On Thursday we have this year’s batch of local elections. This is the smallest of the four year local election cycle – there are no district or borough councils up for election, it is just the County Councils and a few unitary councils (mostly those that used to be county councils but had their districts abolished, like Durham, Cornwall, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire – although Bristol also has a third of its councillors up for election).

Without any elections in London, Scotland, most of Wales or the Metropolitan counties this is, by definition, a rather Tory set of elections. When the counties were last contested in 2009 when the Conservatives were riding high in the polls they took overall control of every county council except Cumbria. Of the 2392 seats being contested, sixty percent are currently held by the Conservatives (accounting for boundaries changes in some councils Rallings & Thrasher reckon the totals at C 1452, L 245, LD 481, OTH 214). All the councils up for election except Bristol are “all-outs”, with every councillor up for election, making it far easier for councils to change hands. With the Conservatives starting from an extreme high, it is almost inevitable that they will lose a lot of seats and lose control of a substantial number of councils.

It also means that Lib Dem councillors up for re-election are overwhelmingly in LD-v-Con areas, not LD-v-Lab areas. In recent local elections the Lib Dems have done OK against the Conservatives, but been massacred where they are up against Labour in metropolitan areas. With very few LD-v-Lab urban areas having elections, don’t expect huge Lib Dem losses this year.

Before local elections there is normally a rather pathetic game of expectation management by the parties, of claiming that party X needs to be making an absurd number of gains to be doing well, or that party Y expects to lose millions of seats so it claim it’s not as bad as they thought when they only lose so many… as if doing badly is somehow less bad when you can pretend you expected to do worse, or doing well is somehow even better when you can pretend you expected to be mediocre. Actually this year they haven’t been so bad compared to some previous years, though there are still a couple of days left! The predictions from Rallings and Thrasher, which are really the only decent guide, are that the Conservatives will lose around about 310 seats, Labour will gain around 350, the Lib Dems lose around 130 – roughly speaking (for there have been many changes in councils since then) this would reverse the 2009 changes and take us back to the position at the 2005 local elections, fought on the same day as Labour’s general election victory.

There is also the question of UKIP – we can expect them to do well in terms of share of the vote, but a more interesting question is whether it translates into council seats. While the national polls tell us that UKIP have gained significant support, what they don’t really tell us is whether that support is broadly uniform across the country (in which case it won’t be translated into many seats), or whether there are particular areas of UKIP strength (in which case it could result in lots of councillors elected). In 2009 when these councils were last contested UKIP only had candidates in a quarter of them, so we don’t even really have data on where they were strong four years ago! A year ago in 2012 UKIP actually did pretty well in the local elections in terms of the votes they won where they stood… but got hardly any councillors because their vote was evenly spread even where they did do well (to take some examples, in Basildon they got 17% of the vote and came third, but got no councillors at all, in Thurrock they got 18% but only managed one councillor). We may see the same, or we may see more effective targetting or them getting over a critical mass of support in some councils and gaining large numbers of seats. Right now we really cannot tell.

The other measure people will look at is the BBC’s “Projected National Share” (and the Rallings and Thrasher equivalent, the “Equivalent National Vote”). Both of these are essentially a projection of what the national shares of the vote would be if there were local elections everywhere, rather than just in the Toryish bits of the country that actually have elections. Both are based on looking at the swing in various key wards.

In 2012 the BBC’s Projected National Share was CON 31%, LAB 38%, LDEM 16%. The Rallings & Thrasher Equivalent National Vote was CON 33%, LAB 39%, LDEM 15%. Rallings & Thrasher are predicting CON 29%, LAB 38%, LD 16%, UKIP 11% for this year’s ENV.

Just in case anyone is about to get excited about that high Lib Dem score (or disappointed that Labour is expected to be below 40%), bear in mind that people do vote differently in local elections to national elections. This is most evident in the case of the Liberal Democrats, who consistently do better in local elections than national ones (something I looked at back here.)

Finally we come to the question of what the elections tell us, and whether they matter. My usual answers are not much, and very much so! In terms of national levels of support local elections really don’t tell us very much we don’t already know from the national opinion polls. If people vote the same as the national polls suggest, then it doesn’t tell us anything new, if they vote differently, it is almost certainly because people just vote differently in local elections to they way they do in national elections. This year’s results may be slightly more useful than usual since they may give us some insight into exactly how the national UKIP support is distributed at a local level, though of course, it can’t tell us anything about their relative levels of support in Metropolitan areas.

Just because local elections don’t tell us much, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important – they matter deeply in terms of shaping the narrative, in terms of whether a party is seen to be moving forwards and doing well, or unpopular and doing badly. In 2011 the narrative emerged that Labour had rather flopped in the local elections and the Conservatives had done well. In 2012 Labour did very well in the local elections and it cemented the poll increase they’d had since the 2012 budget (though Boris Johnson’s victory in London stopped it being across the board good news for Labour). This year we can be pretty confident of solid Labour gains, and there is no obvious source of Conservative solace, so unless they really mess up the expectations management the effect on the political narrative is likely to be a strong positive for Labour, with them being seen to make progress, gain support and generally be on track towards success. The most obvious obstacle to that is if UKIP do particularly well and the weekend’s news coverage ends up being all about a UKIP breakthrough, rather than Labour success. On top of that there is the practical impact – councillors are often the ground troops, the backbone of local associations and the people who knock on doors and deliver leaflets, so Labour’s gains will help them in the future, Conservative and Lib Dem losses will slowly rob them of feet on the ground.

And, not least, they also determine who actually runs county councils for the next 4 years.


120 Responses to “Local Election Preview”

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  1. @CarFrew,

    “Ok, originally you said “no doubt they are left wing” but since you are moderating that we now have agreement.”

    I was only being facetious. Left wing voters may, in reality, have larger brains than right wing voters…who knows?

    “Sure partisanship is an issue if it compromises the findings but my point us that if the findings are not compromised, if they actually work and are reproducible and predict stuff then we cannot dismiss them just because the researchers were partisan.”

    We can. Problem is that unlike chemistry/ physics/ maths and biology, the social sciences do not generally have the same predictive qualities.

    We do have agreement.

  2. “In the hard sciences – as Spearmint so aptly put it – mathematical proof or scientific reasoning (within the scientific community) is sufficient. In the social sciences, this is simply not enough.”

    —————–

    It is possible to apply the scientific method to the social sciences. It’s just rather limited at times.

    This isn’t that hard an experiment. You find out what party people identify with, you measure their Brain size. Then you can decide whether Tories have smaller brains than Paul or not.

    Sure you may have to use standard techniques to deal with sampling etc. But you can still express results with confidence intervals, MoE etc.

  3. Ambiv,
    That research about conk size being related to others parts, was it not an inverse relationship?

  4. @CarFrew,

    “It is possible to apply the scientific method to the social sciences. It’s just rather limited at times.”

    Yep, agreed. And as long as its limitations are acknowledged and considered.

    “This isn’t that hard an experiment. You find out what party people identify with, you measure their Brain size. Then you can decide whether Tories have smaller brains than Paul or not.”

    Everyone knows that Paul has a much bigger brain than average….it’s why he is known as the ‘forum wit’. So any research would effectively be redundant.

  5. At the very least you can state how the brain size varies with party identification.

    To get around the shy Tory effects you could do additional experiments, like measuring the brain size of councillors who have clearly exprseedca preference…

  6. @Jim Jam,

    “That research about conk size being related to others parts, was it not an inverse relationship?”

    From that, I can only assume you may have a problem?

  7. …”Clearly expressed a preference”

    I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind additional confirmation…

  8. Unless, of course, you have a small nose?

  9. Look [as Ed Balls says]

    I am not a scientist but

    1/ I am left of centre

    2/ I am dead clever

    3/ Ergo left-of-centre people are clever.

    QED and BYU [Bob’s-Yer-Uncle]

  10. and my original assertion regarding biasness on the original nose to…. link is correct.

  11. ALEC

    @”Ed’s response needs to be nuanced,”

    I disagree-best to say what you intend.

    ……which he did today :-

    “”“Attempting a cut in VAT, as we’re proposing, would lead to a temporary rise in borrowing,” he told ITV’s Daybreak.

    “The point I was making yesterday was that if you can get growth going, by cutting VAT, then over time you’ll see borrowing fall.”

    Politics Home.

    Howard will approve of that “if”.

  12. @colin,

    The problem with VAT cuts is they hammer revenue, so you need to be certain of a net gain, which I often have my doubts about. I honestly don’t know if we could afford a significant VAT cut.

  13. Labour’s deficit was about 30Bn more.

    And we know we also had growth, and on a rising trend when they left power.

    Unfortunately for Labour, they rather needed another year to demonstrate the effect if growth on borrowing. They didn’t have time to reap the rewards.

    Still, we can estimate the impact of growth on tax revenues and welfare costs and business investment from past data.

    30bn is about 2% of the size of the economy. And we had more than 2% growth for that. The benefits come in multiple ways… More tax revenues, less welfare, more investment, productivity gains from infrastructure… It’s not really that controversial to expect it to more than pay for itself.

    Especially since we can borrow ling term and cheaply and Austerity hasn’t worked as planned. Labour’s plan actually delivered more growth than expected…

  14. Peter Kellner described Martha Kearney as courteous but persistent in the
    EM interview yesterday.Well that is one way of putting it.It seemed to me that
    She constantly interrupted and he could hardly get a word in edgways.She was
    Aggressive from the word go.Contrast with her pleasant chat with Clegg today
    I think that some of these interviewers are nothing short of vicious and very
    Unpleasant indeed.For example the BJ interview when he was told he was a
    Nasty piece of work and John Humpries asking Em if he considered himself
    Ugly.Sometimes one would like to hear what people have to say,not some
    Media person with their own axe to grind.

  15. AW “On top of that there is the practical impact – councillors are often the ground troops, the backbone of local associations and the people who knock on doors and deliver leaflets, so Labour’s gains will help them in the future.”

    We can certainly do with a bit of that round these parts!

  16. I’m not sure about VAT cuts myself.

    We need to get away from consumer-led growth and asset-bubble led growth.

    I’d rather any money available to spend goes into long term infra-structure projects, energy conservation projects and renewable energy.

    Buying more ‘stuff’ we don’t really need is the wrong direction.

  17. RICH

    Yes-there are a number of issues -eg

    Not all VAT is borne by private individual consumers., so the alleged multiplier does not relate to the whole tax cut cost.

    Which VATable purchase volumes will actually respond to a small reduction, and which are relatively inflexible?

    Are low income families with proportionately high % of their spend in non-discretionary zero-rated/lower rated supplies going to spend more on larger ticket VATable goods ?

    Are higher income families with proportionately high% of their spend in larger ticket , discretionary purchases, going to see a small VAT reduction as a reason to spend more?

    In the case of a temporary cut-how much of the purchasing effect is a timing difference-ie this year’s gains are lost next year?

    In a climate of widespread retail sector discounting, does a small VAT reduction get noticed, or seem relevant?

    etc. etc.

    I am surprised that EM has stuck to this one-it’s a bit dated now. The Government has covered consumer spending stimulus really, as of this month, with the Personal Tax Allowance reductions ( at least for those taxpayers with the correctly amended PAYE Code !), and I don’t see how he can beat putting money in people’s pay packets.

    I would have expected him to go on infrastructure, where delivery has just been criticised roundly.

    Why not declare an intent to build n houses; be upfront about the effect of Deficit/Debt , and quote numbers on Construction Industry employment & Tax revenues.

    It seems a better bet than fiddling around with VAT .

  18. Surely once UKIP start getting feet on the ground their poll ratings will hit upper teens. And many more non cllr members will be inspired by seeing they they can win and set up new local branches and field more candidates. Here in 2009 UKIP only contested 1 of 33 seats, this year 5 of 10, so their is plenty of room for UKIP to grow and gain support, and hence rise in the rankings. At the expense of whom is the question.

  19. VAT cut on energy bills would help the poor the most. I am more in favour of tax cuts that create more jobs.

    The last VAT cut mainly went into the pockets of retailers and not consumers.

  20. Of course if you were female having a smaller brain apparently gives you superiority over men, ask any woman. Does that mean having a smaller brain gives them have a natural tendency to vote Tory or is the fictitious study, sexist in nature and only apply to men.
    If so, it should be reported to “save the smaller brain society” who use to be “save the Dodo society” apparently there a left wing think tank very good at sorting this sort of thing out.

  21. Would building more houses have any effect on house prices though Colin?, you know how people hate to see falling prices.

    That is if you mean house building for social consumption.

    Back to the elections, although i will watch the coverage if you even mention any other party than Conservatives you will be banned from the allotments..FOR LIFE :)

    So not very exciting for me.

  22. @ Turk

    Women used to have smaller brains than men & they voted Tory. Now that their brains are the same size or bigger, they vote Labour. ;-)

  23. I always thought this was not the smallest election of the four-year cycle, because some districts elected all-out, so actually one of the other two years (ie, non county or all-out) were the smallest.

  24. @AmberStar

    A little partisan I think and not factually correct either.

  25. @bluebob

    I think that house prices should not increase for a very long time.

    House prices are still very high for young people, and for everyone in places like the South East and other hotspots.

    Mortgage criteria are still eye-watering tight for most people. People with mortgages are doing well, due to artificially low interest rates, but at some point when rates rise I think repossessions will rocket.

    I would hate to see a growth in our economy just fuel housing again.

  26. Jonboy – last year had more councillors up for grabs, 2011 had the all-outs and 2010 had London on top of the thirds, so I think this is now the smallest.

    Whether it has always been is a different story

  27. @Anthony,

    Great read….thanks for this….

  28. I totally agree on that Catmanjeff,

    I long for the day when house prices come down to a level before the boom years.

    But for some, as you pointed out would mean repossessions and i wouldnt want to see that.

    We have always purchased houses that needed work and have got very lucky with our timings of purchases and sales.

    In saying that though i think my bum might squeeze up a tad if rates ever went back to the 14% of the late eightes.

  29. @ Amber

    Actually Viz hit it on the head- women actually have bigger brains but they use it for storing useless information like she said this to him and he said this to her. Whereas men have smaller brains but use them for storing more important stuff like football scores :-)

  30. @ AW

    I must admit I didn’t think to compare the recent Lib Dem gains or holds with more recent polling rather than 2009. I still think they might do quite well this time with the combination of UKIP taking votes off Tories and often being a Lib Dem-Tory battle.

    I do assume R&T know what they are doing so I’ll have to go along with what they say but will be interesting to see where those gains come from- 22 out of the 34 locals have currently 5 or less Labour seats and you have to assume they can maybe only gain 2 or 3 seats from each of those (as they don’t have much of a base to work on) and if the other 12 saw them gain 10 seats each I only get close to 200!

  31. I am a graduate engineer turned successful banker, I’m 6’5″ with a large nose, naturally I am a true Blue Tory, my wife often implies that my brain is juxtaposed with the non-nasal element residing in my pants, comment on this contribution is not necessary.

  32. @Simon
    “Surely once UKIP start getting feet on the ground their poll ratings will hit upper teens. And many more non cllr members will be inspired by seeing they they can win and set up new local branches and field more candidates”

    This depends on two things. Firstly, that their membership surge translates into an increase in activists. Secondly, that their poll surge translates into seats. When the Greens had a similar poll/membership surge in 1989, neither happened. Right now, it’s premature to assume that UKIP will fare any differently now than the Greens did then.

  33. Oh snap ken,

    Im also a engineer who is trying his hand at trading.

    I have found i am very good at losing money so i feel i must know 50% of the profession already.

  34. turk

    “Of course if you were female having a smaller brain apparently gives you superiority over men, ask any woman. Does that mean having a smaller brain gives them have a natural tendency to vote Tory or is the fictitious study, sexist in nature and only apply to men.
    If so, it should be reported to “save the smaller brain society” who use to be “save the Dodo society” apparently there a left wing think tank very good at sorting this sort of thing out.”

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Que???????

  35. Paul, I think Turk was just saying that women are cleverer than youse.

    No biggie…

  36. Ann

    Agree totally about interviewers. Like footy referees they should be totally un-noticed unless they are really required, viz for vicious tackles** or blatant lies.

    Generally interviewers should never interrupt if the interviewee hasn’t completed a reasoned answer and leave it to the listener/viewer to make their own mind up.

    On the other hand they should shoot anyone who says “Well, I’d like to answer a different question if I may…” – that would also have the benefit of adding to the viewing figures.

    ** Ed Balls is a serial offender.

  37. I miss the interview technique of Robin Day, leading politicians into traps of their own making.

    He mostly just made the nooses for people to put their own heads in.

  38. @PaulCroft

    Speaking as a pedant, the only time I’d like interviewers to be really aggressive is when a spokesman says “I refute that” with no further information – at which point I’d love to hear an interviewer say “well bloody well refute it then, or go away and read a dictionary until you learn what the word means”.

  39. @ BLUEBOB……..You’re gambling, losses are inevitable, but provided that you back a few winners as well………! Anyway, I went into investment management, which meant I invested other people’s money.

  40. @CARFREW

    “…This isn’t that hard an experiment. You find out what party people identify with, you measure their Brain size…”

    It is notoriously difficult to measure brain size. People do struggle so when you try to take it out to measure it, and Igor has to strap them to the slab…:-)

    rgdsm

  41. Just as a general aside, its hard to bllame politicians of any party for being apprehensive about their precise wording in interviews, given the propensity for certain papers to condense everything down to one, short phrase which is taken out of context, repeated on TV news, accepted as the truth and then vilified.

    No wonder they tread warily.

  42. @Chrislane1945
    “…. I suggest that TB could be asked to come back to the Commons- as a Labour MP.”

    I hope not as I would have to ask AW to turn my colour grey. I would leave the Labour Party if TB came back. I left because of him.

  43. Very little expectation management in evidence recently. Quiet before the storm perhaps. Prior to R&T’s tablets being handed down, Schapps was saying Labour can’t claim to be a one nation party unless they make 500 gains… on Labour’s side a figure of 200 was reported to have been mentioned at an NEC meeting.

    Some stats from Mike Smithson put that R&T number (350 Labour gains) into context:

    First we’ll have to assume that Lab wins *every* seat it currently holds.

    Secondly, 1070 seats have Con and LD in first and second place (700 seats Con/LD, 370 seats LD/Con). So, Labour would need to come from third place (at least) in order to win any of these.

    If that sounds like a hard ask, then thirdly, to get near R&T’s target, Labour must win *every* seat where it is in second place:

    Con seats with Labour in second place… 280
    LD seats with Labour in second place… 65.

  44. @lizh,

    Harsh on TB. I thought you would have liked how he delivered you three election wins. A giant of the Labour movement.

    :-)

  45. ps: how do you set your colour?? I can’t work out?

  46. Mike Smithson [email protected]

    A 10,000 sample online Populus poll of over 50s for Saga has Ukip in 2nd place behind the Tories pic.twitter.com/sfkWsDouhj

    ITV News [email protected]

    UKIP surge to 22% of vote in latest ComRes Poll http://itv.co/ZykroI

  47. COMRES……..C 31 L24 UKIP 22 LD 12 Locals.

  48. Does anyone have the vote totals in 2009 to compare? PNS & ENV are pretty useless in this regard.

  49. @Rich
    “Harsh on TB. I thought you would have liked how he delivered you three election wins.”

    It is not just about winning. Some of us have morals.

    “ps: how do you set your colour?? I can’t work out?”

    Just ask AW politely although I remember him saying recently that he might get rid of the colours.

  50. @lizh, thanks!

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