LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

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...

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Ten year swing: comparing the patterns of the 2005 and 2015 elections

Ten year swing: comparing the patterns of the 2005 and 2015 elections

I try sometimes to take the long view on electoral patterns. I wrote a piece for Conservative Home last year looking at the similarities and differences between the electoral maps of 1964 and 2010, elections which produced fairly similar numbers of Conservative MPs nationally. Boundary reviews – which, unfortunately, look like becoming more frequent in future – disrupt one’s ability to look back over time because the continuity of constituencies is broken. Has a seat switched sides decisively through long term political change (like Liverpool Wavertree, or Staffordshire Moorlands)? Or is an apparent change mostly because the boundaries have altered so that the seat’s political complexion has been shifted (like Southampton Test, or Norwich North)? We can, though, look at ten years of electoral history on the same boundaries, comparing the 2005 election (using the ‘notional results’ for English and Welsh seats compiled by Rallings and Thrasher) with 2015. For 630 constituencies out of 650 (i.e. not Northern Ireland, nor the Speakers’ seats in 2005 and 2015), we can calculate the swing, i.e. the average of the Conservative gain and Labour loss. Of course, there are a large number of constituencies where these two are not the principal parties and the Con/Lab swing calculation is a bit like ascertaining the vitamin C content in a bowl of fruit punch – information of some value, but a long way short of the most relevant observation. The SNP landslide in Scotland and the Lib Dem collapse were the two startling changes in the 2015 election, and it is a bit artificial to look at Con/Lab swing in the seats affected, but it can still tell us something. That said, let us look at the pattern of Con-Lab swing from 2005 to 2015: Blair to Miliband and Howard to Cameron. The colour scheme indicates strength and direction of swing. Dark blue is to the Conservatives of more than 10 per cent, blue is to the Conservatives by 5-10 per cent and the beigey shade is to the Conservatives by 0-5 per cent (i.e. still to the Tories but below the national average). Light red is 0-5 per cent to Labour, regular red 5-10% to Labour, and dark red is over 10 per cent to Labour. The places where Labour did better in 2015 than in 2005 (relative to the Conservatives) are mostly found in London, Merseyside, Birmingham and some other metropolitan residential areas that have highly educated professional electorates (Edinburgh, Oxford, Sheffield Hallam, south Manchester, Hove, Bristol West) that deserted Labour for the Lib Dems in 2005 over the war and other issues and have subsequently returned. There are also a few ethnically diverse urban areas like Bradford, Leicester, Luton and Peterborough, and some...

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First thoughts on cancelling the boundary changes

What does the shelving of the boundary review mean for David Cameron’s chances of forming a majority Conservative government at the 2015 election? We are told that the Conservatives had pinned great hopes on their proposal to change the way in which parliamentary constituency boundaries are drawn; Cameron is said to have told MPs that it was ‘crucial’ to the prospect of a majority in 2015. Assuming the boundary changes are indeed blocked (it is a somewhat complicated parliamentary and legal procedure), has Clegg now killed off the Conservatives’ chances of winning outright? In order to answer the question properly, one has to take a step back and ask whether the boundary review would have delivered a majority anyway. That is very questionable. On the best available figures for the impact of the proposed changes, the Tories would have been just short of an outright majority in a House of 600 MPs on the basis of the 2010 results. To win outright would still require doing something no full-term government has managed since 1955 (and indeed never managed before then), i.e. substantially increasing the party’s share of the vote. With Labour likely to poll significantly better than its poor showing in 2010, Cameron – new boundaries or not – would need to do the political equivalent of making water flow uphill anyway. Some Conservative analysts, such as Lord Ashcroft and Tim Montgomerie and colleagues at Conservative Home, have already devoted much thought to the problem. The cancellation of the boundary changes makes the mountain the Tories have to climb for a majority a bit steeper, but if they are not in any condition to climb any sort of mountain that makes no difference. It will make it easier for Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs with small majorities to see off Conservative challenges and stop them making the 20 net gains they need for an outright win. But some Conservative MPs in marginal seats will also be breathing a secret sigh of relief. Labour’s class of 1997 nearly all survived the 2001 election because when MPs face their first election as an incumbent they tend to do much better than the national average. Boundary changes, by altering the relationship between MP and constituency, interfere with this pattern. While the Conservatives are less likely to win outright, incumbency makes things far from straightforward to Labour on the old boundaries. Fighting the next election on the same boundaries as last time will increase the probability that the election will result in another hung parliament, probably with Labour as the largest single...

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Local elections 2012: what will the gains and losses figures mean?

Local elections 2012: what will the gains and losses figures mean?

How should we assess the local election results when we have a sense of things on Friday morning? The gains/ losses figures are the most popular measure as far as the media is concerned, because perhaps the best and most comparable measure – National Equivalent Vote share – is complex to calculate and can be worked out in more ways than one. Benchmarks for local election gains and losses vary year by year because: Different numbers of seats are available each year; for instance there were 4,104 seats in the 2008 locals (the baseline for 2012) and over 10,000 in the big year for English local elections that is the 2007/11 year of the cycle. 2012 is a fairly small year for seat numbers, so that massive gains and losses like Labour’s haul of around 2000 gains in 1995 are impossible. Different sorts of area are contested in different years – Scotland and Wales this year, other years England only, and in general terms rural England in 2011 and 2013, and urban England in 2011 and 2012. Different starting points. This year’s starting point (except in Scotland) is 2008, which was a very good local election year for the Conservatives. Labour therefore have to win a biggish number of seats to be respectable, and the Conservatives can afford to shed a number of seats won at their high water mark. Electoral system  – the seats up in 2011 (and 2014 in London boroughs) will tend to magnify changes, because the multi-member first past the post system often involves large turnovers of seats if there is a swing. The STV PR system used in Scotland will produce smaller changes for a given swing. Expectation management. This works in a couple of ways. The most obvious is that parties will try to under-claim their expected gains or exaggerate potential losses, to make the results on the day look ‘better than expected’. The more subtle is that they are affected by opinion polls and the general climate. A party that is, say, 10 points ahead in the national polls but whose local results are in line with a 5-point lead may be said to have had a ‘disappointing’ set of results, even though they are ‘objectively’ better than those of a party that is level in the polls but gets a two point lead on the local result and claims a triumph. Figures for gains and losses are fuzzy around the edges, for several reasons. They are affected by a few or more councils each year having boundary changes and therefore not being comparable with past years (this year: Hartlepool, Rugby, Daventry, Broxbourne) and affecting the overall party numbers. Another factor is...

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