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Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the recent local and European elections in Great Britain. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held local elections on the 22nd of May. As Northern Ireland has an entirely separate party and electoral system, it shall be dealt with separately.
Since 2010 the UK has been ruled by its first coalition government since the end of World War II between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The 2010 election put an end to thirteen years of Labour governance following the landslide of 1997. Thirteen years in government had taken their toll on the party, as had the financial crisis and strategic mistakes by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had taken over from Tony Blair in 2007.
However, the Conservative Party suffered from image as an out of touch party for the rich which did not understand the lives of ordinary Britons and toxicity amongst multiple demographics including ethnic minorities, public sector workers, the Scottish and the young. The party also suffered from the cruel effects of Britain’s First Past the Post system due to its highly inefficient vote spread.
The election had been seemingly blown open by the performance of the unknown leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, in the first Prime Ministerial debate in UK history. This unleashed ‘Cleggmania’ as the Lib Dems climbed to first in some polls. In reality Cleggmania was overblown and overstated, and mostly based on a large pool of don’t knows drifting into being very soft Lib Dems in polls. It began to dissipate by polling day and though the Lib Dems achieved 23.0% a vote, their best popular vote since 1983, they lost six seats.
The Conservatives gained almost 100 seats, but their 306 left them sort of the 326 needed for a majority in the UK. Britain was thus treated to the sight of coalition negotiations. While most of Britain’s European cousins view this as a norm post-election, this was entirely new to the British and journalists, politicians and academics rushed around trying to explain the phenomenon.
The final deal saw Clegg become Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron, an Eton educated former PR man and Treasury special adviser with aristocratic connections who many Brits view as the very personification of the British elite.
The new government had to deal with a yawning budget deficit of more than 10% of GDP, though Britain did not face the same problems as other Western nations regarding its ability to pay its debts. Nonetheless the government implemented an austerity agenda.
This pushed the Liberal Democrats into agreeing to some policies which they had specifically campaigned against in the 2010 election. Most infamously the party agreed to the trebling of the cap for university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year (the system acts something like a tax, however, with no payback before you earn above £21,000 pa, very low interest rates and debts written off 30 years after they are taken out if not fully repaid). Abolition of university tuition fees had long been one of the Lib Dems’ most recognisable policies, and the party’s MPs and candidates had signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to vote against any rise in tuition fees.
During Labour’s years in opposition the Lib Dems had cultivated a young, academic, left-liberal base based on their opposition to the war in Iraq and left-leaning policies under Charles Kennedy. While Clegg had always intended to take the party to the centre, the party retained a strong left-leaning vote which had, in many cases, rejected Labour on the basis of insufficient leftism. To such voters, the party’s coalition with the Conservatives was anathema.
The party also found its traditional campaign strategy somewhat blunted. Since the 1960s move to ‘community politics’ the Lib Dems have focused on a localist form of politics, with individual Lib Dem MPs pointing left or right depending on the constituency and adopting strongly localist campaigns. The Lib Dem mantra ‘where we work we win’ attests to a traditional belief in the party that there is no obstacle which can stop a determined local party as long as it pounds the pavements, leaflets relentlessly and provides excellent constituency service. Yet the party’s national exposure in government gave it a national profile and not a positive one, with Clegg moving from the most popular politician in the country to the least in less than a month.
The Lib Dems have been devastated in successive waves of poor election results, though the signs are that the party performs much better in areas where they have incumbent MPs, where the party’s traditional strengths of solid constituency representatives work in their favour.
Labour followed the election with a leadership race, which pitted two former ministers and brothers, David Miliband, the former foreign minister, and Ed Miliband, the former Energy and Climate Change minister against one another. The fight took on extra potency as David had been a key aide and ally of Tony Blair, and Ed had been one of a pair of Gordon Brown’s most trusted advisors with Ed Balls, another prominent minister. Hence the two had been on opposite sides in the often extremely volatile relationship between the two former Prime Ministers.
To the surprise of many, Ed narrowly won the leadership race albeit on the votes of the trade union section of Labour’s complex leadership election electoral college (with David winning MPs and party members).
Ed represented a clearer break with the past, wanting to take the party in a more clearly left-leaning direction. He almost immediately apologised for the Iraq War, for instance. The Conservatives quickly attempted to brand Ed as ‘Red Ed’. However research found that voters found Miliband not to be so much a scary 1970s socialist, as the Conservatives had hoped, but just rather ‘weird’, due to poor presentation on his part.
Ed, is the son of a famed Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband, and who therefore, grew up in a home which was at the very nexus of the British intellectual leftist elite, with frequent visitors such as the academic Tariq Aziz and the famed radical left Labour MP Tony Benn (who sadly passed away earlier this year). He took a sabbatical from politics to teach at Harvard in the early 2000s. He thus affects an academic, some critics say ‘geeky’ persona. He is unusually interested in ideas for a modern day politician, and is known for his series of ‘gurus’, often academics such as the American philosopher Michael Sandel, or the sociologist Maurice Glasman.
Miliband’s instincts tend towards a metropolitan kind of leftism, but he has also taken on some of the issues of Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ ideas which posits a more socially conservative Labourism which rejects the managerialism of traditional British Fabian socialism. Blue Labour embraces a more conservative stance on immigration, crime and Europe, but prefers a more continental style of corporatist economics to markets. It is localist and vaguely anti-statist.
Realising that his party would be forced into austerity measures in government, Miliband has come to embrace more state interference in markets, with policies such as the introduction of rent controls and a forced price freeze on energy prices to undercut what Miliband consistently refers to as a ‘cost of living crisis’.
Conditions since 2010 have provided perfect ground for the unleashing of a quietly rising tendency in Britain – right-wing populism. Right-wing populism and anti-immigration politics has been present in the UK for a while, but has been divided between multiple parties, predominantly the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the far-right British National Party (BNP). In many constituencies in 2010, especially in the North, these two parties and other minor right-of-conservative parties together won over 10% of the vote. This was largely unnoticed because it was split between multiple parties. After 2010 the BNP went into meltdown. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, specifically targeted them by his own admission, saying that most BNP voters are decent people simply angry about immigration. He even claimed responsibility for destroying the party.
The party has traditionally performed best in European elections. The political scientists Rob Ford and Matthew Elliott have compared UKIP’s previous pattern to being like a hibernating bear which emerged from its cave once every five years for European elections, would frighten the villages and then retire to its cave to sleep. As an illustration the party came second in the 2009 European election with 16.5% of the vote. It then fell to 3.1% in 2010 as it won strategic defectors from the main parties who opposed the EU. UKIP now polls between 10% and 20% of the vote in general election voting intention. The party has also won a string of second place finishes in by-elections, most notably in Eastleigh last year, and won an incredible victory in the 2013 local elections.
UKIP also benefitted from the coalition. Britain’s three main parties have now all been in power in the last five years. None thus provides a clear oppositional role. The Conservative Party has been unable to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands as they promised a goal which always lacked credibility. In order to reduce immigration the Conservatives, unable to deal with ‘bad’ immigration, have restricted immigration which most Brits think is ‘good’ such as student visas.
The Lib Dems’ traditional role as a protest vote was also lost as the party entered government.
An additional boon to UKIP is that all three party leaders are from different wings of the British elite. Cameron originates in the traditional, aristocratic, upper class elite. Miliband originates in the academic, intellectual, left-wing elite. Clegg’s ancestry lies in the European aristocracy. A speaker of five languages he is a former MEP, and a former advisor to the ex-European Commissioner Leon Brittan. Clegg is thus of the Eurocrat elite. All three are around the same age (Cameron and Clegg are 47, Miliband is 44). Both Clegg and Cameron were privately educated, while Miliband went to a state school, it is known as the ‘Eton of the left’ due to the large number of prominent left-wingers educated there. Miliband and Cameron both went to Oxford University, and studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). Clegg went to Cambridge. All three later worked as political advisors and critics allege they have never had a ‘real job’. In this respect all three have lived elite lives out of step with the lives of average Britons, leading to the impression of a ‘political class’ dominated by an increasingly narrow group of identikit politicians.
The famed UK expenses scandal of 2008-9 has also damaged the reputation of British politicians, and the public increasingly distrusts politicians on the issue of immigration.
Farage is part of the elite as well, a privately educated former metals trader from the London financial centre who has served as a MEP since 1999. Yet he successfully affects an authentic style, almost always being filmed drinking real ale in pubs up and down the land, or smoking a cigar, he dresses in a colourful, rural style, appears to speak his mind and goes on tirades against the political class. Under his leadership UKIP’s traditional Euroscepticism has been expanded. In particular the party has increasingly conflated the EU and immigration, stoking fears of renewed immigration from Bulgaria and Romania when the need for Bulgarians and Romanians to get work permits to work in the UK was lifted at the start of 2014 (initial figures suggest that the number of both groups working in the country has actually fallen since the 1st of January).
Britain has a long tradition of Euroscepticism, but for UKIP’s voters the EU has come to represent everything they hate about politics: an out-of-touch bureaucratic, dull elite (in a foreign country no less!) forcing open borders onto Britain.
Analysis of UKIP’s support base suggests it is composed overwhelmingly of older, poorly educated, male working class voters. These voters are deeply pessimistic about the direction Britain has been going in for decades. While Westminster journalists have often stereotyped UKIP as simply taking support from the Conservatives, the party takes around the same amount of support from Labour. The party is increasingly target traditional Labour party supporters. The recent book Revolt on the Right provides fascinating reading for anyone interested in UKIP’s rise.
UKIP’s support is predominantly English, and it is much weaker in Scotland, though it has some strength in Wales, especially in the North.
Like other right-wing populist parties, UKIP has had its fair share of controversy. A UKIP councillor received national attention and widespread mockery earlier this year when he claimed that flooding in the South West of England was the result of the legalisation of gay marriage. UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was forced to resign from the party after he drew attention away from Farage at the party’s 2013 conference for suggesting that women who did not clean behind the fridge were “sluts”, and then, as a journalist who questioned why UKIP’s conference brochure did not feature a single ethnic minority face, hitting said journalist over the head with a copy of said brochure.
Farage himself has received criticism, for instance, for saying that he felt uncomfortable when people spoke languages other than English on trains, or by saying he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved next door to him.
Scotland has seen the rise of a different type of populist outsider, as the Scottish parliament saw the Scottish National Party win a majority in 2011, which wasn’t supposed to be possible. The UK and Scottish governments have agreed to a binding referendum on Scottish independence to be held on the 19th of September. The SNP has a strong base in Scotland, and has appeared to be newly dominant in Scotland since 2011 due to a perennially weak and incompetent Scottish Labour Party.
Other parties of note are Plaid Cymru, the much weaker Welsh nationalist party, and the Greens, who in Britain are of a rather eco-socialist variety. They hold only one MP at Westminster, in the radical left wing seaside city of Brighton, known for its gay community and liberalism, but have strength in some regions of the country and do well in PR elections.
The Structure of British local government
British local government has a complex structure which differs widely between different regions due to both repeated reform attempts from central government and different histories.
The UK has a highly centralised political system and is often described as one of the most centralised countries in the world. Most of the local councils’ money has traditionally come from central government grants. The only tax that local government can levy in the UK is council tax, a property tax based on house prices, which is widely disliked as it is the only tax that comes in the form of a bill, and is perceived as regressive, hitting poor pensioners the hardest. Many would like to see a more devolved tax system, but Britain suffers from yawning regional disparities in wealth and hence a more localised tax system would tend to result in essentially taking money from poorer regions without a system of equalisation payments.
British local government has often been treated as little more than a delivery mechanism for central government policies. In the Labour years, when money was good, there was a tendency to create extra funds of central government money for local government but to ruthlessly ‘ring-fence’ it (make sure that the money could only be spent on that one area). The coalition substantially reduced ring-fencing in government and introduced a general power of competence which vastly expanded what councils could theoretically do but also substantially cut central government funding to councils (which was cut by 30%) meaning that councils could rarely afford to be more than managers of core services. No other government funding has been cut so radically. The Local Government and Communities minister, Eric Pickles, has also been fond of occasional diktat from Whitehall, trying to force local government into keeping weekly waste collections (some had gone to fortnightly as a cost-saving measure) and freezing their council tax rates. Under the coalition’s localism act councils must hold referendums if they raise council tax by more than a certain percentage. In response some councils have instead raised their council tax by 0.01% less than the limit to avoid a referendum. In theory, councils receive extra funds from central government for freezing their council tax but councils fear this money will evaporate with time putting them into further financial strain.
As local government is so anaemic in the UK turnouts have historically been low in UK local elections. Concern has been quite strong about turnout in local elections for a while, but in truth turnouts bottomed out in the period between 1998 and 2002 with a string of sub-30% scores and have now stabilising in the mid-30s. This is low compared to local elections in other countries but historically turnouts were not much higher than this in the 1970s. Turnout is very down when compared to the 1980s, but this was a period of extreme political polarisation in the UK which boosted turnouts and political engagement across the board.
Another aspect for the anaemic quality of local government is that local elections are most often used to comment on the performance of central government rather than to vote on genuinely local issues. Local elections in the UK are rarely truly ‘local’ as a result. In the vast majority of council areas traditional political parties vie for control, though the Liberal Democrats have often pursued a strategy of running much more heavily localised campaigns.
Local elections, as a result, suffer from a notable differential turnout effect whereby supporters of the opposition tend to tend out much more than supporters of the government (as in other mid-term elections internationally such as US mid-terms).
There are different types of councils in different parts of the UK with differing responsibilities and different systems of election.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councils are single-tier and elected by the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation in all-at-once elections. The Scottish councils were last elected in 2012, whereas the Northern Irish councils are up for election this year (more on this in a forthcoming article).
In Wales, there is also a system of unitary councils elected all at once using a bloc voting system in multi-member wards.
In England the systems become much more complex.
By far and away Britain’s largest city, London is governed by 32 ‘borough councils’. London is a massive international city, with a population of 8.5 million – as much as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland put together. It represents 15% of the UK population. London’s boroughs are technically single-tier but since 2000 they share power with a directly elected Mayor of London, currently the Conservative Boris Johnson, famed for his eccentric, ‘upper class buffoon’ persona.
Nevertheless the vast majority of local services are provided by the boroughs, with the Mayoralty controlling economic structuring, transport and police across London.
The London Boroughs are all elected all-at-once on a four year cycle. The boroughs feature multi-member wards (the constituencies of local government) generally with 3 councillors each (though some 2 member wards have recently appeared).
18% of the population of the UK lives in the Metropolitan counties of the North of England. These six counties, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire are highly urbanised areas and essentially vast urban conurbations around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Sunderland, Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city and the largest municipality in Europe), and Leeds.
The Mets used to be two-tier authorities, with the Metropolitan counties having their own higher level. This was abolished in the 1980s though there is some joint working at the county level. This collaboration has recently been increased as a way of reducing costs, with the most notable being the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The Mets are elected by a system of election by thirds. All wards in the Metropolitan councils have three councillors. One of these is elected each year to a four year term with one ‘fallow’ year. This system is supposed to provide a regular injection of accountability and new blood, but is increasingly criticised as costly, reducing turnout due to electoral fatigue and causing poor governance as councillors are distracted by elections for multiple months most years.
The most common type of council in the UK is district councils. These are two-layer councils with a county council above them. District councils handle housing, planning, leisure and recreation, waste collection, collection of council tax and environmental health. County councils handle local education authorities, transport, fire, social services, libraries and waste disposal.
Counties are elected in a four year cycle in the traditional first past the post single-member style. They were last up for election in 2013. Districts are allowed to choose between election by thirds (hence some wards have a local election literally every year as county councils are elected in the ‘fallow’ year), election by halves and election all at once. Most of those elected all at once were last elected in 2011 and will be next up in 2015.
Most of the district councils are rather small and rural.
In recent years there has been an increasing move towards the creation of unitary authorities, merging the responsibilities of districts and counties to reduce duplication and to create clearer lines of accountability. Unitaries come in two types. The first covers large towns or small cities outside the metropolitan areas which have been deemed large enough to support the necessary tax base to support one, such as Plymouth, Bristol, Peterborough or Portsmouth.
The other fashion has been to merge districts in large rural areas into one massive county council with the powers of the district councils in areas where district councils are deemed too small to support themselves. This has happened in areas such as Cornwall, Wiltshire, Northumberland and County Durham. These areas are typically largely rural or covered by small towns.
Most councils in Britain are governed by a fairly typical cabinet model, but since 2000 councils may introduce a directly-elected mayor with wide-ranging executive powers, usually this is done by referendum. Only fifteen councils have introduced the elected mayor model, four of which are London boroughs, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. A fifth elected mayor, in Watford, was up for election this year as well. Elected mayors are elected using a preferential system known as the Supplementary Vote system. SV features ballots laid out like a traditional British ballot paper except with a second column for a second preference. Voters may thus cast two preferences. A mayoral candidate who wins 50%+1 in the first round is deemed elected, if this does not happen then all but the top two are eliminated and second preferences redistributed. The plurality winner then wins. The system thus guarantees a wider mandate than First Past the Post but does not guarantee a majority as in AV or a two round system. SV means that voters must strategically vote for one of the top two candidates with their second vote. There is evidence that voters do not properly understand the system, with a significant minority of voters casting two preferences for one candidate (which obviously cannot transfer).
However, elected mayors themselves are widely seen as a success, improving governance, transparency and visibility for their communities. Polling suggests that 50% of the public in councils with an elected mayor can name their mayor, whereas only 10% of the public in councils with the usual model can name their council leader. Central government has often tried to push the elected mayoral model, especially in councils seen as poorly run and in big cities. Local government has often pushed back against the model, however. Councillors often fear losing power to elected mayors. In 2012 the government held referendums on elected mayors in the 10 biggest cities in England outside London. In Liverpool and Salford the referendums were, in essence, pre-empted, but of the remaining 8 cities only Bristol chose the mayoral model.
Prior local elections held alongside EP elections have shown a noticeably stronger result for UKIP.
The seats up this year were last up in 2010 and held alongside the general election. This means that they represent the last set of good results for the Lib Dems since before coalition, but also that Labour performed well in 2010 due to the high turnout.
European Parliament Elections in the UK
Since 1999, European parliament elections in Great Britain take place in the framework of a closed-list proportional representation. Britain elects 70 MEPs (3 more are elected in Northern Ireland) in regions, with one region representing Scotland and one Wales, and England split into the nine regions of East of England, East Midlands London, North East England, North West England, South East England, South West England, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
The regions range from 3 seats (North East England) to 10 seats (South East England) in size creating effective thresholds between 7% and 20%. This makes the UK system fairly disproportionate, but it does also mean that the SNP and Plaid can win seats in their regions which a single constituency with a national threshold would stop (neither party would be capable of winning more than 3% nationally).
The PR system has allowed for the entry of smaller parties into the European Parliament, most notably UKIP, but the Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the far-right BNP also won seats in 2009.
Eurosceptic parties tend to perform better in EP elections. The prior success of UKIP in these elections is especially notable but the Conservatives also tend to perform better than in European elections on the same day.
The campaign was predominantly notable for an attempt by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to polarise the election for their own interests.
In March Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to a televised debate about whether to stay in or get out of the European Union, an eternal British political debate which practically predates UK accession itself. Clegg’s challenge was issued on his LBC radio show. By sheer coincidence, Nigel Farage decided to accept his challenge the next day, on his LBC radio show. It may not surprise readers to learn that one of the debates was hosted by LBC.
Both leaders sought to portray the other parties as scared of participating in a debate on this subject. Clegg sought to portray the Conservatives as taking a confused position on Europe (the Conservatives, who have a softly Eurosceptic stance re pledged to support a referendum on the EU in 2017 if they are re-elected), and to portray Labour as having no position at all (Labour’s campaign was noticeably silent on EU issues). Farage merely hoped to present all three leaders as in hoc to an EU elite which ‘truly’ made the laws in the UK.
The first debate was widely seen as a victory for Clegg by the press, until the instant polls came out and revealed that voters saw Farage as the winner, a reminder of just how unpopular Clegg was (and some might argue, how out of touch London-based journalists are with the population at large).
Clegg was also deemed to have lost the second debate, by a more convincing margin. Clegg’s hope had not been, in truth, to convince a majority of the British public of his view, however. While a majority of Brits are Eurosceptic, the Lib Dems’ potential vote is highly Europhile and he hoped to galvanise this support. There was also a sense that with the party in for a poor result that Clegg was attempting to demonstrate that the party at least lost by standing up for what it believes in.
In the end the effect of the debates on the polls seemed to be to help UKIP while the Lib Dems did not move.
Labour fought a campaign entirely on national issues. Using the campaign to mercilessly attack Nick Clegg, hoping to lock down the defectors from the Lib Dem left it has won since 2010 and to gain further votes from 2010 Lib Dems who are now ‘Don’t Knows’, which represents as much as a third of their 2010 vote.
One of their party election broadcasts was named the ‘uncredible shrinking man’ and portrayed Nick Clegg giving up all his policies in government before literally shrinking in size until he reaches the point that a tiny naked Nick Clegg is chased across the cabinet table by the Downing Street cat.
Labour knew that much of its base was in both the Eurosceptic and Europhile camps and so avoided talking about Europe for this reason.
Labour hoped to win the election through a low profile campaign focused on winning through the momentum of being in opposition.
The Conservative campaign predominantly focused on its European referendum pledge and on its promise of EU renegotiation. The Conservative campaign claimed that UKIP “can’t” give you a referendum, that Labour and the Lib Dems “won’t” give you a referendum and only the Conservatives could.
The Scottish National Party focused on Scotland’s current obsession, the Independence referendum, hoping to use evidence of a strong result as a way to parle into the referendum. The SNP party election broadcast was entirely focused on the independence referendum.
The Greens were perhaps the only party to run a campaign based upon what they’d actually done in the European Parliament, with a well-crafted party election broadcast. The party complained of poor media attention compared to UKIP.
Polls generally showed a tight battle between Labour and UKIP for first place, with UKIP gaining throughout the campaign, opening up a wide lead over Labour. The party then fell back at the last minute, but remained ahead in polling intention. Polls showed that UKIP voters were, ironically, the most interested and engaged in the European election campaign.
Most polls showed the Conservatives in third, and the Lib Dems and Greens battling for fourth place.
Local Election Results and Analysis
Note: Vote share in the below is ‘Projected National Vote’. Due to the fragmented nature of UK electoral administration, and the variances in electoral system, it is impossible to get a total vote count for the UK on Election Day and this measure is based on sampling key indicator wards across the country to produce a figure of what the popular vote would have been if every single part of the country was voting at the same time.
The measure is obviously not perfect. I am cynical that it deals well with the rise of UKIP as it has nothing to compare against from previous results. Hence take the below figures with a pinch of salt.
Projected national vote share compared against 2013. Seat change compared against the last time this swathe of seats was up: in 2010. Councils are change in control from the day.
Labour 31% (+2%) winning 2121 councillors (+324), and winning control of 82 councils (+6)
Conservatives 29% (+4%) winning 1364 councillors (-236) and winning control of 41 councils (-11)
Liberal Democrats 13% (-1%) winning 427 councillors (-310) and winning control of 6 councils (-2)
UK Independence Party 17% (-5%) winning 166 councillors (+163)
Independents winning 89 seats (+36)
Residents Associations (local alliances of independents similar to the Free Voters in Germany) winning 53 seats (+14)
Green Party winning 38 seats (+18)
Other parties winning 4 seats (-7)
32 councils (+8) now under No Overall Control.
This is a remarkable election result for UKIP, who, for the second year in a row, have made significant gains in the local elections. While the party’s PNV is down from 2013, I am cynical of PNV’s capability to properly measure UKIP as there is no previous record to go on with its support in local elections. This is also a very different set of councils to 2013. 2013 saw elections principally in the County Councils covering rural and small town England. 2014 sees elections predominantly in London and the metropolitan authorities of the North. In that regard UKIP’s success is all the more impressive.
UKIP won a decent number of seats for its strong popular vote, albeit not as many as other parties. UKIP suffers from a highly inefficient voter spread, spread across the country. Its principal demographics of the elderly, the working classes and the low educated rarely cluster together in a way which makes it the largest party, making the UK’s plurality voting systems a significant barrier to its electoral success.
Opponents of UKIP have pointed out that UKIP still does not control a single council. Yet due to the elections by thirds system used in almost every council outside London it is literally impossible to take control of councils. If a party wins every seat up in a council elected by thirds it will only control one third of seats on that council.
UKIP did, however, win the most seats and votes in Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and North East Lincolnshire. These are all depressed areas on the Eastern coast of England, which have recently experienced their first ever waves of immigration. They are white, working class and relatively elderly places. In winning these areas UKIP threw them into No Overall Control. Local politics is likely to be difficult in these areas – largely split between Labour, Conservatives and UKIP. These areas will undoubtedly form key UKIP target seats in 2015.
UKIP also won the most votes (but not the most seats) in Rotherham, an area of South Yorkshire which has been one of the most punished cities by the financial crisis and has one of the worst economies in the UK. UKIP performed well in a by-election there in 2012, winning what was then a record of 21.7% of the vote, due to a scandal hit Labour MP and another scandal regarding social workers removing three non-white children from the care of their foster parents on the basis that they were UKIP members and therefore they had ‘concerns’ about their views.
The party also won the popular vote in Dudley, a suburb of Birmingham.
The party did very well in Essex, the county directly East of London, long associated with the white working class. The party managed to surpass Labour on Basildon council, and now controls 12 seats to 17 for the Conservatives and 10 to Labour. The party took 5 seats from the Conservatives on Castle Point council, and is now looking to form a coalition with Castle Point’s only other party – the Canvey Island Independents Party. The party also threw Southend-on-Sea into NOC, taking 5 seats (though Labour also gained 3 to go to 9 and there is a big Independent group).
Essex is traditionally a very socially conservative white-working-class-done-good area, and ‘Essex Man’ was considered the key component of Margaret Thatcher’s winning coalition. Yet in areas like Rotherham and North East Lincolnshire, it demonstrated a capability to win in core Labour areas.
The exception to the UKIP surge was most noticeably London.
UKIP won 12 councillors in all of London in three boroughs, Bexley, Bromley and Havering. All three of these councils are located in the Eastern outskirts of the city. Bexley and Havering were formerly part of Essex, and Bromley was part of Kent. Havering, where UKIP won 7 seats, is often said to be ‘culturally Essex’, a predominantly white, upper working class area.
By contrast, Labour won its best successes in London. Probably its most vaunted success was taking Hammersmith and Fulham from the Tories. H&F has been nicknamed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and was seen as an austerity success story. It actively cut council tax, when most councils suffered serious budgetary pressures. Yet controversy over a local hospital closure, and local concerns over housing seriously hurt the Conservatives. H&F has historically been viewed as a strongly Conservative area, Fulham, in particularly, is identified with wealthy Conservatives and the borough is in London’s more affluent West. Labour also took control of the South London borough of Croydon from the Conservatives. While the party controlled Croydon between 1994 and 2006 this was actually because of the inequities of plurality voting. 2014 represents the first time Labour has ever won the most votes in Croydon.
Croydon has become more and more ethnically mixed in recent years, aiding Labour’s victory. During the election campaign, UKIP, suffering from accusations of racism, held a carnival in Croydon, hiring a steel drum band. The event was widely seen to be a disaster and ended with Nigel Farage apparently cancelling his planned visit to the carnival as the steel drummers refused to play on realising that it was for UKIP and protesters and UKIP activists hurled abuse at one another. Winston McKenzie, a black UKIP council candidate who attended the event described Croydon as “a dump”.
Labour also took South London’s Merton and North East London’s Redbridge from NOC. This is the first time Labour will have control of Redbridge, which, like Croydon has become more ethnically mixed.
Labour also took back control of Harrow after a damaging internal split which had seen Labour councillors break away and form a coalition with the Conservatives.
Labour narrowly failed to take North West London’s Barnet, where a local programme titled ‘One Barnet’ has run into controversy. One Barnet is an attempt to outsource almost all elements of the council, essentially transforming the council into a commissioner of services rather than a provider of them. Labour won 27 seats to 32 for the Tories and 1 for the Lib Dems.
In its heartlands in London, Labour ran away with the election. Labour once again won every single seat on the East End’s Barking and Dagenham and Newham councils.
In the North West councils of Islington and Haringey the party has long been opposed by the Lib Dems with hardly a Conservative to be seen. This was, in a sense, a battle of two lefts. Labour representing the working class and ethnic minorities and Lib Dems representing the left-liberal bohemian public sector professionals, academics, journalists and media types that live in that region of London. The Lib Dems had controlled Islington between 1998 and 2006 and ran a minority administration until 2010. The Lib Dems have now been totally wiped out on Islington council. Labour’s sole opposition will be a single Green Party councillor.
The Liberal Democrats managed to retain 9 seats on Haringey council however. Haringey has something of a reputation as a poorly run council, but the seats were more likely saved by the association with a strong local MP – Lynne Featherstone, who is currently serving as a junior minister in the Department for International Development. Featherstone is a left-leaning Lib Dem who is known for her local campaigns.
Central London’s Lambeth and Lewisham in South East London also saw their sizeable Lib Dem groups, both serving as official oppositions, totally wiped out. Once again, the Greens benefitted, with the sole opposition member on Lewisham being a Green and Lambeth gaining a single Green councillor to act as the only opposition.
The Greens also won the second largest number of votes in North East London’s Hackney. Hackney, once a synonym for crime, deprivation and poor governance is highly diverse borough which has been utterly transformed in the last 10 years as it has become synonymous was gentrification and London’s ‘hipster’ community of young professional bohemians which is based around the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston areas of the borough. Hackney has benefitted from the leadership of its technocratic Labour mayor, Jules Pipe. Despite coming second in votes (as they did in the other boroughs already mentioned) the Greens failed to win any seats as they came second in almost every ward in the borough, as well as in the mayoral election.
The Green Party has long failed to do well in central London even though it would seem to be a perfect match for the area. This is probably because the Lib Dems, always successful at turning to face whichever direction is electorally convenient, have largely adopted the sort of green liberalism familiar to continental European Green parties. This has obviously been extremely mismatched with their participation in government with the Conservatives, however, causing left-liberals to flee to Labour and the Green Party.
The Green Party will now need to build on its high vote in this election and start targeting seats to build up a local infrastructure, but there is a lot of potential for the party in the North of London in particular, but also in central London and in Lewisham.
The biggest disappointment of the local elections for Labour was perhaps Tower Hamlets, an incredibly diverse borough which is 41.1% Asian (32% of which are Bangladeshi) to 45.2% White and 7.3% Black.
Tower Hamlets politics has long been strained by the importation of a certain style of tribal politics from the Indian subcontinent. The local branch of the Labour Party is under ‘special measures’, a 1980s invention designed to stop entryism by the Trotskyist grouping Militant Tendency. In Tower Hamlets Labour Party’s case special measures was imposed due to what is known in Australia as ‘branch stacking’ whereby members are recruited to a party for factional reasons. In Tower Hamlets selection meetings would often see the arrival of huge numbers of members who the party had never seen before. These members were, in reality, an attempt by Bengali community leaders of two rival factions to literally buy Labour Party selections. The party discovered that in many cases members did not even realise they were members of the party, or in fact admitted to usually voting for another party. The two factions are not ideologically different, in reality this is a battle along tribal lines.
Special measures essentially places the local party under the direct control of the central party, which has imposed its own selection of candidates upon the local party, balancing candidature along ethnic lines to stop any one group from gaining total control. The Labour Party is not the only party that has suffered from this in Tower Hamlets, but as the dominant party in the borough the party has perhaps suffered the most and perhaps has the most meaningful impact.
2005 saw the election of George Galloway, a former Labour MP who had opposed the Iraq War, on his far-left RESPECT ticket in one of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary constituencies. Galloway was accused of whipping up ethnic discord against his predecessor, Oona King, one of Britain’s few black woman MPs. Galloway had been elected almost entirely on votes from the Bengali community. While Galloway lost his seat in 2010, ethnic discord continued to build.
The elected mayoral model was adopted for Tower Hamlets in 2010. The elected mayoral was hoped to bring better governance to Tower Hamlets, which has been afflicted by serious amounts of infighting amongst the dominant Labour group. The elected mayoral model has, in neighbouring Labour dominated boroughs in Newham and Hackney served to unite the Labour group around the mayor.
The regional board decided that, for the mayoral election, the local Labour Party would be allowed to select its own candidate for the mayoralty rather than having one imposed.
The selection was won by Luftur Rahman, a Bengali former council leader who had been repeatedly judged unfit for selection for mayor by regional and national figures. Rahman was viewed as an ethnically divisive figure with low loyalty to the party (he failed to endorse the two Labour candidates for Westminster running in TH in 2010). Rahman had only gone through to selection after a series of legal challenges.
Post-selection other candidates complained of electoral fraud in the process, with evidence that very large numbers of people had voted who had not been resident in the borough. The party thus removed Rahman from the position and put into place Halal Abbas, another Bengali who had come third in the selection.
Rahman subsequently decided to run as an independent candidate. Despite the fact that Rahman had backed the ‘Blairite’ David Miliband for leadership of Labour Rahman received support from the left, gaining the endorsement of RESPECT and George Galloway, and support from left-wing factions of Labour such as the entryist Trotskyists of Socialist Action. Most damagingly, he received support from Ken Livingstone, the maverick former Mayor of London, and the candidate in 2012’s London mayoral race. Livingstone had formerly won the mayoralty as an independent himself after Blair had deemed him an unacceptable candidate in 2000. Livingstone later claimed he had only backed giving a second preference to Rahman.
Rahman won the mayoralty. As mayor of Tower Hamlets he has been deeply controversial. Rahman’s cabinet has been entirely made up of Bengalis. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan accused Rahman of links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, based in the East London mosque, which is itself accused of being a front for radical Islam. He has been accused of misusing public funds, and of consorting with criminals. In March 2014 the BBC documentary series Panorama alleged that the mayor had diverted £3.6m worth of grants to Bangladeshi and Somali community groups in exchange for political support. Tower Hamlets is now the only council in the country which publicly funds faith groups, with most money going to the Muslim community. Panorama also accused TH council of bribing journalists and Rahman of failing to answer questions at council meetings. In response, the Local Government and Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, sent fraud investigators to Tower Hamlets. Both TH and Rahman deny any wrongdoing. All in all, Rahman has been accused of basing his administration in the needs and desires of only one very narrow community.
Tower Hamlets politics has long been stained by accusations of electoral fraud. Fraud within the Labour Party has been covered above, but there are accusations of fraud in the electoral system itself.
Britain’s electoral system is surprisingly open to fraud. The electoral registration system is based upon a system of ‘household registration’ where a ‘head of household’ registers all names living in the house. No unique identifiers are required, and no ID is required at polling stations, it is possible to vote by just giving your name and address.
Since 2003 Britain also has postal voting on demand, an attempt to raise turnout. In 2005 in an electoral fraud case in Birmingham the presiding judge described the postal voting system as one which would disgrace a ‘banana republic’. The system has since been made much more secure, but allegations of fraud continue. Britain is a country which has long run on a culture of trust. In part this has been deserved. Britain has never had a written constitution, in part, because Britain has never truly needed a written constitution. Britain is moving to a system of individual electoral registration by the 2015 general election, and the Electoral Commission has proposed a system of voter ID.
Accusations of postal voting fraud are common in TH, with activists claiming that some houses are registered for far more postal votes than could possibly live in the homes in question.
This year, in response to fraud allegations, police officers were stationed at polling stations in Tower Hamlets. Since 2010 Rahman has formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, and the party was accused of fraud, voter intimidation and of illegally placing election posters in polling stations.
There have actually been very few investigations and arrests for fraud, and some argue that these allegations are overegged by political opponents seeking to delegitimise each other. In truth it is difficult to tell because Britain’s electoral system makes it difficult to detect and prove fraud.
The count in Tower Hamlets took 119 hours to count its ballots. No other council took more than a day to count its ballots. The extra level of security in Tower Hamlets was largely to blame. The count was widely derided as a ‘farce’, and the Electoral Commission is launching an inquiry into the count.
Rahman won 43.4% of the vote in the first round, largely believed to be almost entirely from the Bengali community. John Biggs, his Labour opponent, won 32.8% of the vote. In the second round Biggs won 6,500 second preferences compared to just 856 for Rahman, with Conservative and Lib Dem support flowing behind Biggs. However, despite receiving 88.4% of second preferences Biggs still lost to Rahman in the second round. Notably, 12,696 of the votes not cast for Rahman and Biggs in the first round did not contain a valid second preference, demonstrating the problems of the Supplementary Vote system.
Additionally, Labour lost control of TH council, winning just 20 seats to 18 for Tower Hamlets First and with 4 for the Conservatives. 3 seats lay vacant as in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward the election was delayed due to the sad death of a THF candidate the day before the election. Hence there will be a by-election for these seats. It is likely that the Conservatives will team up with Labour during the next four years in an attempt to weaken Rahman as much as possible. Tower Hamlet’s divisive, ethnically polarised politics are likely to continue however.
Labour’s success in London extended to the London commuter belt, to cities and towns such as Reading, Basingstoke, Crawley and Milton Keynes.
The Conservatives perform better in the outer ring of London and in the West. The party’s strongest result was in Kensington and Chelsea, a central London borough synonymous with wealth, today known as the home of Russian oligarchs who treat London as their personal playground. The Conservatives held a reduced majority in Wandsworth in South London, well known as the council in the UK with the lowest council tax due to a long history of radical conservative rule. As mentioned above they barely held North London’s Barnet.
The party’s biggest success of the night was taking Kingston upon Thames council from the Liberal Democrats, a suburban council on the outskirts of South West London. The Lib Dems had ruled the council for 12 years, and rule of the council was largely perceived to have become dysfunctional. Last year the council leader stepped down after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. The council was also criticised for having the highest council tax in London. The Lib Dems cannot just blame the national swing here, therefore.
The Conservatives broadly performed well with the exception of Havering on London’s East end extreme. Formerly part of Essex, Havering has a skilled working class, white and socially conservative area of the type Margaret Thatcher won for the party. Internal turmoil over selections within the Conservative group had seen defections to UKIP and to independents on the council and the local Residents Association, one of the few in London, won 24 councillors, gaining 12, largely from the Tories. UKIP also won 7 councillors, surpassing Labour who actually lost councillors, going from 4 to 1 as the Residents Association and UKIP tsunami weakened them. It is likely that the Residents Assocation will take minority control, switching between Conservative and UKIP support for their proposals.
The Lib Dems were wiped out from large parts of central London, and, as mentioned above, lost Kingston. In the incredibly wealthy suburban borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in South London, where the party has traditionally been very strong, the Lib Dems lost 9 seats to the Conservatives.
However, the party did hold the last of its suburban South West London strongholds, Sutton, even increasing its seats by 2, though they lost votes, due to the effects of the bloc voting system.
Elsewhere in the UK the Lib Dems generally suffered in areas where they lacked council control or a MP. The traditional Lib Dem strategy of highly localist campaigns has allowed it to keep a hold in areas of strength. Incumbent MPs often remain popular in their areas, with popular incumbents providing a visible presence that is not Nick Clegg.
In addition to Kingston, the Lib Dems also lost control of Portsmouth city council. Portsmouth is a major naval city and port in the Southern coast. As with Kingston there had been local causes. The Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, was suspended from the party in January. Hancock also served as a councillor and was the only MP in Britain to simultaneously serve as part of his council’s cabinet. Hancock had long been a controversial MP, with a reputation as a womaniser and activist on behalf of the Russian government, had been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting constituents. Hancock’s suspension from the party was strongly opposed by the local party. He was suspended as a councillor and became an independent but the local party essentially formed a coalition with him so that he could remain part of the council cabinet before being booted out by the national party.
Hancock ran as an independent for the council this year. The local Lib Dems ran no candidate in opposition to him de facto supporting his candidature. Hancock’s bid for re-election failed, however, as he was defeated by UKIP. The Lib Dems had broadly maintained their strength in 2011 and 2012 in Portsmouth, but in response to the local scandal the party was dealt a massive blow. The party lost 5 seats and lost control of the council to No Overall Control. While the party remains the largest on the council with 19 seats to 12 for the Conservatives, 6 for UKIP (all newly elected), 4 for Labour and 1 Independent it appears that they will lose control of the council as Labour and UKIP, disgusted with the local Lib Dem group, are preparing to support a minority Conservative cabinet.
The Lib Dems held up well with their areas with MPs, outside London. For instance, winning the most votes in the Sheffield Hallam part of Sheffield, held by the party leader, Nick Clegg. The party regained a seat lost to an independent defection in Eastleigh, its stronghold. The party lost only one seat in South Lakeland, its other stronghold, where Tim Farron, the party president widely believed to be a future leadership contender has his seat. However there were exceptions, such as left-leaning, student city Cambridge, and the party was reduced to only 3 seats in Norwich where it holds the more Southern of the 2 constituencies.
The party was wiped out in Metropolitan boroughs. Manchester Withington MP John Leech, elected in 2005 on a student and anti-war vote can pretty much write off his chances of holding his seat in 2015 as there is not a single Lib Dem left on Manchester City Council.
The Conservatives held up well throughout that part of England outside London, whereas Labour performed badly. In the key Labour target of the South Western town of Swindon, for instance, the Tories actually increased their majority from 1 to 2 as they took a seat from Labour. Embarrassingly for Labour, Ed Miliband was asked about the party’s leader on the council he revealed that he didn’t know who he was and then assumed he was already council leader.
Labour performed well in the Metropolitan boroughs. They now hold every single seat on Manchester City Council, bar one, held by an independent who has defected from Labour. ‘Half an opposition councillor’ as some have joked.
The Greens also performed well in the Mets. They won the second largest number of votes in Manchester and with 4 seats are now the opposition in Liverpool. They increased their seats to six in the unitary council of Bristol, and to 9 in Solihull, an affluent suburb of Birmingham, making them the joint second largest party with the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt is another MP likely to lose her seat (her majority is a razor thin 175).
The only other Conservative held Met is Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where they continue to hold a majority of 3. The Mets, are, however, Labour strongholds anyway, with the exceptions of Trafford and Solihull. It does not help Labour to make gains in Liverpool, where it currently holds all six of the MPs, the elected mayoralty and an overwhelming majority on the council.
Fans of maps should see the interactive one of London local election results in 2014, 2010 and 2006 here.
European Election Results
UKIP (EFD) 27.5% (+11.0%) winning 24 seats (+11)
Labour (S&D) 25.4% (+9.7%) winning 20 seats (+7)
Conservatives (ECR) 23.9% (-3.8%) winning 19 seats (-7)
Green Party (G-EFA) 7.9% (-0.8%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Liberal Democrats (ALDE) 6.9% (-6.9%) winning 1 seat (-10)
Scottish National Party (G-EFA) 2.5% (+0.3%) winning 2 seats (NC)
Plaid Cymru (G-EFA) 0.7% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (NC)
An Independence from Europe 1.5% (-) winning 0 seats (-)
British National Party (NI) 1.1% (-5.1%) winning 0 seats (-2)
The 2014 European Parliament election provided a huge success to UKIP, who became the first party to win a national election in the UK besides the Labour and the Conservatives since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s. For the first time, the Conservatives were pushed into third in a national election.
Regionally UKIP topped the poll in in the East Midlands, the East of England, South East England, South West England, the West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.
Labour topped the poll in London, North West and North East England, Scotland and Wales, its strongest regions.
UKIP’s strongest regions are the heavily Eurosceptic regions of the South West, South East and East, but the party gained strongly in the North of England, as a result of the party’s increasing inroads amongst Labour voters. The party’s biggest gains were in Wales (+17.1%) the North East (+17.0%), Yorkshire and Humber (+16.8), and the North West (+15.8%) all strongly Labour regions and it came second in North East England (by 7.3%), North West England (by 6.3%) and Wales (by an incredibly narrow 1.6% in the supposedly one party state.)
The exceptions to UKIP’s big gains were Scotland (where it gained just 3.8%) and London (where it gained just 4.6%). It also showed a weaker rise in the East Midlands (+6.8%) and the South West of England (+12.6%) largely because these areas were ‘early adopters’ of UKIP.
In Scotland UKIP succeeded in electing a MEP for the very first time, sending shockwaves through progressive opinion north of the border which had long claimed that Scotland was immune to UKIP. Nonetheless, UKIP only gained a single seat. David Coburn, the party’s new Scottish MEP is already a controversial figure in Scotland due to his being the London regional chair, with the widespread perception that he was ‘parachuted in’ into a divided Scottish party branch against its will.
Since being elected Coburn’s views on gay marriage (he is opposed, despite being gay himself) and on Scottish Independence (in the event of a yes vote he wants to hold another referendum to try and reverse the decision after the 2015 election) have also been controversial.
UKIP’s appeal in Scotland has been blunted by its English nationalism and the presence of the SNP as an alternative anti-establishment, nationalist (albeit left-wing nationalist) party.
The SNP had been aiming for a third seat, and its coming second to Labour is something of a blow to the party pre-referendum. Yet we should remember the low turnout and that Labour is both in opposition in the UK and Scottish parliaments to the SNP.
London was also an outlier from the UK wide trend. As in the local elections, Labour tore through London, winning half of London’s MEPs, 4, (an increase of 2) on 36.7% of the vote. UKIP managed only 16.9% of the vote and 1 seat, the only region of the country where it came third.
During the local elections count, UKIP’s communities spokeswoman commented that London was not good for UKIP because it is ‘young, cultured and educated’, leading to guffaws from UKIP’s opponents who derided her as saying that UKIP was the party of the old, the stupid and the backwards.
Yet, there is an element of truth to this. UKIP’s support is most strong amongst white, elderly, poorly educated voters. Multicultural, youthful, highly educated London is indeed bad ground for the party.
Labour’s performance around the rest of Britain was poorer, however, whereas the Conservative vote held up well. With Scotland and London removed, the Conservatives would have beaten Labour. This exposes the weak position Labour is now in less than a year from a general election.
The Greens fell back slightly, but increased their seats by 1 partially due to a Lib Dem collapse, winning an extra seat in the South West to go with their seat in the South East (where their stronghold of Brighton is and where there are the most seats and the lowest effective threshold) and in London. The Greens may perhaps have had only 1 seat had it not been for ‘An Independence from Europe’. AIE is a breakaway party from UKIP formed by former UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass who was deselected by UKIP. The party appears to have acted as a spoiler on UKIP, with it going to the top of the ballot as Britain’s ballots are alphabetically ordered (hence UKIP was near the bottom), winning on average 2% of the vote in the regions it stood in (it missed Wales and Scotland). We can assume that the vast majority of AIE voters would have voted UKIP had the party not existed. As such UKIP would have taken the Green seats in London and the South West.
The Lib Dems lost 10 seats, reduced to only a single MEP, Catherine Bearder, elected in the South East, which has the lowest effective threshold. In fairness to the party they always perform badly in European elections where the party’s pro-Europeanism is unpopular and where elected representatives are too distant to use the Lib Dems usual tactics of building a popular local representative. The regional system also means that in many regions the party had won one of the last seats in 2009, just clearing the effective threshold for representation. With the party’s collapse, the party fell below the effective thresholds and lost seats almost everywhere, including influential MEPs such as former ALDE leader Graham Watson in the South West, and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and key Tory defector Edward McMillan-Scott.
Excellent maps of the European election result can be found on the Election-Data blog here.
Overall, the elections expose a new division in the UK, between London and the rest of the country. Labour’s strength in London exposes an increasing divide between it and the rest of England. This is apparent in public opinion data. For instance, on immigration most of the country very much favours more stringent immigration policy, but London tends to slightly favour immigration. Labour policies on the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ predominantly appeal in London where prices are highest. For instance, rent controls have little resonance in rural areas and small towns where rents are relatively low and home ownership is more typically the norm. Labour’s London strength is also because it is younger and multicultural. We can also see the Greens beginning to break through in London.
Labour also has its best machines in London, with estimates suggesting that a quarter of Labour’s membership resides in the capital. Labour has become a party of urban England, but a majority is unlikely to be won on London and Northern cities alone.
UKIP poses the party a big threat in smaller towns. The elections have put paid to the often touted lie that UKIP’s voters are universally former Conservative voters disenchanted with the coalition. UKIP is the representative of a vast social shift in Britain. The party won more votes, but also has a much loyal base. While the party’s European result includes a large number of ‘strategic defectors’ using the EP elections to say ‘no three times’ – to Westminster, to immigration and to Brussels, there are less than in previous years. Polls suggest that around 60% of UKIP’s voters will support it at the general election.
The Conservatives are broadly happy with their performance. The party lost to Labour in both elections, but only thinly by a few points. Polls also suggest it is only slightly behind Labour. This is a year before a general election. Typically the last year before an election sees movement towards the governing party. Economic confidence is quickly rising as the recovery is under way. The party will aim to put a squeeze on UKIP voters, who tend to prefer Cameron as Prime Minister to Ed Miliband and who may be persuadable to voting Conservative strategically to stop Miliband becoming PM.
Yet the party retains significant weaknesses amongst key voting demographics and in key regions of the country.
The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing result. Yet, in the results is a glimmer of hope that it will outperform its national swing in 2015, holding the majority of its seats.
Nonetheless, the party experienced an attempted coup against Nick Clegg on beginning the weekend after the election. A shadowy group called ‘LibDems4Change’ launched an e-petition calling for a leadership contest, and on the Sunday an unnamed Lib Dem leaked a poll to The Observer newspaper supposedly demonstrating that key seats were in danger of being lost unless Nick Clegg was replaced by the more left-leaning Business Secretary Vince Cable. On being released publically it was demonstrated that the poll had methodological issues (a debunking by the pollster Survation can be read here which shows that under ICM’s usual methodology the seats would have been held.)
The poll was later revealed to have been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman from the early days of the Treasury who is known to be one of Cable’s closest friends. Cable rapidly distanced himself from Oakeshott, and Oakeshott resigned from the party and took a leave of absence from the Lords. Oakeshott’s coup attempt was widely viewed as incompetent and in a sense it may have strengthened Clegg by acting as a lightning rod for discontent before being defeated.
This is the last test of British public opinion before the 2015 general election, and the Scottish Independence referendum this September.
However, there is a by-election this Thursday, in the Conservative safe seat of Newark. UKIP is polling well.
Elections for the devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were held on May 5 in Scotland and Wales, alongside an AV referendum, English and North Irish locals, a Westminster by-election and elections to the Northern Irish Assembly.
AV and Northern Irish count is under way, and results for the English locals are being counted. A post on those results will be up when it’s all done. Results have been declared, however, for Scotland and Wales.
A magnificent and very complete preview of sorts, better than anything I could create, is on the Britain-votes blog. Scotland’s devolved administration had been led by First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP) since the 2007 election, Scotland’s devolved Parliament having been ruled by Labour since its creation in 1999. Though the SNP did well in the 2009 European elections, it did poorly in the GE in 2010 and was widely thought to be headed to certain defeat at the hands of Labour, as Scottish Labour picked up the inevitable seeds laid by the unpopularity of the Tory-LibDem coalition in Westminster. Labour had a large lead over the SNP in opinion polls at the outset, but they floundered it away.
Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, was seen as gray and uninspiring. So was his campaign. Labour seemed to have campaigned for Holyrood as if these were local elections, with systematic votes against the Westminster government. However, devolved elections in Scotland and Wales are not local elections anymore, rather they are equivalent to Canadian provincial elections or German land elections. As thus, Salmond was able to play on his popularity (his +33% approval is the highest of any of the 4 leaders) and really build up a strong vote of confidence in his favour. The SNP’s campaign played heavily on Salmond, and the SNP apparently appeared on ballots as ‘SNP – Alex Salmond for First Minister’. And so the SNP rocketed ahead of Labour in the final weeks. The Conservatives have a small but rather solid base in Scotland. But the Liberal Democrats, which had been until the SNP established itself in 2007 one of the main “non-Labour” opposition forces in Scotland and so held considerable weight in Scottish politics, collapsed. They have been hurt a lot in Scotland (and throughout the UK) for their participation as the junior partner in the Cameron-Clegg coalition. Scottish LibDems are quite independent from the mother party, but they’re guilty by association.
The preview post explains Scotland’s MMP electoral system, with 73 constituency FPTP seats and 56 regional seats allocated to ‘equalize’ representation according to votes cast. Therefore, parties doing excessively poorly in the FPTP seats will be compensated by regional seats.
|Con %||+/−||Con seats||+/−||Reg %||+/−||Reg seats||+/−||Total||+/−|
With 69 seats, the SNP has won an absolute majority, made even larger by two pro-independence Greenies and one left-wing ex-SNP nationalist, Margo MacDonald, reelected as an independent in the Lothians region. 45% is by far the SNP’s biggest vote share ever in Scotland, and makes this election a resounding victory for Salmond and the SNP. An overall majority notably allows the SNP to pass legislation organizing an independence referendum, an electoral promise of the SNP. But in a party traditionally divided between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘gradualists’, Salmond seems to be playing the gradualist path as his victory speech made it sound as if the SNP would rather work step-by-step, gain by gain rather than going to hold a referendum right away.
The SNP’s victory came much at the expense of the LibDems, who lost all its seats in mainland Scotland and all of them to the SNP. Most notably, the party’s traditional heartlands in the Highlands and in Aberdeenshire fell to the SNP on a huge swing towards the SNP. The SNP, notably, represents the areas covered by the Westminster constituencies of former LibDem leaders Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell. The LibDems were confined to the old Liberal strongholds in Orkney and Shetland. In other constituencies, the LibDem vote’s collapse largely benefited the SNP. Labour was unable to make even minor gains in the national vote share, and perhaps most remarkably its traditional Scottish heartland in densely populated industrial central Scotland and Glasgow was infiltrated throughout by the SNP. The SNP now holds the most seats in Glasgow – traditionally a strongly Labour area – and all but one seat in Edinburgh is held by the SNP. Iain Gray managed to hold his seat, which saw a smaller swing towards the SNP, with a 151-vote majority. Labour is now almost entirely shut out north of Glasgow and central Scotland, with the SNP reigning supreme with large majorities in the vast majority of seats in the Highlands and North East. The Conservatives lost votes and seats, the LibDems collapsed to a pitiful 5% on the list vote and the Greens failed to make any significant gains anywhere.
Once again, a plug for Britain-vote’s excellent guide to the Welsh elections offered here.
Wales is the Labour heartland of Britain since the 1920s and Labour has been the largest party in all elections since then save for the 2009 Euros Labour rout. Labour did badly in the 2007 elections because of Blair’s unpopularity, and needed to form a coalition with Plaid in order to govern. Plaid had sought a coalition with the Tories and LibDems, but ended up forming the ‘One Wales’ coalition with Labour. Labour’s First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, in office since 2000, stepped down in 2009 and was replaced by Carwyn Jones. Jones is seen to be a competent and capable leader, able to be an advocate for Wales against the unpopular the Tory-LibDem coalition in Westminster. Unsurprisingly, Labour polled well throughout the campaign while Plaid polled below its mildly successful 2007 showing.
The preview post explains Wales’ MMP electoral system, with 40 constituency FPTP seats and 20 regional seats allocated to ‘equalize’ representation according to votes cast. Therefore, parties doing excessively poorly in the FPTP seats will be compensated by regional seats.
|Con %||+/−||Con seats||+/−||Reg %||+/−||Reg seats||+/−||Total||+/−|
Labour’s vote increased substantially, but gained only four seats overall as a lot of that vote piled up in the Valleys, an intensely Labour area. Labour gained Blaenau Gwent (a very working-class area in the Valleys) from retiring leftie independent Trish Law (who gained the seat in a by-election in a 2005 election, after her late husband, Peter Law, an ambitious Labour AM turned into populist left-wing independent died). It wasn’t much of a contest, as Trish Law retired and the Law-outfit (People’s Voice) is in ruins and ran an outsider who polled 18.8% to Labour’s 64%. Outside of that, it gained Cardiff Central from the LibDems, Cardiff North from the Tories and Llanelli from Plaid. Its majorities in the Valleys are amusingly but unsurprisingly massive. But Labour failed to gain target seats from the Tories in Pembrokeshire, and therefore didn’t win the absolute majority it wanted. It could form a stable minority or continue its deal with Plaid for another term.
The Conservatives managed to do quite well, after a decent showing in 2007 where it had the advantage of opposition, its supporters turned up and allowed it to hold its ground well. It picked up Aberconwy from Plaid, where Plaid was hurt by the retirement of Gareth Jones, who had won in 2007 only thanks to a large personal vote. It also picked up Montgomeryshire from the LibDems, on a large 9.5% swing from LibDems to Tories.
Plaid did poorly, but its strongholds in Y Fro Gymraeg are solid enough to withstand such loses. It did lose Llanelli to Labour, and its vote fell slightly in three of its five constituency seats. In Gwynedd, the local populist party Llais Gwynedd managed to poll 15.5%, largely at Plaid’s expense.
The Liberal Democrats lost two constituency seats and one seat overall, though from my vintage point I’m surprised that their overall vote share didn’t suffer more than it did.
UKIP had hoped to make a breakthrough in Wales, but polled only 4.6% (up 0.7%) on the regional lists and failed to win a seat. The BNP’s vote fell nearly 2% from its strong 4% showing in 2007. The Greens similarly failed to make a breakthrough, stagnating at 3.4% of the regional list vote.
A post on the results in Northern Ireland, England and the UK-wide AV vote will follow once those results are done. At this stage, with 94% declared, no to AV wins 70-30. Counting will be held tonight in the Leicester South by-election.
The United Kingdom’s general election last night, on May 6, is certainly one of the most interesting and poignant election in a longtime, beating out, in my mind, even Obama’s 2008 election. Even now, nobody knows what the hell happened and what will happen. It was an unpredictable wild contest.
All but one of the 650 constituencies up for election are in, only Thirsk and Malton, where a UKIP candidate died before the poll, will vote later, on May 27. Turnout was 65%, up around 4% since 2005. There were long queues at certain polling stations in places such as Sheffield, where the local returning officer closed the door at 22:00 and shut out some people from voting. In other places, certain voters were issued with ballots at 22:00 and allowed to vote after the legal closing time. Some stations ran out of ballots, or had problems because uni students turned out to vote without their voter card. The chaos at certain stations led to scenes of anger by shut-out voters, who tried to block ballot boxes from exiting the station to go to the count centre, and the BBC was also quite angry at the situation. A reform of the polling booths law is likely to come up soon.
The results are as follows, excluding Thirsk and Malton, with changes on 2005 notionals, excluding by-elections:
Conservatives and Speaker 36.11% (+3.8%) winning 306 seats (+97)
Labour 29.02% (-6.2%) winning 258 seats (-91)
Liberal Democrats 23.03% (+1.0%) winning 57 seats (-5)
UK Independence Party 3.10% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
British National Party 1.90% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish National Party 1.66% (+0.1%) winning 6 seats (nc)
Greens 0.96% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Sinn Féin 0.58% (-0.1%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Democratic Unionist Party 0.57% (-0.3%) winning 8 seats (-1)
Plaid Cymru 0.56% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Social Democratic & Labour Party 0.37% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force 0.35% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
English Democrats 0.22% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alliance Party 0.14% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Respect-Unity Coalition 0.11% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Traditional Unionist Voice 0.09% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Christian Party 0.06% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independent Community and Health Concern 0.05% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 0.04% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish Socialist Party 0.01% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 1.08% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
There are a few general discernible trends in this election, but the major trend is that the election was awfully local. There were wild swings to and from certain parties in various parts of the country, some safe Labour seats fell to the Tories while some marginal Labour seats held on. Some seats which should never have fallen did, and some seats which should have fallen did not. The national swing is 5%, but it was very far from a universal swing (another shot in the back of the classic UNS), with some very low swings in some areas and a high number of seats bucking the trend. A look at those areas later on.
The discernible trends in this election are that Labour held up better than expected, and that Cleggmania died out badly and the LibDems had a rather bad night after the weeks of euphoria, which didn’t really die off at any point during the campaign. The daily pollsters did very badly, but the exit pollsters got it almost spot on down to the last seat numbers, and UNS didn’t fail as badly as expected (partly the result, I’m sure, of the poor LibDem result). What the pollsters did get right, however, is that the Tories, while largest party by far, lack an overall majority of seats and the next Parliament will be a hung one: the first since February 1974.
To begin the actual analysis, here are the results by major regions:
England: Con 39.6% (297), Lab 28.1% (191), LD 24.2% (43), UKIP 3.5%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1% (1)
East Midlands: Con 41.2% (31), Lab 29.8% (15), LD 20.8% (0), UKIP 3.3%, BNP 3.2%, GRN 0.5%
Eastern: Con 47.1% (52), LD 24.1% (5), Lab 19.6% (2), UKIP 4.3%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1.5%
London: Lab 36.6% (38), Con 34.5% (28), LD 22.1% (7), UKIP 1.7%, GRN 1.6%, BNP 1.5%
North-East: Lab 43.6% (25), Con 23.7% (2), LD 23.6% (2), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.7%, GRN 0.3%
North-West: Lab 39.5% (47), Con 31.7% (22), LD 21.6% (6), UKIP 3.2%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 0.5%
South-East: Con 49.9% (75), LD 26.2% (4), Lab 16.2% (4), UKIP 4.1%, GRN 1.4% (1), BNP 0.7%
South-West: Con 42.8% (36), LD 34.7% (15), Lab 15.4% (4), UKIP 4.5%, GRN 1.1%, BNP 0.8%
West Midlands: Con 39.5% (33), Lab 30.6% (24), LD 20.5% (2), UKIP 4%, BNP 2.8%, ICHC 0.6%, GRN 0.6%
Yorkshire and the Humber: Lab 34.7% (32), Con 32.5% (18), LD 23% (3), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.8%, GRN 0.9%
Northern Ireland: SF 25.5% (5), DUP 25% (8), SDLP 16.5% (3), UCUNF 15.2% (0), OTH 7.1% (1), APNI 6.3% (1), TUV 3.9%, GRN 0.5%
Scotland: Lab 42% (41), SNP 19.9% (6), LD 18.9% (11), Con 16.7% (1), UKIP 0.7%, GRN 0.7%, BNP 0.4%
Wales: Lab 36.2% (26), Con 26.1% (8), LD 20.1% (3), PC 11.3% (3), UKIP 2.4%, BNP 1.6%, GRN 0.4%
Analysis of England, Wales and Scotland
The marking thing about this election, noted above, is the absence of a large, quasi-universal swing or trend from one side to another. There were some large swings in certain seats, but it’s hard to discern a general common trait about those seats or regions, though I personally noticed that there were large swings in safe Labour seats, maybe the result of voters voting as a protest vote against the ‘owners’ of the place when it’s safe to do so and is unlikely to cause a change of hands in the said seat.
The Tories gained 100 seats exactly (slightly less excluding by-election gains they held). Most of those seats tended to be marginal seats, where the race often depends on the national mood and turnout patterns within the seat, or more middle-class areas gained by Labour in its 1997 landslide and narrowly held onto by Labour in 2005. The Tories also gained twelve seats from the LibDems, most of which had been gained by the party in the Tory landslide defeat of 1997. One of those seats is Winchester, a famous seat where the LibDems won by two votes in the 1997 election and held it in a subsequent by-election as well as 2001 and 2005. The Tories lost 3 seats (excluding the Speaker’s seat), all to the LibDems: Solihull (technically a hold, but a notional gain), Eastbourne and Wells. In Norwich North, traditionally a Labour area, the young Tory MP held on by a comfortable margin of around 10% after a 2009 by-election gain. In Crewe and Nantwich, another Tory gain from Labour in a 2008 by-election, the Tories won by a large margin, 46-34 over Labour. Birmingham Edgsbaston had been a seat everybody had been talking about as a must-win Tory gain if they wanted to win nationally. Labour held on to it 41-38, though Labour lost seats which were notionally safer than Brum Edgsbaston. The Tories will also win in Thirsk and Malton on May 27, giving them 307 seats overall.
Labour lost 94 seats, all but a handful to the Tories. They did however win back three seats: in Chesterfield, they defeated the LibDems in Tony Benn’s old seat, they gained back Bethnal Green & Bow from Galloway, and they picked up Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales coalfields from Dai Davies, an Independent who won a 2006 by-election to replace Peter Law, who had won as an Independent Labour candidate in 2005 in protest at Labour’s all-women shortlist in the constituency. Davies has likely been hurt by some poor decisions of hers.
The LibDems had a poor night. The Cleggmania seen in polls absolutely didn’t translate into increased support for the party, which has in fact suffered a net loss of 5 seats and a gain of only 1% in the popular vote. The reason hasn’t been satisfactorily explained yet, but it’s likely that voters were convinced at the last minute that the election was still a two-horse race, or Labour voters who had toyed around with Nick Clegg decided to vote Labour in fear of a Tory government. Increased media scrutiny of the LibDems and poorer debate performances in the last two debates certainly didn’t help. However, the traditional problems of the LibDem strategy should also be noted: vote spread too thin around the country or poor strategic choices in terms of constituencies. The party suffered 13 loses overall, compensated by 8 gains. In Cornwall, where they held all 6 seats prior to the election, they lost three. It could partly be the result of an unpopular move to a unitary authority in 2009, a move backed by the local LibDems, but I think the LibDems suffered the consequences of that in the 2009 locals rather than in 2010. It should also be noted that the Tory majorities in Truro & Falmouth and Camborne & Redruth were extremely thin (less than 1%). LibDem hopes for gains in Oxford, a major student town, were dashed with a Labour hold in Oxford East and the defeat of the LibDem incumbent in Oxford West. Another student town where the LibDems had hopes was Durham, but Labour won 44-38 there. Perhaps the student vote didn’t turn out as much as it should, or it could be related to the student registration problems in certain places. The LibDems gained 8 seats in all. In Norwich South, the seat with the lowest vote share for the winning party, the LibDems very narrowly defeated Labour MP and internal Brown enemy Charles Clarke, while in Burnley they finally gained the seat infamously known for its 2001 race riots after successes at the local level since the last election.
There were a number of rather shocking results. In Redcar, a very safe working-class Labour seat (held in 1983, so it’s safe), the LibDems won a massive victory with a huge 21.8% swing to the LibDems. The closure of the Corus steel plant in Redcar likely explains the result, along with local government LibDem strength, but it remains the major English shocker of the night. In Montgomeryshire, held by the Liberals/LDs since 1983 (and excluding a one-term Tory between 79 and 83, since 1880) and by Lembit Öpik since 1997, the Tories won a shocking and unexpected victory on a 13% swing to them. Lembit Öpik’s flamboyant and controversial style likely did him in. There were also large swings to the LibDems in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, a safe Labour seat in the South Wales coalfields, were the Labour share dwindled from 61% to 44% while the LibDems saw their vote increase by 17%. Labour held the seat, but it was surprisingly close for a safe Labour seat. The result in Pontypridd was also close, with a 13% swing to the LibDems. Demographic changes and younger professionals moving into this once-coalfield seat likely explains the result there. Also in Wales, Plaid failed to gain Ynys Môn (Anglesey), held by the party’s leader in the Assembly, though it isn’t all that shocking given that no incumbent has lost re-election on the island since the 1950s.
In England, Labour held on to Luton South, where its retiring MP was embroiled in the expenses scandal. The Independent in Luton South, Esther Rantzeen, who stood on an anti-sleaze platform, did horribly with just 4% of the vote. Hazel Blears, another Labour MP embroiled in the expenses scandal, held on in Salford, winning 40% against 26% for the LibDems and 21% to the Tories. Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary and expenses scandal culprit, was defeated in Redditch by a decisive 44-30 margin by the Tory candidate. A number of cabinet ministers lost their seats, but no high-ranking cabinet ministers lost in the end. Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood came close to having a “Portillo moment”, but held on 38-35 against the Tory’s Antony Calvert.
In Scotland, the trend there bucked the trend south of the border, with Labour actually increasing its vote share to 42% by 2.5%. Also amusing is the fact that no seats changed hands in Scotland. The SNP, which forms government in Holyrood, up for re-election in one year, will likely be quite disappointed. Salmond had a goal of 20 seats for the party, though most bookies thought 8 seats would be the SNP’s seat count. It failed to win Ochil and Perthshire South, where Labour increased its majority and the SNP vote fell; and Labour’s majority in Dundee West increased from approximately 5% in 2005 to 20% this year. Glasgow East, a safe Labour seat won by the SNP in a shocking 2008 by-election, wasn’t even remotely close: Labour’s defeated 2008 candidate won 62-25 against John Mason, the incumbent MP. Overall, the SNP increased its vote share only marginally to 19.9%, placing it second, but still far from its 29% level in the European elections in 2009 or the 33% in the Holyrood election in 2007. The LibDems had hoped to win Aberdeen South and two seats in Edinburgh (two seats which they only narrowly lost, though), but its seat share remains stagnant and its vote fell nearly 4%. The LibDems also lost Dunfermline and West Fife, a 2006 by-election gain from Labour, to its original 2005 winner. Gordon Brown also saw his majority in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath increase, now a crushing 50% majority over the SNP. The Tories only marginally increased their vote share and they failed to win either Dumfries and Galloway from Labour, or two SNP seats which were on the party’s target list. Even if Cameron forms a government, the Tories will have but one MP from Scotland.
The SNP’s Welsh allies, Plaid Cymru, did poorly, with their vote down to only 11% in Wales. They won back Arfon, notionally held by Labour, but they fell short by a large margin in Ynys Môn and they fell far, far short of winning back Ceredigion, a narrow LibDem gain in 2005 where the LibDem majority increased substantially. The margin in Ceredigion is now 50-28.
The Greens broke through in Brighton Pavilion, winning their first seat ever (on less than 1% of the national vote) and marking one of the first seats won by Greens in a FPTP national election. MEP Caroline Lucas defeated Labour 31-29, while the Tories polled a rather poor 24% of the vote in a race rumoured to be a two-way Green-Tory contest. The Tories, however, did win Brighton Kemptown and Hove, both won by Labour in the past three elections. The Greens victory in Brighton Pavilion reflects a winning strategy for such parties, especially the Canadian Greens: focus almost all resources on one seat with a star candidate and bomb that seat with leaflets; while forgetting other seats. The Greens did that and it paid them dividends, though overall the party’s share of the vote actually fell slightly and in most other constituencies it did as well. The Greens also did well in Norwich South, their ‘second target’, with 15% of the vote. It polled barely over 2% in both Oxford seats.
George Galloway, Respect’s sole MP and a major victor of the 2005 election, moved from his constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow to Poplar and Limehouse, and he took a trashing there, winning only 18% of the vote against 40% for Labour and 27% for the Tories (who didn’t win the seat after all). In Bethnal Green & Bow, Respect’s candidate won 17% and third-place. Respect’s best result was won by Salma Yaqoob in a massive mud-sliding contest in the new seat of Birmingham Hall Green: Yaqoob won 25% and second place, narrowly ahead of the LibDems and not too far from Labour’s 33% of the vote.
The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin was standing in Barking against high-profile Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and the leader’s result was quite bad for the party and reflects poorly on the party’s overall results. Griffin won only 15% of the vote, the BNP vote actually down on 2005 and still in third place behind the Tories (18%) and far away from Labour, which won 54%, up 4% on 2005. Overall, however, the BNP’s vote increased to 1.9%, likely its best result in a general election to date, and the BNP was the party, with the Tories, that saw its vote increase by the largest amount (+1.2%). This is likely due to running far more candidates than in 2005, though the BNP increased its Westminster presence in the North East. The BNP’s result is not as bad as it’s made out to be (nor is it all that good), but in Barking, it’s very bad and at the local level, the BNP lost all 12 seats in the Barking and Dagenham borough council, where all seats are now held by Labour.
UKIP’s former leader Nigel Farage, injured in a plane crash the day before the vote, was standing against the Speaker in Buckingham. John Bercow, the Speaker, is not entirely popular, especially in his own party, where his pragmatic and liberal stances are not all that welcome. Yet, Farage didn’t make an impact and there was no late sympathy vote. Farage ended up in third, with only 17% and behind an anti-Bercow independent who polled 21%. Bercow’s vote, however, was down roughly 11% on his 2005 result.
Elections in the UK are often fought on bases of classes, and those patterns have remained largely stable since 1935. On a map, the Tories win the most land area (as they did in 2005), because they represent largely sprawling rural or suburban areas. The party’s strongest majorities are found, obviously, in the South-East and East, though in rural and very wealthy areas as a general rule. As previously mentioned, the Tories gained ground from Labour either in seats were the boundaries make them closely split between Labour and Tories, or in more well-off urban and suburban areas won by Labour in its 1997 landslide (eg, Lincoln and so forth). In other rural areas, old patterns based on historical religious adherence, die hard. Cornwall, parts of the South-West and Wales have always been weaker Tory land because the Tories were historically seen, especially in Celtic Cornwall and Wales (Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnorshire), as the English Anglicans in opposition to non-conformist Celtic Cornwall. In Wales, the Tories have usually found strength in wealthy areas (Cardiff North, the Vale of Glamorgan) but also areas with a large number of English retirees (Pembrokeshire) and areas more English than Welsh (Monmouthshire). Scotland actually used to be a strong Tory area, but Thatcher’s policies and the SNP killed it off. Thatcher was unpopular by the end in Scotland, and the SNP appealed to those voters who had voted for the Unionist Party of Scotland (merged into the national Tories in 1965) because of the Unionist’s Scottish Protestant rhetoric. Labour has been reduced in this election to its base in working-class (usually old mining) areas. Almost all Labour seats are found in urban or densely-populated industrial valleys, giving the impression on a general map that they’re a small party. Labour’s best areas are in the Welsh valleys (the Rhondda etc), Liverpool and surrounding industrial hinterland, coal mining areas in the Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the mining stronghold of County Durham, Scottish mining areas in central Scotland and Fife, the Black Country around Birmingham, and the working-class areas in East London (or similarly working-class areas in western-ish London) and other cities including Glasgow. The Liberal Democrats have strongholds built largely on persons rather than demographics. While they do well in traditionally Liberal areas such as Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands or eastern rural Wales, personality encourages a lot of their vote. The LibDems, as mentioned in previous posts, often take different rhetoric to win different seats. It can sometimes even be borderline populist and nationalist, such as in Burnley, or Cornish nationalist as with Andrew George in St. Ives. As evidenced by the result in Ceredigion and especially Westmorland and Lonsdale, their MPs often have a large sophomore surge. That being said, there are some traditionally LibDem demographics: students (Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Manchester Withington), young professionals and wealthy liberals (parts of south London), and some strength in certain resort towns (Torbay, Southport, Eastbourne). Sometimes, the LibDems win under slightly disconcerting circumstances (in some cases, gay opponents: Norfolk North and Simon Hughes’ 1983 by-election win in Bermondsey). The LibDem’s weird patterns of support, which are generally well spread out and peaking only in a handful of seats, account for their weak results under FPTP. However, the LibDem strategy of working hard in certain seats to win them and hold them makes sure that on 23% of the vote, they manage 57 seats in 2010 rather than 23 on 25% in 1983, so it has its dividends as well.
A note on local elections: after 157 of 164 councils declared, the Tories hold 65 (-8), Labour has 37 (+15), the LibDems have 13 (-4) while 45 remain NOC (-3). The Tories lost 121 seats, now holding 3364 councillors against 2857 for Labour (+414) and 1615 for the LibDems (-141). A notable Labour gain is in Liverpool, where the LibDem majority has been defeated. In the London boroughs, Labour has picked up a good number, and Barking and Dagenham is an entirely Labour council. The BNP has only 19 councillors left, down 26. More results here.
David Cameron is favoured to form cabinet, and negotiations are underway as this is posted with Nick Clegg’s LibDems. Labour had called by election night for a Lib-Lab pact, but Clegg had said during the campaign that the party with the most votes and seats should have first digs at forming a government. Hope for a Lib-Lab pact is extremely low, and Labour already rebuffed SNP offers at a grand Labour-LD-SNP-SDLP-Plaid coalition. Cameron yesterday highlighted the common ground between LibDems and Tories, but there remains significant differences, most notably on Europe, immigration and electoral reform. Electoral reform remains a top priority for the LibDems, but the Tories are the most reticent of the two major parties (Labour called by election night for some sort of talks on the matter) for electoral reform. The Tories might bury LibDem calls for electoral reform by accepting to long-winded committees on the matter or STV voting for the Lords or local elections. The LibDems ought to be cautious and intelligent when talking to the Tories. If there was to be a deal, an informal deal between both would be far better for the LibDems than a formal coalition, where the LibDems would obviously have the shed their ‘alternative’ image and would be associated by voters with Tory policies. It also remains to be seen if the LibDem electorate, a lot of which vote for the party because it’s neither red nor blue, would be happy about a Lib-Tory deal. If talks fall through, Cameron could still form a minority cabinet relying on on-and-off support from Northern Ireland’s unionists, the LibDems or even the SNP-Plaid for a majority on various matters. However, such a minority wouldn’t be as stable as Harper’s minority in Canada, given that Labour is probably structurally and financially stronger than the Canadian Liberals and could afford to defeat Cameron in the House and force a snap election. It is quasi-certain anyways, however, that the current Parliament won’t last as long as its predecessor and an election might be held as soon as winter.
Its best to analyse politics in Northern Ireland separately from the ‘other island’ because of the major differences. Northern Ireland has 18 constituencies (which also serve as multi-member STV constituencies for the Assembly elections). Politics remain sectarian in Northern Ireland despite the power-sharing in Belfast and the end of the Troubles, and political parties reflect those sectarian lines. However, the increase of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland will sooner or later trouble the delicate balance of power between the two major sectarian forces. Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs are ignored in times of majorities, but in times of hung parliaments, the unionist MPs are courted actively. The Tories in the past sometimes depended on support from unionist MPs, and Sinn Féin’s abstentionist MPs reduce the magic majority line from 326 to 323 in 2010. The unionist MPs might come in vital for a Tory minority government.
In Northern Ireland as a whole, Sinn Féin topped the poll with 25.5% of the vote, up 1% on 2005, while the DUP share of the vote fell 8.7% to 25%. The SDLP, the second nationalist party, saw its vote go down by only 1% to reach 16.5%, while the second unionist party, the UUP/UCUNF won only 15.2%, down 2.6% on 2005. The non-sectarian liberal Alliance won 6.3% (+2.4%) while the hardline anti-power sharing TUV won only 3.9%.
In Antrim North, Ian Paisley Jr. had no trouble in the race to succeed his father, winning 46.4% against 16.8% for Jim Allister, the TUV leader and former MEP. While Paisley Jr’s result is down 10% on 2005, he maintains a comfortable 29.6% majority in the seat. Allister’s result is rather bad and would only yield a handful of Assembly seats next year if the numbers hold up.
Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, was standing in Antrim South, the only seat where Empey’s UUP-Tory coalition had a real chance of winning. Despite a 3.6% swing from the DUP to the UCUNF, Empey is 3.5% behind incumbent DUP MP William McCrea with 30.4% against 33.9% for the DUP incumbent. The TUV polled 5.4%. Empey’s defeat will likely call into question his leadership, which is already rapidly evaporating, but also the continued existence of a clearly dwindling UUP, especially in face of the 2011 Assembly elections, where Martin McGuinness could become First Minister on the back of unionist divisions.
The shock came from Belfast East, the seat held by incumbent First Minister Peter Robinson, also leader of the DUP, since 1979. Robinson temporarily stepped down as First Minister earlier this year after it was revealed that his wife, Iris Robinson (formerly an MP as well) had sexual affairs and illegal financial dealings with a teenager. A poll had shown he wasn’t at much risk in a Protestant DUP stronghold, but they failed to see the wave, which came not from the nationalists or UCUNF, but from the non-sectarian Alliance. Its candidate, Naomi Long, elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2009, won 37.2% of the vote against 32.8% for Robinson, on a massive 23% swing to the Alliance from the DUP. Robinson remains as First Minister, but his authority is severely shaken by this shocking defeat.
In Belfast South, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell had been elected in 2005 thanks to vote splitting between the unionists, but this time around he had no trouble winning. His share of the vote increased by nearly 11% to reach 41%, giving him a 17% majority over his closest rival, the Democratic Unionist Jimmy Spratt, who won 23.7%. Anna Lo, an Alliance Assembly member of Chinese descent, won a very pleasing 15% of the vote, which shows her popularity as an Assembly member (it isn’t an ethnic vote, obviously, only 3% of the constituency’s population is non-white) and the party’s appeal in the seat. McDonnell’s large victory reflects Sinn Féin’s drop-out in his favour, but also the growing Catholic population in the seat.
Gerry Adams managed to increase his vote in Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s heartland, to 71%. In Belfast North, despite a 7% increase in its vote share, Sinn Féin failed to wrestle the seat from the DUP, which won 40%. However, Sinn Féin’s 7% increase here is larger than the SDLP’s 4.5% slide, reflecting the growing Catholic population in the seat and maybe a sign that Sinn Féin might be able to win it in the future.
Lady Sylvia Hermon, North Down’s MP, was the UUP’s sole survivor in 2005, but she left the party after it allied with the Tories and stood for re-election as an Independent against Ian Parsley, the Alliance-turned-Tory guy. Parsley obviously wasn’t a top-caliber opponent to a very popular local MP. Hermon won 63%, up from 50% in 2005, against Parsley’s 20.4%. The Alliance suffered from Hermon’s popularity and their vote slid by 2% to only 5.6%.
Another setback for the Robinson clan was in Strangford, Iris Robinson’s old seat, where she was retiring (obviously). The DUP’s vote slid nearly 9 points to 45.9%, mainly to the benefit of the UCUNF, which won 27.8% (+6.4% on 2005). The DUP held on narrowly in Upper Bann, with 33.8% against 25.7% for the UCUNF and 24.7% for Sinn Féin, which placed a disappointing third after a poll had showed them in a strong second to the DUP.
The DUP held on in East Londonderry with a 15% majority on Sinn Féin while high-profile DUPer Sammy Wilson won re-election in East Antrim with a 22% majority on UCUNF.
Sinn Féin faced a very, very tough contest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic seat but one where a united unionist front can win. Rodney Connor, the unionist unity candidate, was the favourite against Sinn Féin incumbent Michelle Gildernew. Gildernew held on by four votes about a number of recounts against Rodney Connor. Both polled 45.5% of the votes. Because Gildernew was threatened, the SDLP’s vote was massively squeezed, being halved to reach only 7.6%. If the SDLP had dropped out to save Gildernew, it would have been a much easier election for Gildernew.
Sinn Féin easily held on in Mid Ulster (Martin McGuinness’ seat), Tyrone West and Newry & Armagh. The SDLP’s former leader, Mark Durkan, was re-elected in Foyle with a 12.7% majority over Sinn Féin, though both parties vote slid, likely in favour of Eammon McCann of the far-left People before Profit, which won a record 7.7% in the seat. The SDLP’s new leader, Margaret Ritchie, held on in South Down, with a comfortable 19.8% majority over Sinn Féin, despite the retirement of popular SDLP MP Eddie McGrady.
The DUP will send 8 MPs against 5 Shinners, 3 SDLPers, one Alliance and one independent – for the first time since its creation, Northern Ireland will not be represented in Westminster by a unionist majority (10 unionists in 2005, now down to 9 against 8 nationalists and one non-sectarian).
The United Kingdom votes in its long-anticipated general election on Thursday, May 6th. For an election which was awaited by so many electoral pundits, it has not let them down one inch. The inclusion of three TV debates between the three major leaders – a novelty in British elections – has changed the general outlook of the election vastly. Whatever the results may be, it will likely go down as an historic election of sorts.
The Liberal Democrats’ historic surge since the first debate, up to 33% in some polls and rarely falling below 28% or so since then, is obviously the most striking aspect. Because of the appeal of their new, young, charismatic leader, Nick Clegg; but also because of a general antipathy towards Conservatives and Labour. The LibDems have an unusual electoral coalition, including various groups of voters which on the outside are worlds apart on policies in a number of cases. They don’t have any old lasting strongholds (except Orkney and the Shetlands!), like Labour has in the coal fields or the Tories in rural England, meaning that their electoral successes often come from a localized message against their party of choice or policy of choice. If not, it comes from a personal vote.
The result is that it renders even more useless the holy universal national swing (UNS) calculators. Those little gadgets work on the flawed assumption that the national swing from one party to another will be the same in all constituencies, in all regions. The UNS is a good thing to sell papers and grab headlines, but it isn’t the most useful of electoral outcome predictors. The LibDem surge renders it all the more useless.
The current lines in polling seems to have the Tories at around 33-36%, Labour and LibDems usually at 28% each, giving or taking a few points. The polls have been remarkably stable in that range, though YouGov’s daily tracker today had the LibDems down to 24% – something not yet backed up by any other pollster. In terms of seats, the UNS and other predictors seem to indicate that the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament with somewhere in the high 200s-low 300s in terms of seats, with Labour likely in second with somewhere between 210 and 250ish seats. The LibDems would likely be between the high 70s and mid 90s. A poll in marginal constituencies indicates a Tory majority of two, but if there’s one thing I am allergic too, it is those polls in ‘marginals’ or in specific constituencies.
This would result in a hung parliament, which would mean that no party would have an outright majority. There are a lot of possible consequences of this, including a minority government similar to Canada, a Tory deal with the Northern Irish unionists (or SNP, but only if the Tories are very close to an overall majority) or a coalition deal between one of the parties and the LibDems. The LibDems will probably be in a good position to ask for a number of concessions on stuff such as electoral reform or working with Labour on condition that Brown goes, so I would personally argue that there’s a better chance for a Tory minority government than the Tories agreeing to LibDem electoral reform and forming a coalition with them. However, there is an outside chance that Labour could push Brown out and agree to work with the LibDems, but it would require the Tories to be far away from the majority threshold, and at least the tolerance of other parties such as Plaid or the SNP.
There have been differing analyses of where the new LibDem vote comes from exactly, but given the topic, it’s better to wait until the 7th to see the results. The LibDems would be leading, according to YouGov’s last regional breakdown, in the South-West, which would indicate their resistance in all 6 Cornish seats but also pushing through in Devon and around Bristol where they’re already naturally strong on balance. In London, they could win marginal Labour seats in Islington and that general area of northern London. In Birmingham, the bookies seem to be betting on the LibDems picking up the new inner city seat of Birmingham Hall Green. In Liverpool, the constituency of Liverpool Wavertree, a rather well-off seat in the middle of deprived Liverpool could be won by the LibDems, who could also pick up Burnley, famous for its race riots in 2001 and for being the original base of the BNP. In the mining Labour heartland of the North-East, the LibDems could pick up seats in Newcastle and Durham (City), bourgeois enclaves in proletarian land.
The minor parties, namely the Greenies, UKIP and BNP will each have their eyes seat on one seat each. The Greenies hope to pick up Brighton Pavilion, a Labour-held seat where the incumbent is retiring and where the Greens are running their leader and incumbent MEP Caroline Lucas. The LibDems seem to have informally ‘dropped out’, leaving the seat wide open for Lucas, who is the favourite in this very hip and young seat in the coastal resort of Brighton. Former UKIP leader and incumbent MEP Nigel Farage is taking on the Speaker, John Bercow, in his Buckingham seat. As per usual, neither Labour nor the LibDems are opposing the Speaker, who is a former Conservative. Farage is unlikely to win. The BNP will watch the east London seat of Barking, where its leader Nick Griffin (also an MEP…) is facing the Labour incumbent. Barking is a white working-class Labour stronghold, but the BNP’s rhetoric plays well in this area close to major immigrant areas in Tower Hamlets. Griffin is unlikely to win, but the BNP wishes to do well enough to increase its representation on the borough council (all London boroughs are also up on May 6, with a number of other seats in English local government). The controversial George Galloway won a shocking and controversial victory in Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005, in a race dominated by the Iraq War in the Bangladeshi heart of London. Respect, Galloway’s party, has since gone down the route of civil war and divisions, and got creamed in recent electoral outings. Galloway is now running in the new seat of Poplar & Limehouse, next door to Bethnal Green & Bow, probably to lose as a candidate rather than as an incumbent. Some say Galloway’s standing might split the left vote and allow the Tories to pick up Poplar & Limehouse (which includes the gentrified Docklands, where I assume there’s a base of Tory support). Respect is also going to watch Birmingham Hall Green, where Salma Yaqoob is running and already won the support of some Labour members.
Ed Balls is the only important cabinet minister facing a tough fight in the new seat of Morley & Outwood, and given that he is a likely leadership contender if/once Brown leaves the leadership, his victory or defeat will be a mjaor point. Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty, two of the largest names involved in the 2009 expenses scandal will likely go down to a hard defeat.
The race is also being played in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where issues are sometimes different.
The Conservatives are looking to make major gains in Wales, where they currently hold (notionally) three seats against 30 for Labour, 4 for the LibDems, 2 for Plaid and one seat held by an Independent. The Conservatives did top the poll here in the European elections, which marked the first time since 1918 or so that Labour didn’t top the poll in its Welsh heartland. From their three seats today, the Tories would like to gain at least five seat to have a Welsh caucus of eight seats. The LibDem surge seems to have affected Wales as well, though seemingly to a lesser extent, which means that the LibDem’s on-the-wire victory over Plaid in Ceredigion in 2005 will likely be secured and the LibDems may target seats such as Swansea West. Plaid is seemingly polling quite poorly, but Labour’s decline might help it gain Ynys Mon and win outright in Arfon (held by Plaid, but Labour on notionals). A Plaid gain in Ceredigion, however, seems more and more unlikely.
The SNP is putting a lot of stock into this election in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament, led by the SNP, is up in May 2011. However, Scottish voters seem to prefer Labour at Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood. However, the SNP did rather poorly in 2005, polling roughly 18% to the LibDems’ 22%. Their vote will undoubtedly go up, and they could gain around two seats from the six they currently hold. The LibDems in 2005 had managed to coalesce a part of the Scottish anti-Labour vote, which usually floats between them and the SNP, so them improving on their 2005 result even minimally would be excellent and allow them to gain ground in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In Northern Ireland, much has been made of the electoral pact between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists, forming the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists-New Force (UCUNF). But the pact was not approved by the UUP’s sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down, who left the party and is standing for re-election as an independent and is very likely to win. Lady Sylvia has been close to the Labour Party in the past, and she said that she was not a Tory. The UCUNF’s only major hope is in Antrim South, where its leader Reg Empey faces incumbent DUP MP William McCrea. The bookies seem to be betting on Empey for a narrow win, but a p0ll by the Belfast Telegraph says otherwise. Empey’s defeat would call into question his leadership and maybe the party as a whole (if he loses, 2010 could be the first election since… the 1800s that the Ulster Unionists do not win a single seat), especially in regards to the 2011 Assembly elections and the prospect of the Shinner Martin McGuinness become First Minister on the back of Unionist division. In Antrim North, the old patriarch of the DUP, Reverend Ian Paisley is stepping aside in favour of his son, Ian Paisley Jr., who is facing his father’s former hardline ally, Jim Allister and his new anti-power sharing Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in his first electoral outing. The goal for Allister is not to win, but to make a strong showing as to better position the TUV to win seats in the Assembly next year. The Telegraph says that TUV would win up to 5 seats on its current numbers. The other race to watch is in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic constituency held by Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew (and held by hunger striker Bobby Sands for a very short while in 1981) but one where a unionist unity candidate could conceivably win. The unionist parties (DUP and UCUNF) agreed on the candidacy of Rodney Connor, who must be the narrow favourite in the seat, which is, ironically, the birthplace of the late 20th century Sinn Féin party. However, a poll by the Telegraph has Gildernew leading him by just one point – 44 to 43. The SDLP did not drop out here, but Sinn Féin did in South Belfast, where the SDLP’s 2005 gain was on the back of unionist divisions. With Sinn Féin out there, and the Catholic population increasing, the SDLP will hold on rather easily.
There’s a mock election poll running on this very blog – down the right-hand side. After 34 votes, the Tories are ahead on here with 32% against 26% for the LibDems. The Greens are third with 12%, while there’s a massive tie for fourth with Labour, UKIP, BNP and SNP each at 6%. Mebyon Kernow and Plaid have 3% each. This would give a Tory majority of 94, with 148 LibDems, 89 Labour and 40 others…