Labour gains most across the country but loses the big prize in London
Going into this year’s local elections, two things were certain: that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were going to lose seats to Labour and the smaller fringe parties; and that spinsters from each party would be out in force claiming that they had beaten expectations whatever the result.
But as news of hundreds of council seats begin to pour in like a mini electoral avalanche, what does it all really mean?
Labour has gained hundreds of councillors as it continues with the long recovery in its local government base, started in 2010 as it left national office. But unlike 2010 with the London Borough council swings from outright Conservative to Labour control, at least half of Labour’s Council gains come from No Overall Control, albeit it places which included Conservative/Lib Dem minority administrations which have now lost power.
On a national level, the results are certainly a good day both for the Labour Party and for UKIP. In the case of Labour, triumphs in the major metropolitan councils included winning back Birmingham and Cardiff. Other victories across the country included Burnley, Bridge End, Chorley, Carlisle, Cannock Chase, Derby, Exeter, North East Lincolnshire, Norwich, Plymouth, Reading, Sefton and Southampton, mostly from No Overall Control. Wins from the Conservatives included Dudley, Great Yarmouth, Harlow and Redditch.
Today’s results signal a number of ominous omens for the two parties in the national coalition: while the Conservatives were inevitably going to see some losses after an exceptional performance when these seats were last contested, party strategists will be concerned that much of the Lib Dem vote transferred directly to Labour rather than UKIP.
In the case of UKIP, while the party failed to convert its support into tangible electoral gains – electing just nine councillors across the country so far – their polling percentage levels were comparable to the Lib Dems at 14% and indicate that UKIP can attract a high proportion of the disaffected protest vote.
Conservative losses to No Overall Control include Southend-on-Sea, Gloucester, Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan, Wyre Forest and Worcester.
Few Tory rural heartlands where one-third of the council was up for re-election were spared, including David Cameron’s backyard, where Labour made gains in Chipping Norton, Witney Central and Witney East. In Hart district in North East Hampshire, the Conservatives lost 3 seats to Independents, enough to tip the Council back into No Overall Control. In a rare ray of sunshine for David Cameron, the Conservatives picked up the 2 seats needed to take Winchester City Council out of No Overall Control – one of their few Council gains.
And the Lib Dems? Well, perhaps the only positive against the backdrop of an electoral implosion is that the party’s support held up better in the south of England, making rare council seat gains in strong southern pockets such as Eastleigh. However, these glimmers of light will be overshadowed by symbolic losses such as totemic Cambridge Council, where the party has lost its overall control.
While unquestionably a good day for Labour, the damp squib of the day (and likely focus for many a news outlet) will be the party’s failure to unseat London Mayor Boris Johnson. Early results indicate a second term for Boris which will likely lead to much soul searching (and hand-wringing) within Labour HQ over Ken Livingstone’s troubled candidacy in the capital. Labour’s performance on the London Assembly, meanwhile, looks better and should result in gains in Ealing and Hillingdon and Barnet and Camden.
The surprise about the loss of these two assembly seats is that they had been solidly Conservative since the assembly was created in 2000, in tough times for the Conservative Party. Their loss after 12 years tells the story of Labour’s sustained recovery in North and West London since the 2010 General Election / London Borough Council elections which saw a string of councils revert back to Labour control.
Other Mayors are out
In a further blow to the Big Society and the Coalition’s hit-and-miss Localism agenda, four cities – Manchester, Nottingham, Bradford and Coventry – voted no to a directly elected mayor. Even Birmingham, which has attracted some high-profile prospective mayoral candidates including former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne, looks set to decline the opportunity to directly elect an Executive Mayor. Liverpool, however, has bucked the trend with Labour’s Joe Anderson becoming the city’s first elected mayor – justifying the council’s decision to skip the niceties of a referendum altogether and push ahead with a direct election.
Written by Nick Sutcliffe