Now that the dust has cleared and all the results have been announced, it’s time for a reflection on how the various parties have fared in the recent local elections.
It was a bad night for Labour across the country, as they ended up losing over three hundred seats in total by the time all the results were announced. Although the governing party always expects to lose seats in local elections as the electorate use it as a way of expressing their grievances with the people in power, it was more awkward for Labour in many ways because of Tony Blair’s promise to go but with no indication of when. The poor showing will undoubtably give his detractors a stick to beat him with, though probably not enough to make him step down in the next twelve months.
The Tories were by far the major winners in the local elections, picking up most of the seats that Labour lost, as well as taking control of eleven councils and pushing several others (including Bury) into No Overall Control. With a projected vote share of 40%, compared to the relatively poor 27% and 26% of the Lib Dems and Labour respectively, it was certainly their night at the polls.
However, the Conservatives failed to make significant gains in the major northern cities, and they still have no councillors in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and several other cities. This takes some of the shine off the otherwise good showing by the Tories, because I think they really need to make some inroads into big cities if they want to return to power.
The Lib Dems usually do well in local elections, picking up the floating voters who are dissatisfied with the government but aren’t ready to switch back to voting Conservative. This time, however, they failed to make any real progress, making a net gain of only two councillors and one council. I think there are a number of reasons for this poor performance.
First of all, the recent leadership contest and the controvesy surrounding it has rattled the Lib Dems somewhat. They have certainly lost some of their perceived integrity in the process, especially given that the previous leader and two of the leadership candidates brought the party into disrepute early on in the year.
Secondly, Campbell hasn’t really had much time to make his mark on the party or come out as a particularly strong leader. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have potential, more that he hasn’t had the opportunity to demonstrate his abilities yet. I believe it will take a few more months before we will be able to give a fair verdict on how good a leader he is.
Finally, I don’t think the Lib Dems ran a very effective campaign this year. In previous elections there have usually been Lib Dem posters all over the place, with lots of party members handing out leaflets and pushing their policies to the general public. This year I haven’t seen as much campaigning done, and the party seems to have stalled somewhat. Personally, I think that this is partially down to the fact that playing the War in Iraq card seems to be less effective, and also because of other parties (particularly the Conservatives) playing to previous Lib Dem strengths, such as their focus on environmental issues.
British National Party
At first glance, it seems as if the BNP did particularly well in the local elections, managing to double the number of council seats under their control and become the second largest party on Barking and Dagenham council. Nick Griffin was particularly buoyant when the results were announced, boasting about how well the party had performed.
However, anyone worried about a sudden rise in the far right can take assurance from two sides. First of all, whilst the BNP have indeed doubled the number of council seats they control, one has to remember that they only had twenty to start off with. If you look it as “the BNP gained just over twenty seats” instead of “the BNP more than doubled its number of seats”, then the situation doesn’t appear quite as frightening. Also, even with forty councillors, the BNP still only represents approximately 0.2% of the available seats, so they are hardly poised to take over the reigns of government.
Finally, as pointed out in Will BNP election gains last?, history would tell us that these sort of results tend not to repeat themselves. It seems unlikely that these gains for the BNP will be reflected in the next general election, and the same applies for the next round of local elections.
The Greens made a number of important gains, increasing their seats in places where they were already strong, such as Oxford, and moving into new areas such as Islington and Camden. Unfortunately, I suspect that they are seen as a one issue party by many people (the name certainly doesn’t help dissipate this viewpoint), which probably damaged their chances of success in more urban areas such as Manchester, where they failed to make much of an impact.