeance last year returned to the fold, particularly in Hull but also a few scattered outposts from Wigan to Basildon.

For the ‘other’ parties in England the results were mixed. The BNP lost all the seats it was defending and managed to field many fewer candidates than in 2008, and appears to be collapsing as a political force. The Green Party also did quite well, winning 40 seats (a net gain of 11), consolidating its position in areas of strength (Norwich, Solihull) and picking off a number of other wards where it has targeted its campaigning efforts. It may emerge, given the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in the northern metropolitan areas, as the principal opposition force to local Labour control in due course.

It was quite a good election for UKIP, in that the party won 12-13 per cent of the vote where it stood. In wards where both it and the Lib Dems were standing ‘paper candidates’ (i.e. people standing to represent the party on the ballot in areas where they do not expect to win and do very little campaigning) the UKIP candidate usually got more votes. In some areas (Great Yarmouth, Dudley, Basildon) UKIP polled quite serious vote shares of over 20 per cent in many wards. However, it has not managed to target its campaigning effectively for local authority elections, in contrast to the Greens, and it made no net gains in the elections despite its strong vote. The lack of targeting seems to me to be a puzzling aspect of UKIP strategy; it would surely be in the interests of the party to prioritise gaining elected local representatives, but it seems to concentrate on building its vote share, perhaps as a means of putting pressure on the Conservatives.

Wales, because every seat in 21 of the 22 councils was up for election (rather than a third of the seats, as with most of England), saw a huge turnover of seats and sweeping Labour gains, effectively reversing two sets of quite bad losses in 2004 and 2008. Overall, Labour made a net gain of 231 seats across Wales, with the Conservatives (-61), Lib Dems (-66) and Plaid Cymru (-41) all suffering losses. The most dramatic result was the Labour win in Cardiff, with a gain of 33 seats. But there were also some quite surprising Conservative losses of control of their councils in Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan, where the party has generally been on an upward trend.

 

Local elections – Scotland

Because local elections are conducted under a proportional system in Scotland, changes in seats are less dramatic but in some ways the story there is the most surprising of all. The SNP gained, but by less than some over-optimistic expectations, and so did Scottish Labour despite their drubbing in the Scottish Parliament election last year. Both parties profited from the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, the SNP making a net gain of 57 and Labour of 58. In Edinburgh, where the Lib Dems had led the council since 2007, the Lib Dems dropped to three seats (and saw one of its candidates famously outpolled by a man in a penguin costume), Labour emerged as the largest party and formed a coalition with the SNP to run the city, the first Labour-SNP coalition in Scottish politics.

The SNP will be very disappointed. In many elections in the past, the SNP has ramped up expectations and believed its own hype, and seen the results come well below what was hoped. In the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 and, dramatically, 2011 this did not happen, but this old pattern has reasserted itself. The reality was that it was a moderately encouraging result for the SNP but not a breakthrough, and had it not been for the expectations and the results of the 2011 elections it would have been seen as good news for the SNP.

The importance of the elections was in the possibility that local government, collectively – with the trade unions the main non-Nationalist area of public life in Scotland – would become part of the developing SNP establishment. The SNP duly won outright control of two councils – Dundee and Angus – where this might have been expected given the SNP’s long-established strength in that part of Scotland. They fell short in other north eastern councils such as Aberdeenshire and Moray, and were cut out of a share of the administration by deals between Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Independents. The hopes of using local authorities and COSLA to support the push for independence in the forthcoming referendum came to nothing. Labour lost one council (Midlothian) it had gained because of a defection, held two (Glasgow and North Lanarkshire) and most surprisingly gained two (Renfrewshire, displacing an SNP-Lib Dem administration, and West Dunbartonshire). Labour also came out ahead in seats but without an overall majority in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. In Aberdeen they formed a coalition with the Conservatives and Independents and in Edinburgh with the SNP.

With control only in Dundee and Angus, and the SNP locked out by surprising coalitions among the other parties in other councils (Lab-Con is the formula not only in Aberdeen but also in Stirling where the SNP did well, Inverclyde, Falkirk and even South Ayrshire where the parties have been harshly competitive), something clearly has been going on. A lot of it has to do with the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The parties opposed to independence (i.e. Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and most Independents) have decided to deprive the pro-independence parties (SNP and Green) of the levers of power in local government. Local government could have been used as a way of promoting independence, and giving pro-independence SNP activists publicly funded full time positions running councils, but this will not now happen. This could be an important result of the 2012 local elections.

London

The result was more or less as expected, with Boris Johnson re-elected as Mayor and Labour dominating in the Assembly election. However, Johnson’s margin of victory was smaller than many had expected during the campaign – 3 points after distribution of second preferences rather than the 6-8 points suggested by most polls and some expectations of a bigger win for Johnson than that because of differential turnout. Johnson’s re-election had been so widely expected that it had effectively been ‘priced in’ to media assessments of the results, and the fact that it was fairly narrow was added to the evidence that the Conservatives had a bad night.

What appears to have happened is that the suburban Conservative vote, which had turned out very strongly for Johnson in 2008, was less enthusiastic this time, probably as a reflection of dissatisfaction with the central government’s performance. Labour also seems to have had, this time, a superior ‘get out the vote’ operation on the ground, perhaps particularly in strong areas like Newham and Barking & Dagenham (where anti-BNP campaigning had revitalised the party in 2010) and in Enfield and Hackney.

But it was not quite enough to get Ken Livingstone across the line. In 2000 he was vastly popular and won as an Independent, and in 2004 he was much more popular than the Labour brand, but in 2008 the electorate appeared to be getting tired of him and this was even more evident in 2012, even though his first preference vote was its highest ever. Unlike before, his popularity did not reach beyond Labour’s – and did not even extend to all of the Labour Party. There were appreciable numbers of Labour supporters who did not vote for him.

 

Labour Assembly list % Mayoral FP % Mayoral advantage %
2004 25.0 36.7 +11.7
2008 27.6 37.0 +9.4
2012 41.1 40.3 -0.8

 

Conservative Assembly list % Mayoral FP % Mayoral advantage %
2004 28.5 29.1 +0.6
2008 34.6 43.2 +8.6
2012 32.0 44.0 +12.0

 

The election will have no particularly strong influence on policy in London, with Johnson (who has been notably slow to change much that he inherited from Livingstone in 2008) now overseen by a strengthened Labour group on the Assembly,  although the Assembly’s power is so weak that it will not be much of a constraint.

The detail of the election reveals some fascinating demographic and social trends about London. Working class areas of outer London appear to be changing rapidly and becoming much more ethnically mixed – for instance in Enfield and Croydon – while a wedge of London to the south west is becoming increasingly dominated by the wealthy (Wandsworth, Wimbledon etc).

What seems to have happened to the social bases of each candidate is that Livingstone lost the liberal middle class vote he had done very well among for a Labour candidate – Hampstead, Richmond, central Ealing, Muswell Hill, Wimbledon… but recovered some ground among the outer London white working class that he had done particularly badly among in 2008.

Overall, Labour’s Assembly election results were good – but perhaps not that good. The party was 9 points ahead on the list vote, although in the General Election of 2010 Labour led by 2 points. The swing was therefore 3-4 per cent to Labour, while in general the swing in the rest of England was around 8 per cent. There are a couple of viable alternative explanations for this discrepancy:

  • Perhaps having Livingstone at the top of the ticket dragged down the Labour share in all the elections in London, while Johnson probably dragged up the Conservative list. This can work through turnout – if a Labour supporter is unenthusiastic about Livingstone, she may just fail to vote, while an unhappy Conservative may find himself reluctantly voting only because he likes Johnson.
  • Perhaps the swing to Labour in London really is less than it is outside the capital. This could be because Labour did not do as badly in London in 2010 as elsewhere, so there is less of a mountain to climb. Or it could be because of other particularities of the politics and sociology of London.

It is likely that both factors contributed a bit to the small Labour swing in London.

 

Local elections – effects

The effect of local elections on the national political environment is complex. While they are largely determined by the state of general public opinion, they have feedback effects. Governments that suffer bad results often see their position decline once the elections are over, sometimes in public opinion (as with the severe and surprising Tory losses in 1993, or Labour’s drubbing in 2008) and often in broader ‘climate’ terms.

After a bad defeat, the media become more critical, troublesome backbenchers make more and louder trouble than they have already been doing, previously loyal MPs start to murmur dissent, ministers start to fear or hope for reshuffles, and in general a bad atmosphere descends. Sometimes, as in 1993 and 1995, it degenerates into a real crisis for the government; it nearly did in 2009 as well but the anti-Brown plotters mishandled it. So far in 2012 the political effect on the government from the local elections has been fairly modest. The government is still in trouble, but it has not deepened since the ‘omnishambles’ period of March and April, and in some polls the Labour lead has subsided a bit as May has gone on. But the local elections have consolidated the new post-Budget political narrative (and reality) of a government in trouble, rather than the ‘Labour failing and Ed is hopeless’ mood with which we started 2012.

The elections are part of a pattern of events. One casualty has been the reputation of George Osborne as a political strategist, given that his budget contained one extremely provocative measure (the top rate tax cut) and a number of smaller measures that have caused a series of minor political explosions and alienated several interests (pasties, caravans, historic buildings, pensioners…) at once. There has also been, it appears, an effort to shift blame onto Osborne for this from elsewhere in government, for instance briefing that Andrew Cooper at Number 10 was not permitted to test the tax cut with public opinion, or that Osborne wanted to cut to 40p but was stopped by Cameron and Clegg. Conservative journalists have written stories suggesting that Osborne has not been working hard enough, trying to divide his time between the Treasury and political strategy and doing neither well enough, and his lack of attention led to him being ‘bounced’ by the Treasury civil servants into a number of the minor changes that have proved politically difficult. Neither has Cameron’s leadership looked very sure-footed since, with tetchy performances at PMQs and apparently ever-deeper problems with Hunt and Leveson.

The Conservative Party is in a more disenchanted condition than it has been probably since 2003; while only eccentric lone voices such as Nadine Dorries have been open with harsh criticism of Cameron, there is a murmur of unease with the direction of policy under the coalition, with Cameron’s personal performance and attitude to his MPs, and for the first time with the party’s electoral prospects. The government has been in place for two years without a reshuffle, other than emergency mini-reshuffles after the resignations of Laws and Fox, and the mood of instability, plotting and every-man-for-himself that comes with reshuffle speculation has started (although Number 10 is trying to say that the reshuffle will be in September, not before). The high votes for UKIP in a number of constituencies will have impressed some Tory MPs – UKIP at around 10% in his Bury North constituency will merely encourage rebellious right-winger David Nuttall to be even more rebellious, for instance.

The election results combined with the economic news , and the sense that the argument for austerity is starting to be lost with the ‘double-dip’ recession and the election result in France, is shifting views. The Conservative right is keen for some ‘red meat’ to give to supporters who are abstaining or voting UKIP, in the form of dropping the gay marriage proposal, confronting Europe some more and adopting the Beecroft proposals on employment law.

The Lib Dem response to another horrible set of results was fairly calm. If a person is punched in the face twice, the second punch is less shocking (even if it may end up doing more long term damage than the first blow).This has been the fourth year in a row of local election losses, and after the trauma of their worse-than-expected massacre in 2011 they were resigned to a bad result in 2012. There were some crumbs of comfort in some areas where the results were better than last year (Hull, Basildon, Wigan and others). The Lib Dems, I think, know that the die was cast in 2010 by joining the coalition on the terms they did, and that there is not a lot they can do about it now except to hope that they survive the journey to 2015 and that there is a record of achievement in government to show for it with which they can impress voters at the election.

Part of the reason for the passive response among MPs is that for many of them the local results were not bad, often appreciably better than last year. This table shows the local election results in a number of Lib Dem held seats in England where there were local elections. In some the chances of Lib Dems holding on against Labour seem very remote, but against the Conservatives in suburban England they did pretty well. Rebellious MPs Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) and Bob Russell  (Colchester) saw their local election colleagues do well, and in Chris Huhne’s Eastleigh the Lib  Dems won another landslide victory. These sorts of figures give the party some hope that where there is a functional Lib Dem local organisation, a local MP and a number of electors who have a partisan identification with the Lib Dems, survival is possible.

 

2010 general election

2012 local elections

 
 

Con

Lab

LD

Con

Lab

LD

‘Result’

‘Swing’
Manchester Withington

11

41

45

5

57

25

Lab

18% to Lab
Burnley

17

31

36

6

53

34

Lab

11% to Lab
Cheadle

41

9

47

33

17

36

LD

2% to Con
Cambridge

26

24

39

15

43

25

Lab

17% to Lab
Southport

 

36

9

50

21

20

35

LD

None
Portsmouth South

33

14

46

25

21

47

LD

5% to LD
Colchester

 

33

12

48

23

21

39

LD

1% to LD
Hazel Grove

34

13

49

27

23

42

LD

None
Sheffield Hallam

24

16

53

17

23

39

LD

11% to Lab

 

For Labour, the results have consolidated Ed Miliband’s leadership. This would have been regarded, a year to six months ago, as being a paradoxically good thing for the Conservatives! But Miliband has grown in confidence and stature during 2012 and the elections have helped him in terms of his personal confidence and in encouraging Labour to have faith in him. Labour’s mood has, sensibly, been of satisfaction rather than complacency and the party tried hard to take a humble tone after the election results. But with a solid election win, a sense that the party’s arguments about economic policy are being vindicated and at last gaining some traction, and a party organisation whose greater efficiency was shown in its campaigning this year, Labour is in a better mood than it has been probably since autumn 2007.

Last but not least in importance, the election results in Scotland were the first dent in Alex Salmond’s armour for a long time; Scottish councils are unlikely to be used as forward bases to push for independence, and we are back to close rivalry of Labour and SNP rather than SNP domination. The launch of the Yes campaign for the independence referendum (25 May), after the local elections, did not seem part of a triumphant progress towards the SNP’s goal.

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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012

Posted on 10 April 2012 by admin

The big contest, looming over the rest of the electoral landscape this May, is the election for Mayor of London. The Mayoralty is powerful, London is politically marginal territory, polls so far suggest that the race will be close and as in 2008 Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson are both strong personalities, so there is reason even apart from the media’s metropolitan bias to concentrate on this election. It is very difficult to call, and may come down to events during the London campaign. Johnson is a lot more viable as a candidate in London than a generic Conservative – if it were purely about national party support, Labour would walk the election because they have a 16-point lead over the Tories. Labour’s general strength in London may show through more in the Assembly elections, where Labour should become the largest party for the first time in the Assembly’s history. This has few consequences for policy, because the Mayor decides, but Labour would find it particularly satisfying to knock out Brian Coleman in Barnet & Camden. The BNP won an Assembly seat in 2008 but are unlikely to do so this year; the Greens and Lib Dems should get representation. (Update 4/2012: UKIP also stands a good chance of qualifying for a list seat).

The London contest might attract most of the attention a large proportion of the rest of the country will also have local elections. Every seat in Scotland and Wales (except for the Isle of Anglesey) is up for election, as are a third of the seats in each of the 36 metropolitan boroughs and some unitary and district councils, mostly in the larger urban areas. A few councils will have half or all of their members being elected this year – the English local election calendar is not straightforward.

When assessing gains and losses in local elections, it is important to look at the areas where the elections will happen, and the political climate last time the seats were contested. The seats this time are more urban than in 2011, when Labour did well in the cities but did not make much of an impact in suburban and rural areas. The political climate in 2008 was catastrophic for Labour and it was the peak Conservative performance in any recent set of local elections. Labour should be winning back fairly large numbers of seats.

Opinion poll ratings at the time of recent local elections

% 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Con 37 44 40 36 36 36 (33)
Lab 32 26 24 29 41 41 (42)
LD 18 17 18 23 10 12 (8)
Others 14 13 19 12 13 11 (17)

 (2012 column: first numbers March, second YouGov 5 April)

National equivalent vote share in local elections

% 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Con 40 43 35 37 38
Lab 26 24 22 30 37
LD 24 23 25 24 16
Others 19 10 18 10 9

 

Looking at the current opinion polls (March), if there is not a change in public opinion between now and early May, the results overall will be pretty similar to 2011. In councils where there are elections in both years, this will be a useful benchmark for the performance of the parties.  Even a repeat of 2011 means a swing of 9 per cent from Conservative to Labour and 10 per cent from Lib Dem to Labour, and yield a haul of seats and councils controlled. Labour lost 434 seats in 2008. Recovering these means getting back to where Labour was in 2004, which was itself a pretty poor year. Three hundred of them would fall if Labour repeated its 2011 performance in the metropolitan boroughs alone, so Labour sights should be set higher than that – perhaps a net gain of 700 would be ‘par’.

In some places Labour victory is almost inevitable. In Harlow, for instance, the Conservatives have a majority of 1, a legacy from their extraordinary performance in 2008 when they won every single seat in the town (4/2012 correction: while Labour won no seats in 2008, there were two Lib Dems as well as the Conservatives, although one has subsequently died and one has defected to Labour). Even a historically poor Labour showing in 2012, as long as it is even slightly better than 2008, will do to win control. The task is harder than this in several other councils, but Labour should be winning control in Thurrock, Plymouth, Southampton, Exeter, Reading and perhaps Norwich, creating some satisfying red splodges on the map of southern and eastern England. The Southampton election is particularly interesting because it is currently run by a particularly right wing pro-cuts Tory council. Labour gained a swathe of councils in the metropolitan areas of the midlands and north in 2010 and 2011, but a few more low-hanging fruit should fall from the tree in Birmingham, Bradford, Wirral and perhaps Walsall. The hard tests, that would indicate Labour advancing significantly since 2011, are Swindon, Dudley and Cardiff. Swindon and Dudley are two party straight fights with the Conservatives in areas with marginal and volatile parliamentary seats, where the Tory vote held up reasonably well in 2011. Cardiff is more of a contest with the Lib Dems, who should put up more resistance there than one can expect in the northern cities where they are likely to be massacred for a second year.

The local elections in Scotland are different for three reasons. The simplest is that these seats were last contested in 2007, rather than 2008. The electoral system is also different – Scotland has the Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional system for its local elections. The third reason is the political context, in which the SNP dominates Scottish politics and this set of results will be seen more of a test of the SNP’s aspirations for independence than Labour’s UK-wide performance. A repeat of the SNP landslide in the 2011 Holyrood elections would see the nationalists controlling most councils in Scotland even under PR. This is unlikely, but it seems likely that the SNP will gain ground, principally at the expense of the Lib Dems but also to some extent Labour and Independents. The big battleground is Glasgow, where the SNP will try to demolish the last bastion of the Scottish Labour establishment. Most people seem to think that Labour will lose outright control.

(From Progress magazine, April 2012)

 

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The Inverclyde by-election: business as usual for Scottish voters

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The Inverclyde by-election: business as usual for Scottish voters

Posted on 01 July 2011 by admin

Labour’s result in the Inverclyde by-election (30 June 2011) was an impressive electoral performance, particularly coming so soon after Scottish Labour’s humiliation at the hands of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections in May. The principal Scottish Parliament constituency in the area, Greenock & Inverclyde, saw Labour squeak to a 511-vote majority over the SNP in the election in May, while the SNP won the other local constituency (Renfrewshire North and West). The result in the area covered by the Inverclyde Westminster seat was probably nearly a tie between Labour and SNP.  For Labour to win by 5,838 votes (20.8 per cent) in June marks a considerable recovery.

Many observers, myself included, had expected a much closer result than this or perhaps an SNP victory, and Labour had been pessimistic during the campaign. This was as much because of the historical pattern than the timing of the by-election in the afterglow of the SNP’s sweeping Holyrood victory. By-elections in working class, hitherto ‘safe’ Labour seats in Scotland tend to become straight contests between Labour and the SNP, and the SNP enjoys a large swing. This has happened almost regardless of the political climate. Some huge swings have happened despite Labour generally riding high at the time (Monklands East, Hamilton South), as well as at low ebbs (Glasgow East). The very biggest in the last 30 years, Glasgow Govan in 1988, came when Labour was in a disheartened and divided condition a year after it did well in Scotland despite losing the election nationally. Inverclyde therefore should be particularly pleasing for Labour and Ed Miliband.

The Liberal Democrat vote in Inverclyde was humiliatingly low, but it was part of the general pattern of collapse where an election becomes a two-way contest between Labour and the SNP. With the exception of Paisley South in 1997 (and even more Dunfermline & West Fife in 2006 when the Lib Dems started a clear second to Labour), the party loses its deposit in these circumstances.  Inverclyde is worse than most of them for the party because it is the only place where the Lib Dems had much of a presence beforehand. They controlled the local authority before 2007, and Greenock was a very rare place with a working-class Liberal history. They ran Labour fairly close in 1970, despite Menzies Campbell withdrawing as candidate because the election clashed with his wedding. In 1983 a Liberal candidate (A.J. Blair) also polled well, with over 36 per cent of the vote.

Inverclyde illustrates two facts about Scottish voters. They favour left-of-centre government, and they are pragmatic and intelligent about how they achieve it. Apparently enormous electoral changes like Labour’s victory in 2010 and the SNP landslide in 2011 are reflections of these basic attitudes, and Inverclyde confirms that Scots’ voting choices are very dependent on the context. The Westminster village seems to have decided that Labour is doing badly in opposition, but voters in Inverclyde clearly do not think so – if they did, they would have delivered a shock to the system like the voters of Govan did in 1988. Labour, in Scotland and in Westminster, can take a great deal of comfort from the result – but would be foolish to conclude from it that the voters are having second thoughts about their emphatic support for the SNP’s Scottish government.

Link to original post at Democratic Audit Blog

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Seeking Red Shoots

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Seeking Red Shoots

Posted on 01 April 2011 by admin

Making a comeback in previously Labour-free zones, rather than seizing back control of councils, could be the big story this May, says Lewis Baston

This year will see the fourth set of elections for the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly which Labour established in 1999. They will be seen as an important early test of Labour’s national recovery, despite the very different contexts of Welsh and Scottish politics. And, of course, this is also the big year of the four-year cycle for English local government elections. Nearly everywhere outside London will have elections, either for every council seat or ‘by thirds’.

In Scotland the aim is not for an overall majority, which is highly improbable because the electoral system is quite proportional, but for a clear lead in seats over the Scottish National party and a mandate to form a government either as a minority or as the clearly dominant force within a coalition. There have been extensive boundary changes for the Scottish parliament constituencies, making it harder to predict what might happen and where the crucial seats are. One is Glasgow Southside, where deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP faces Labour councillor Stephen Curran in a seat with an estimated Labour majority in 2007 of 27 votes. Clackmannanshire and Dunblane is also a key Labour-SNP contest. South of Glasgow, boundary changes have made Eastwood a likely Conservative seat, but Labour has made big progress here – Jim Murphy has been the MP since 1997 – and could spring a surprise. The mixed new seat of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale should be SNP, but has elements of support for all four main parties.

Labour’s target in Wales is a majority in the assembly, which polls indicate is very possible. The party needs five gains on 2007, although more are required if Labour loses list seats in compensation for constituency successes. Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South is possibly the most interesting seat, a three-way marginal where the winning Conservative and third-placed Plaid Cymru were separated by only 250 votes. After Nick Smith’s triumph in the Westminster election, Blaenau Gwent‘s assembly seat should return to the fold. The ‘clear red water’ in Wales over tuition fees may help in Cardiff Central, despite a large Liberal Democrat majority in 2007 – it is an ambitious target.

The 2007 elections, when this year’s English local government seats were last fought, were – though pretty bad for Labour – not the humiliating drubbing that the local polls were in 2008 and 2009. It is not until May 2012, when the councillors elected in 2008 will be up for re-election, that Labour will make huge gains in terms of control of authorities that elect by thirds. The story of the 2011 elections in many areas, particularly southern urban councils such as Southampton, Plymouth and Harlow, will be more about putting in solid foundations to take control next year than outright wins this year.

Labour recovered ground in some cities in 2010 (recapturing Liverpool and Coventry, for example), and those gains left the party only just short of overall control in authorities such as Leeds and Warrington – these should fall easily in 2011, as should Nick Clegg’s disaffected home patch, Sheffield. If polling and by-election evidence of a big Liberal Democrat collapse in the northern cities is borne out, Labour should be in the business of taking out its rivals’ northern flagship of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and, following a by-election win in March, seizing Burnley. It would take quite a sweep to win outright control of Hull, but Labour should at least deprive the Liberal Democrats of control there.

Against the Conservatives the potential pickings are slimmer, with the prize of Ipswich (a Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition) being a hoped-for symbol of Labour recovery in eastern England; Lincoln should be a win as well.

In some ways the most interesting story for Labour will not be in terms of council control but in ‘red shoots’ popping up in areas where the party has been shut out of representation in recent years, an essential step to rebuilding Labour as a national party. Harriet Harman in particular has been tireless in urging Labour candidates to come forward even in difficult areas, and this should produce a scattering of surprising individual victories in hitherto barren territory. In 1996 Labour was running councils like St Edmundsbury and Cherwell. Re-establishing a presence would be a good start, and control is a realistic proposition in several of these councils – Waveney in Suffolk, Stockton-on-Tees and North Warwickshire all cover parliamentary marginals.

Labour should take several urban unitaries including Blackpool, although control in Brighton and Hove is very difficult because the Greens now win several formerly Labour wards. There are few areas where Labour is on the defensive in these elections, but among them is North Lincolnshire where the Conservatives are the main opposition. It would be an extremely good result if Labour were to bounce back from third in Northampton – but expect a few surprises once the polls close on 5 May.

Originally published 1 April 2011 Progress Online

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

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Pollwatch: Debate sees Lib Dems’ star rising to set Tory nerves jangling (April 16 2010)

Posted on 16 April 2010 by admin

The party in yellow always sees a spike during campiagns due to higher visibility but Conservatives should still be wary

Even if the first reports of the post-debate boost for Nick Clegg were a bit outlandish, it seems that the leadership debates have added to the usual lift that the Lib Dems get from election campaigns.

There have been already been several inconsistent accounts published concerning which of the larger two parties would suffer most from a rise in Lib Dem support. The answer must be, unfortunately, “it depends”. But in terms of the parties’ aims in the election it is more likely that the Conservatives will have most cause to regret Nick Clegg’s equal time and his effective use of it.

Gaining seats from the Lib Dems is an element of the Conservative strategy to get over the winning line of 326 seats in the new House of Commons. Pre-campaign polls with figures like Con 40, Lib Dem 19 implied a 5.5% swing towards the Tories. Based on uniform swing (a particularly rough approximation when it comes to Lib Dems) this would gain 23 seats for the Tories, an important contribution to their target of 116 gains, which allowing for boundary changes would get them to 326.

Even before the debate, there was evidence that the Conservatives were struggling in their efforts to win seats from the Lib Dems. YouGov’s regional trends showed them doing poorly in the south-west, where many of these seats are located, and the Crosby/Textor poll of marginal seats showed no Tory progress at all in the Lib Dem held marginals. The Tories may still pick off a few of the 23, but might also lose one or two to the Lib Dems such as Eastbourne. If there are no net gains from the Lib Dems, the Tories have to find 23 seats from somewhere else. It gets worse – the party is under-performing in Scotland and would be lucky to gain any of the apparently vulnerable SNP seats or more than one or two from Scottish Labour.

There are 24 Lib Dem seats and two SNP among the 116 numerically most vulnerable to the Conservatives. If there were a neat, even swing from all others to the Tories, seat 116 (Waveney in Suffolk) would fall with a 6% swing. Taking Lib Dem and SNP seats, plus the more ambitious targets from Scottish Labour, off the boards means the required swing from Labour alone increases to 8 per cent. An 8-point national swing implies a Conservative lead over Labour of 13 points, although allowing for a 1.5% overperformance in targets from Labour would take it down to the Tories needing a 10-point lead to win. It is still a very tall order.

But what about Labour? A Lib Dem surge harms them as well, but perhaps less than one might think. There are eight Labour seats vulnerable to a 2% swing to the Lib Dems, but a sharp swing of 7% would only net the Lib Dems 10 more seats from Labour. In practice, however, Lib Dems always perform patchily, winning outsized swings to gain seats that did not look at all marginal (like Solihull and Manchester Withington in 2005) while missing some apparently easier targets (like Dorset West and Oxford East in 2005).

A national boost would probably in reality help bring in some long shots. The real danger for Labour is that Lib Dem voters might become unwilling to give tactical votes to vulnerable Labour candidates in marginals where there is a Labour-Conservative fight, and thereby hand the seat to the Tories (as happened in several places in 2005, like Shipley and St Albans). This would in turn make it easier for the Tories to gain the seats they need at Labour’s expense. But there were already widespread conjectures about “tactical unwind” happening.

If the Lib Dem boost is sustained, as it may well be (although not at the fanciful levels suggested in initial reports of the ComRes poll), it poses a clear threat to the Conservatives’ chances of achieving their strategic aim, a parliamentary majority (or a sufficiently predominant position in a hung parliament to run a minority government which could reliably get legislation passed).

It poses less of a threat to Labour, because fewer seats are directly at stake, and Labour’s strategic aims are more nuanced than just the big ask of a parliamentary majority. By brandishing an olive branch at Clegg during the debate, Gordon Brown was bidding for progressive voters for Labour, but also preparing the ground for Labour’s Plan B – a coalition, or minority government with an explicit accommodation with the Lib Dems.

Published 16/4/2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/16/pollwatch-debate-lib-dems-tories

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Reading the Political Map (April 15 2010)

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Reading the Political Map (April 15 2010)

Posted on 15 April 2010 by admin

Westminster voting intention polls in Scotland show that remarkably little has changed since 2005, particularly in the gap between Labour and Conservative where there seems to be a swing of between 0 and 2 per cent. The principal difference seems to be a fairly strong swing from Lib Dem to SNP. What appears to be happening (although the reality is that movements in public opinion are always complex and flow in many directions between any two points) is that there is a floating centre-left vote in Scotland that has chosen differently in different elections. In 2005 the SNP was at a low ebb and the Lib Dems performed strongly with voters critical of Labour on Iraq and the apparent centre-right drift of UK Labour policy. In 2007 the SNP benefited, but in 2010 Labour seem to have rallied some of it and the SNP has also picked up.

In terms of seats, projecting the trends across Scotland shows only one seat changing hands since 2005 (other than Glasgow North East going from Speaker to Labour). This would be an SNP gain from Labour in the highly marginal Ochil & South Perthshire constituency.

However, swing is unlikely to be uniform and there may be changes during the election campaign. In particular, assuming that a drop from 23 per cent to 14 per cent for the Lib Dems in the Scotland polls will lead to a 9-point drop in their support everywhere will give wrong results. The Lib Dems tend to gain support during campaigns, and are also good at playing the First Past the Post electoral system to target the seats they need to win. It would be foolish to count them out in the marginals despite their apparently poor poll showing. One seat where they stand a very good chance is Dunfermline & West Fife, where they won the by-election in 2006; they are also strong contenders in Edinburgh South and not to be dismissed in a few others such as Edinburgh North & Leith, Aberdeen South and maybe Glasgow North (although they may have maxed out their appeal there  in 2005). On the other hand, they risk losing a couple, such as the Berwickshire seat and Argyll & Bute, which went to the Tories and SNP respectively in 2007.

Scotland would contribute no Tory gains at all on a uniform swing, even if the UK polls are correct and the Conservatives end up on the cusp of an overall majority. This would naturally have significant implications for Scotland’s place in a Tory Britain. At least, thanks to devolution, the Tories would not need to staff a full Scottish Office.

The Conservatives can hold out the hope that their Scottish MPs could fit into a taxi rather than a phone box, but the target of 11 Tory seats in Scotland is extremely wishful thinking. They have one highly realistic target (Dumfries & Galloway, although even there they face a canny local politician in Russell Brown) and a couple of seats where there is a Tory vote to be mobilised but where they start a long way behind or face other competition – Edinburgh South, after all, has Morningside and Fairmilehead within its boundaries, and there is also Stirling which sent Michael Forsyth to Parliament in 1983-97. They have some hope of ‘decapitation’ of two leading Scottish Labour figures, Jim Murphy in Renfrewshire East and Alistair Darling in Edinburgh South West, but neither looks likely at present. As well as Lib Dem Berwickshire, they might also try to sneak a win in an SNP seat such as Perth & North Perthshire.

The puzzle of the Westminster election is perhaps why the SNP are so poorly rewarded for a significant increase in their support since 2005. The problem for them is that their vote is fairly evenly spread in urban Scotland, so the main result is becoming a slightly better second to Labour across the Central Belt. They start from miles behind even in some seats where they performed well in the 2007 election, such as Falkirk and North Ayrshire. Other than Ochil, Dundee West and perhaps Kilmarnock & Loudoun, they need monster swings to get anywhere. They achieved such a swing in the by-election in Glasgow East in 2008, but the SNP has never before held a Westminster by-election gain from Labour and it would be surprising if Glasgow East did not revert to its usual Labour colours.

The election in Scotland is therefore highly likely to confirm Labour’s dominance in Westminster representation, and see the Lib Dems, Tories and SNP chip away a marginal seat or two each on the basis of local factors. It may set up a rather awkward situation for Scotland, in which a UK Conservative government and a Scottish government run by the SNP have to work together, despite neither party having many MPs at Westminster.

http://www.scotlandvotes.com/blog/reading-the-political-map

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A right romp (8 June 2009)

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A right romp (8 June 2009)

Posted on 08 June 2009 by admin

Lewis Baston on the winners and loses in the European elections

Gordon Brown surveys a landscape of ruins this morning. Labour’s 15% of the vote in the European elections is absolutely abysmal, the worst ever for the party by a considerable margin. The ignominious details pile up – behind the Conservatives in Wales, far behind the SNP in Scotland, fifth and without enough votes to qualify for a seat in south-west England.

It is a disaster without recent precedent or parallel. At least in the 1931 general election there was still a solid 30% working class vote for Labour. One might have to look back to 1924 and the end of the Liberals as a party of government. It might have been even worse, had voters in urban areas without county elections not turned out in unexpected strength – hence the smaller slide in the Labour vote in London and the strange bright spot of Leicester. Many of these determined voters were hoping to stop the BNP.

Much has and will be written, a lot of it valid, about how mainstream politics has created the conditions of alienation and anger that led to the BNP vote – and the parties will try to bid for support by “understanding” the feelings of those voters. Less will probably be written on the need, to quote John Major, to “condemn a little more, understand a little less”. With the array of protest parties contesting the elections, nobody can claim not to have had enough choice of political spittoons to expectorate into, but a large number of people chose that particular one. Before the election, there was some hope that the BNP’s reputation for racism and thuggery would cause voters to think twice about supporting them, no matter how cross they were with the Westminster parties. But while some BNP voters may not themselves be racist, indulging a temper tantrum with the system was more important to them than the rights and dignity of their fellow citizens from ethnic minorities.

The Green party has reason to be disappointed with the election. It was untainted by any expenses problems and has a programme of political reforms, so it could have hoped for more than to displace Labour as the fourth party in southern England. But the politics of recession tends to be difficult for Greens, who find that voters anxious about their jobs are less concerned about the long term.

The Liberal Democrats also fared indifferently. Euro elections are always difficult for them because their pro-EU stand is unfashionable and their campaigning techniques centre around candidates’ personalities. The protest vote headed instead towards the right, with Ukip polling at levels that seemed inconceivable a few months ago. It is ironic indeed that the expenses saga seems to have driven people towards a party whose MEP group elected in 2004 contained a benefit fraudster and another currently under investigation for expenses fraud. A deeper irony is that Ukip fetishises precisely the Westminster parliament that people are supposedly disgusted by and want to reform.

The Conservatives did well in the circumstances, considering their own deep involvement in the Westminster expenses scandal and their own spot of bother in the European arliament that led to one MEP being expelled from the group and their then-leader Giles Chichester stepping down over a “whoops-a-daisy” breach of the rules over his own expenses. Chichester returned to Brussels and Strasbourg in triumph at the head of the south-west Conservative list that won half the region’s seats.

With the exception perhaps of those in Scotland, the European elections saw the British voter in a sour and unpleasant mood, vulnerable to the blandishments of an assortment of rightwing populists. Other countries have had elections a bit like this where the normal rules do not apply, as with the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in 1980s France, or the Lega Nord in 1990s Italy, or the Pim Fortuyn election in the Netherlands in 2002. Sometimes these episodes prove short lived. Let us hope that when the 2014 European elections begin, we look at the 2009 results and wonder: “What on earth were people thinking?”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/08/european-election-results-analysis

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Beware hubris (7 November 2008)

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Beware hubris (7 November 2008)

Posted on 07 November 2008 by admin

Glenrothes was a triumph for Labour. But to call a general election now would be folly

Labour’s win in Glenrothes is astonishing, all the more so for being so unexpected. The Scottish National Party were confident and Labour nervous even as the polls closed.

There are several ways in which this election was extremely good for Labour. The party not only increased its share of the vote, a rare enough feat for a party in government, particularly in a seat it already holds. Labour’s share of the vote increased by 3.2 percentage points. But it actually polled a few hundred more votes in absolute terms than it did in 2005, because there was only a small fall in turnout. There is simply no way of spinning that into anything other than a triumph.

The swing to the SNP was kept down to 5% in Glenrothes, even though in campaigning terms the party had thrown the kitchen sink at the constituency. A 5% swing might sound a reasonable result for the SNP until one looks at the party’s record in byelections. While the 22.6% swing in Glasgow East earlier this year was very high, 10% is usual. In contests between Labour and the SNP, there is a double-digit swing more or less whatever the political circumstances. This happened in Livingston in 2005, Paisley South in 1997, the two Paisley elections in 1990 and Falkirk West in 2000. The only previous occasion in recent years that the SNP has fallen short of a 10% swing in a two-party contest for a Labour seat was in Glasgow Anniesland, following the death of Donald Dewar in 2000. There are some similarities between that contest and this – it took place at almost exactly the same point in the parliament, during a Labour recovery from a low point (although 2000′s nadir around the fuel crisis was shallow and very short in comparison to the recent trough), and was prompted by the death of a well-respected local MP.

Another historical parallel reaches back a little further. The SNP dominated Scottish politics in the mid-1970s, surging in the two 1974 elections and scoring some impressive results in the 1977 district council elections, although the supply of byelections had dried up. When two Labour seats fell vacant in 1978, at Glasgow Garscadden and then at Hamilton, the SNP contested them vigorously but Labour easily fought off the competition, electing Donald Dewar and George Robertson to parliament.

While Glenrothes was an extremely good result for Labour, and for Gordon Brown, Labour should not be tempted by a quick general election. The campaign focused on the shortcomings of the SNP-run Fife council, which effectively put the SNP candidate and council leader Peter Grant on the defensive. A general election would focus discontent at the national level.

Fife also has a particular regard for Gordon Brown, a a local MP, and for people like Glenrothes’ new MP, Lindsay Roy. The result is extremely satisfying for him, and also for Sarah Brown – who seems to have decided after her turn at the party conference that she has a taste for political campaigning. However, it is fair to say that Fife’s warmth for the PM still runs ahead of the nation’s, even though Brown has recovered a lot of ground during the financial crisis.

While Fife council bore the brunt of the SNP’s new found and uncomfortable accountability, the Scottish government cannot escape some damage. While Alex Salmond’s government is not unpopular, exactly, the gloss has come off and the voters are in a more questioning mood about what it has delivered and where it is taking Scotland. For Salmond himself, there will be momentary embarrassment at having predicted an SNP victory and come a cropper, but confidence and swagger are part of his political persona and he can absorb being proved wrong every now and then.

The byelection, crucially, said nothing about how competitive the Conservatives are in their target seats in England and Wales, although it was more evidence that the Liberal Democrats’ strong vote in Scotland in 2005 will not be repeated next time. To call a general election now, when it is cold, dark and wet, the mood of the country is apprehensive, and the extent of Labour’s national recovery remains uncertain, would be folly. There is time to wait and see if the national polls improve further before the next feasible election date comes round in spring 2009. Labour should celebrate Glenrothes, and the palpable turning of the tide, but keep cool and not let election speculation run out of control, as they did in September 2007. Glenrothes reminded us that a Labour win at the election is possible (particularly if one counts being the largest party in a hung parliament as a win), but that is not to say it is probable.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/07/glenrothes-scotland

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A little local difficulty (3 November 2008)

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A little local difficulty (3 November 2008)

Posted on 03 November 2008 by admin

Labour could win Glenrothes. Even defeat won’t see a nail in Brown’s political coffin

Anyone with a retentive political memory will recall that the Glenrothes byelection is supposed to be the killing blow to Gordon Brown’s ailing premiership, following Labour’s humiliation at the hands of the SNP in Glasgow East and the leadership speculation in July. The financial crisis and the conference season have removed this possibility from the agenda. Even another defeat, in this more serious and less frothy political climate, will not lead to Brown’s departure, and in reality it is doubtful that anything short of a truly awful result like a five-figure SNP majority, or third place, would have done so. The constituency is peculiarly unsuitable for a role as a national barometer.

The Glenrothes constituency is on the edge of one of the sharpest social and political divides of any rural area in Britain. Just to the east lies the soft agricultural, almost southern English-looking countryside of North East Fife, and towns such as academic St Andrews and the attractive fishing harbour of Anstruther. Glenrothes is where the rough, scarred landscape of the ex-coalfield of Central/West Fife begins. In East Fife, Menzies Campbell’s constituency, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are the main parties, with the SNP and Labour hardly relevant to the outcome and weak even at local government level. In Glenrothes the positions are reversed, with Labour and SNP dominant and the Lib Dems and Conservatives irrelevant (although they are fighting their own Lilliputian battle for third place). The tough mining towns and villages of Fife have a fierce collective, class-conscious tradition, typified by the Communist MP for West Fife from 1935 to 1950, Willie Gallacher. This area is now divided between the Westminster seats of Glenrothes and the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath seat of the prime minister.

Glenrothes itself is a new town, designed around a short-lived coal mine but reinvented as a centre for communities that would otherwise have died with the exhaustion of the Fife coal seams, a replacement source of employment (in manufacturing and the council’s headquarters) and better housing. In recent years some of the pit villages and new housing around Markinch have attracted Edinburgh commuters, rather as the English new towns have grown into new upmarket suburbs.

New town politics can be volatile and peculiar. Places like Basildon, Stevenage and Harlow started off as Labour, swung wildly to the Tories in Thatcher’s elections (home ownership and tax cuts were a potent appeal for predominantly skilled white working class communities) and then to Blair in 1997. Since then they have drifted back to the Tories, thanks in part to the new commuter estates, and in part to the long term trend Blair interrupted. In Scotland it is different, because no matter how enthusiastically the tenants bought their houses, the Conservative party was simply beyond the pale.

The Scottish new towns like Cumbernauld and Glenrothes have been fertile ground for the SNP when the party has been on an upward trend, although that vote slumps rapidly when the tide ebbs. There seems to be something about moving to a new town that encourages people to reassess traditional loyalties and think about politics in terms of consumer options and aspiration, although in Glenrothes this exists alongside a continuing broad attachment to socialism absent in England, except for Peterlee in the former Durham coalfield.

Constituencies like Glenrothes produce two sorts of result. One is typified by the 2005 Westminster election, a low point in the recent history of the SNP, in which Labour held Glenrothes with an apparently mountainous majority. The other sort happens when the SNP is surging: the Nationalists won the corresponding Fife Central seat in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. Given that Labour, even though some ground has been made up since summer, are still not exactly popular, one should probably expect Glenrothes to be in one of its SNP moods. The SNP, in any case, are good at campaigning in by-elections, and their activists have flooded into Glenrothes fuelled by confidence and optimism. In the past, the SNP has achieved high swings against Labour even when Labour has been popular, as in Monklands East in 1994 and Hamilton South in 1999, and of course only a few months ago they won their triumph in Glasgow East.

Even so, nobody is quite taking an SNP victory for granted in Glenrothes. Unlike Glasgow East, the area is used to electoral competition and the local Labour party has not grown complacent on a monopoly of representation. The electors are more familiar with the good and bad points of both main parties and their arguments, and probably more resistant to the sort of collapse that took place in Glasgow. For the first time, the SNP has to defend a record in power. While at Holyrood where they are still fairly popular, the collapse of HBOS has left the party looking less relevant to the big issues. While the UK government could organise a massive bailout that (somewhat) stabilised the markets, the nagging thought that an independent Scotland could have been next behind Iceland in the queue at the door of the IMF must have occurred to voters.

However, Alex Salmond’s government is not the main focus for those looking for criticisms of the SNP, this honour instead goes to Fife council whose leader Peter Grant is the candidate. Council leaders have their strengths and weaknesses as by-election candidates. While they are often experienced local politicians who can avoid campaign blunders, they are also responsible for what the council does, a lot of which is inherently unpopular. If electors are looking to cast a protest vote, they have a choice of whom to protest against. Labour’s candidate, Lindsay Roy, is far from a professional politician, coming to the contest from his position as head of Kirkcaldy High School. In Fife, educators and education are traditionally treated with a respect that exceeds that given by most other communities. As in Glasgow East, it is a contest between two strong candidates.

There will be a large swing to the SNP compared with the baseline of 2005, of that there is no doubt. Until the financial crisis broke, it looked as if it was going to be easily big enough to swamp Labour, and informed comment suggested that if Glenrothes got close enough for a recount, that would be a pretty good showing for Labour. Now it does not seem impossible that Labour could cling on. If you had asked people at the start of 2008 which Scottish seats Labour would hate to defend in a by-election, Glenrothes would rank high on the list, while any assessment of the irreducible hard core of Labour constituencies would have included Glasgow East. As the American maxim goes, “All politics is local”, and one does not have to look much further than Fife to prove that.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/03/glenrothes-labour

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A broken rule of thumb in Glasgow (25 July 2008)

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A broken rule of thumb in Glasgow (25 July 2008)

Posted on 25 July 2008 by admin

With a high turnout and a dramatic result, the byelection was a disaster for Labour, but what does it mean for the other parties?

Glasgow East was an astonishing result. The SNP win in this seat, however squeaky the majority, was remarkable not just for its high swing, but for the relatively good turnout, the strong Labour candidate, and the previously intractable nature of Labour support in Glasgow’s east end. It seemed a solid Labour firewall, but in east Glasgow it is far from unknown for solid-looking structures to “go on fire”.

Scottish byelections in apparently safe Labour seats have often seen large swings from Labour to the SNP – 22% in Hamilton South in 1999, 19% in John Smith’s old seat of Monklands East in 1994, and 11% in Paisley South in 1997. In each of these years, Labour had a comfortable lead in the national polls. The scale of the swing often reflects the first serious campaigning in such a seat, and this must surely be the case in a seat that was considered as safe as Glasgow East. While all of these near misses faded rapidly, so too did the victories in Hamilton and Govan.

The 42% turnout in the byelection is pretty impressive. A loss of only six points since the 2005 general election suggests that the first serious campaign for a seat in the east end of Glasgow in the last 50 years has motivated voters. The low turnout in byelections between 1997 and 2001 presaged the steep fall in 2001. Following the small drop in Crewe and Nantwich, it is clear that byelections have started to bring voters to the polls and this suggests that turnout will rise at the general election.

A previous rule of thumb in west of Scotland byelections was that the Catholic Labour vote was more solid than the party’s support in “Protestant” seats like Govan and Monklands East (ie Airdrie). But Glasgow East rather disproves this. Labour’s nightmare must be that the Catholic Labour vote is going the way of the Protestant working-class Tory vote that used to be so strong in the west of Scotland before it collapsed between about 1960 and 1980.

I never shared the view that John Mason was an unconvincing candidate – people in a large chunk of the constituency, Baillieston ward, knew him and obviously liked him as he obtained an enormous personal vote in the 2007 council elections. Glasgow East was quite blessed with some good candidates – Mason and Margaret Curran obviously, and the also-ran Conservative and Lib Dem candidates Davena Rankin and Ian Robertson were worthy of notice and perhaps something better in future.

The Conservatives’ relatively good result in Glasgow East, unlike their wins in Crewe and Henley, should not be taken too seriously. If you are a Tory in Glasgow East, you are accustomed to adversity and the vote, although small, is very solid and remained so (on the slightly lower turnout) in the byelection. But the result is mildly encouraging. The Lib Dem vote proved, in the absence of much local organisation, squeezable.

Among the effects of Glasgow East will be to achieve something scarcely possible in politics – to make Alex Salmond even more self-satisfied. He took something of a risk in predicting victory in this byelection, and while he has the admirable quality of being able to brazen out over-optimistic remarks, triumph is not good for his political style. First minister’s questions is a preening, posturing spectacle that even a hardened observer of Westminster may find difficult to take. Sooner or later, the elastic will snap, as it has in the past for confident Scottish heroes such as Ally McLeod, who found adulation turned rapidly into – equally overdone – rejection in 1978.

The obvious point is that Glasgow East was a truly shocking result for Labour, a sign that the party is very deep in the trough, like the Major government from 1992 to 1997 and the Wilson government in 1967-69. Perhaps, like severe government defeats such as Dudley (both in 1968 and 1994) and Staffordshire South East (1996) it is a sign that the some sort of realignment is happening. The Tories flirted with disaster between 1993 and 2003, in that even some of their southern English strongholds were crumbling. Now, in Glasgow East, a Labour fortress has fallen.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/25/glasgoweast.snp

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