The local elections are over and the headline story is clearly one of UKIP breakthrough. The Conservatives did almost exactly as badly as expected, losing around 335 seats and control of 10 councils, Labour did about as well as expected in terms of seats, gaining just under 300, but only two councils (Nottingham and Derbyshire, Staffordshire surprisingly remained Tory). The Liberal Democrat lost a lot of voters, but only around 125 seats. UKIP gained around 140 councillors – doing particularly well in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, both of which fell into No Overall Control with UKIP the second largest party.

The BBC’s Projected National Share of the vote was CON 25%, LAB 29%, LDEM 14%, UKIP 23%. The results for both the Conservatives and Labour are strikingly low… but this is more an artefact of the high level of UKIP support. I’ve said it in almost every post I’ve made this week, but note again what the Projected National Share of the vote is and isn’t.

It is a projection of what the BBC think the shares of local vote would be if there were elections across the whole country and if all four parties stood in every council division. In other words, it takes account and corrects for the fact that only rather Toryish parts of the county voted, and that UKIP and the Lib Dems only stood in three-quarters of the divisions. Secondly, it isn’t the votes that were actually cast – if you totted up the votes cast in every ward on Thursday you’d come up with a different, but probably less meaningful, number. Thirdly, it’s not an attempt to measure or predict national support for a general election – general elections have much higher turnout and, more importantly, people can and do vote differently in them.

However, there are some useful things we can tell from the voting patterns on Thursday, especially about UKIP support. Firstly look at the vote shares and the number of seats won. UKIP got a PNS of 23% (we don’t know what their actual share was, but we’ll work with the projected shares for now), the Liberal Democrats of 14%. However, the Liberal Democrats won 352 seats in total, UKIP 147. It’s an excellent illustration of the importance of vote distribution – look at the detailled results and there are swathes of country where the Lib Dems get truly derisory votes, and strong areas where they win. In comparison UKIP tended to do pretty well across the board, getting lots of second places even where they didn’t win (in the BBC’s key wards they came second more than any other party).

While we’ve seen the general level of UKIP support growing across the country, this is also our first chance to see exactly where it is strong. The places UKIP tended to win the most seats were peripheral towns, outlying places, often the coast, often economic backwaters in a way, places like Boston, Spalding, Great Yarmouth, Thanet, Folkstone, the area around Bognor. Some of these areas, like the Norfolk and Lincolnshire Fens, are areas that have seen high levels of Eastern European immigration. Others are popular retirement locations and we know there is very strong correlation between age and voting UKIP. This seems to make sense, although one should be slightly cautious about accepting conclusions because they seem intuitively correct, there’s plenty more work to be done here.

Finally there is the impact on the political narrative. While I think Labour did pretty respectably, they were clearly overshadowed by UKIP in terms of coverage so it’s not going to give them much momentum. Rather the impact will be all about UKIP – the publicity boost and the further perception that they are a serious player will likely translate into higher levels of support in the polls in the short term at least, but there will also be the impact on the other parties, particularly the Conservatives. The Tories did not do horribly badly, so don’t seem to be in full meltdown, but do look spooked. Already there are lots of Conservative MPs scampering off to the press to tell that that the policy they happen to want to see enacted is also – what a shocker – the key to defeating UKIP.

What the Tories should really do probably deserves a post in its own right, but suffice to say there is no easy answer. UKIP support is driven by various factors – an anti-immigration vote (and anti-EU to some degree), an anti-government vote, and anti-establishment and anti-politics vote. While UKIP is a radical right-wing party rather than a left-wing party, I suspect it also has much in common with the recent successes for parties like the Five Star Movement in Italy – a expression of rage against a political establishment that is only offering unpleasant medicine in already difficult times.

All of these are tricky to deal with – stopping immigration or bringing back major powers from Europe are, in practical terms, almost impossible for Cameron to deliver so he cannot realistically give voters what they say they want on those fronts, he cannot outflank UKIP on those policies and addressing them half-heartedly only puts them up the agenda (or sends the message to people that voting UKIP does successfully move Tory policy!). The party of government can by definition never capture an anti-establishment, anti-politics vote – there will always be some people who dislike both Labour and Conservative and want an alternative, any alternative.

What the Conservatives can seek to do is reduce anti-government voting, they’ll hope by being able to point to some economic progress at some point, by presenting an image of competence and ability, by reducing noises-off and disunity and maintaining a clear message and purpose. Of course, this is probably also the best way for the Conservatives to win support from non-voters, from Labour and Lib Dem voters, or from anyone else (it is also rather dull and obvious advice – govern well – so don’t expect many columnists to waste their time with it).

242 Responses to “Some thoughts on the local elections”

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  1. AW
    I forgot to congratulate the pollsters (of whom you are one and PK too) for getting it right (near enough). Actually, given all the nonsenses that go on at local level, about which I wrote a few threads back, I am astonished. One must not be churlish, nor sarcastic, but I am simply amazed. I am now represented at county level who is now Con, but who only a few years ago represented to me, as fellow LD, how fervently he supported my party. I gave and could give still more many other examples.

    Funny old world, politics.

  2. As expected, Tebbit is now wading into the argument

    I know I’m a simple soul, but surely there is a minor fact that those demanding a stiffer right-ist resolve from the Govt have forgotten. They didn’t win a majority in 2010.

  3. @Colin
    “How many care?”
    Exactly my point.

  4. @Paul H-J

    Yes, the BBC projections adjust to what the locals would be everywhere, not what the general election figures would be (which is what polling is measuring). I’m not sure the figures show UKIP hit the Labour vote anywhere near as hard as the Tories, I’d say they evidently took some, but the 30%-odd turnout will hit them even harder.

  5. @Paul H-J

    I think you might have misread my comment, or at least it’s intentions, I myself was clarifying why the BBC projections didn’t match polling for Andy JS.

  6. @Anthony Wells

    Has anyone ever studied how low turnout effects each party? I know it’s accepted it hurts Labour most, but I’m wondering at what ratio to others.

  7. I agree with Roland & R Huckle that the result of the recent elections was no more than adequate for Labour. In fact I found the results positively encouraging at this stage in a parliament for the Tories. The danger is of course that the right vote will be split by UKip and here I share Roland’s view. As Rich pointed out in the last thread there was a majority of the right based on those BBC figures.

    My view continues to be that the result of the 2015 election depends on the state of the economy and on that I see a number of mildly encouraging pointers. The big danger remains the problems of the EU.

  8. @Howard

    Thought you might appreciate this recent climbdown from the Independent grouping (who cannot bring themselves to sit with their Bexhill Conservative colleagues):

    Our chief executive occasionally refers to the need to avoid “bayonetting the dead” – in other words, wasting time and energy on matters which are decided and in place. On that basis, following the two detailed Scrutiny meetings, we were content to cease “bayonetting the dead” and to let the system take over. We have therefore been content to work behind the scenes from then on to express our views and bring about change and it would not have been our wish now to resurrect all the previously stated concerns about this project or to fight the Next Wave war all over again.”


    Do you live in Bexhill by any chance?

  10. @Billy Bob

    Don’t they bayonet the dead to make sure they’re not pretending?

  11. Warning, long post.

    On the one hand, I don’t think voters always know why they do what they do (or at least, that they can put it into an easily coded response). On the other hand, it’s not like pundits are always better off when they want to be, and I don’t know how often they even really try to understand (as opposed to filling ink on a page). You can look at evidence and guess, but in the end those guesses are often just that.

    There’s one other element, and that’s that sometimes voters just act without clear rhyme or reason and you get odd results that no survey will predict and no model will explain. You get outliers, they happen, it’s life.

    Based on the voting patterns, I think you can place this as a very firm protest against the “big three”, but the fact is that you’re seeing populist pop-ups on both sides of the spectrum:
    -In Italy, the Five Star Movement (Grillo’s folks)
    -In Austria, Team Stronach (which should cause some snickers for any Canadians watching)
    -In Germany, it manifested in the Pirate Party
    -In Sweden, the Sweden Democrat
    -In Finland, the True Finns
    -In Greece…well, about half the spectrum, but most obviously Golden Dawn
    -In Iceland, again, about a half-dozen parties combined with the Progressives’ best performance ever.

    The protest vote lurches around. One year it’s the BNP, another it’s the LibDems, another it’s UKIP.

    With all of that said, speaking to why it’s UKIP and not the Greens, my understanding of the spectrum in the UK is that it has tended to be, right to left, Conservative-Liberal-Labour, with the Conservatives and Labour alternating in office. The Liberals (now LibDems) were therefore the “fill in the blank” protest vote for the most part. Those who are disaffected with the government on the left have Labour to settle on, and as a viable party it’s going to get the ‘unhappy from the left’ perspective. Were Labour in a majority government, that vote might “pop out” among the LibDems, or among the SNP/PC (or Greens, or Respect).

    On the right, in the face of a Conservative “malfunction”, you’d have the LibDems to vacuum up some protest votes, with the remainder scattering elsewhere…just not in such a massive pile. Unfortunately, they are in government now, so you’re down to (in hyperbolic terms) either voting for the Government or the Archenemy…a choice which most people are going to reject.

    By the way, do note that the Greens netted a gain in seats as well, as did independents, so not all the dissenting votes are going into the UKIP bin. They’re higher-profile so they’re getting a lot of that support, but it’s not exclusively a UKIP phenomenon.

  12. hmm you know my view.

    The party with the most popular support is left of centre. Labour. Come 2015 it will get about 40% of the vote.

    Nothing else needs to be daid about UKIP and Tory and LD. The smaller the Tory vote the bigger the much maligned Ed’s majority.

    There is no other scenario I can see. Com got 36% in 2010 and they cannot do anything to get more.Any shift to right gets more support for Lab and UKIP, any shift to the left and UKIP retains gains thus far.

    AW suggests “good governance” as a solution. What, you mean stimulus, no austerity and getting those with money to support those who have none?


    I wonder what good governance looks like then?

  13. Another thought: On the one hand, party splits in public are almost always damaging. On the other hand, it’s not like Cameron’s policies are universally backed amongst Tories, and I’m not sure that either DC gagging internal opposition or the opposition gagging itself is going to do but so much good at this point.

    More to the point, though, is the fact that a good deal of the party /isn’t/ on board with a lot of things (from the EU to immigration) and isn’t happy with the state of the economy.

  14. @Colin

    No, I don’t have that pleasure, but I did spend a few nights there on a youth-group holiday. My girlfriend always kept her glasses on when she kissed me, but in Bexhill she took them off!

    Btw Bexhill boasts the world’s oldest spider web trapped in amber (140 million years old), and the world’s smallest dinosaur (Ashdown brickworks).

  15. @NickP

    Just to give a bit of balance, I continue to believe that the Tories will win the 2915 election with a working majority.

  16. RH”The last time I visited the once nice old fishing port of Hastings, it was full of drug addicts from London. Living in appalling bed & breakfast accommodation on Labour government largesse.”

    Doesn’t sound ideal: how would you have dealt with their problem instead, without “largesse” ?

  17. the other howard

    I think 2915 will be about right, yes.


    I only asked because I live a few miles away .

    Yes I’ve heard about the outrageous displays of physical contact after the shedding of visual aids.

    I was interested in the reference you posted for Howard & tracked down the full article.

    Not surprised-that Sea Front renovation has been a visual disaster. Looks like a financial one too.

  19. daveb

    “I’m sorry but you still don’t get it none of you do not the press or the politicians.”

    No need to be sorry dave and anyway, luckily we have you to put us right.

    How many of the 650 or so MPs do you know of personally and what do you know of their work ethics, backgrounds and morals by the way?

    One assumes alll of them, given your blanket condemnation?

  20. @Cloud Spotter

    Worcester certainly is. The Tories only won it by 6% in 2010 yet Labour couldn’t win in it on Thursday.

    The others are seats Labour won relatively easily in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

  21. @NickP

    Terribly sorry to give you hope i meant of course 2015.

  22. TOH

    “I agree with Roland”

    Just gone for a lie-down Howard.

  23. Defections to UKIP:

    Fareham: Nick Gregory (Fareham West) from Liberal Democrat via Conservative and Independent, and Dave Whittingham (Fareham North West) from Conservative via Independent, April 2013
    East Sussex: Phil Howson (Peacehaven and Telscombe Towns) from Conservative, April 2013
    Lewes: Phil Howson (Peacehaven East) from Conservative, April 2013
    New Forest: Ron Scrivens (Totton Central) from Conservative, April 2013
    Waverley: Brett Vorley (Cranleigh East) from Conservative via Independent, April 2013
    Chiltern: David Meacock (Chalfont Common) from Conservative, April 2013
    West Sussex: John Livermore (Worthing West) from Conservative, April 2013

    I bet we will see a lot more in the coming months.

    Yes it is the tory vote turning to UKIP, but isn’t that the same “floating” voters that Labour need to turn to them? The same ones who left Labour for Tory. So maybe they are all Labour voters via Tory to UKIP.

  24. @Paul Croft

    Have a nice sleep and try not to dream of left thinking bloggers.

  25. sy

    No they aren’t. Labour voters (including some 30% + LD voters from 2010) are awaiting the general election and they ain’t going UKIP.

  26. Good to know that in 2915, all this will be on indestructible backed up cloud storage on the Moon, where no atmospheric interference, nor ground tremors, nor volcanos will endanger it.

    Then we will be able to read of the magnificent victory of the X party in 2015, as predicted by TOH and NickP.

    Hang on a minute.

  27. @Colin

    I note that Bexhill was at one time very down-with-the-kids… according to Wikipedia it was referred to as “Badman Town” in the days of William the Conqueror and Robert, Count of Eu.

  28. Deputy speaker accused of rape,perhaps another by election in the offing?

  29. @Howard.

    Beautifully put and I have to agree. I posted to ensure balance, off now for some entertainment.

  30. AinW

    AW has already requested no comments.

  31. Sorry,I have only just read the last few comments.

  32. @ Nick P,

    “I wonder what good governance looks like then?”

    No having to U-turn every few weeks and no infighting would be a start.

    How they are going to manage this with the Tories twitchy over Ukip and lurching rightwards and the Lib Dems trying to differentiate in the run-up to a general election, I haven’t the faintest idea.

  33. @Nickp

    Labour are not picking up the Tory vote that Labour won in 2005, he are the numbers.
    Devon: 7 (4 in 2005) +3
    Dorset: 5 (4) +1
    Hampshire: 4 (2) +2
    West Sussex: 4 (7) -3
    East Sussex: 7 (5) +2
    Kent: 11 (21) -10
    Essex: 9 (13) -4
    Hertfordshire: 15 (16) -1
    Cambridgeshire: 7 (4) +3
    Norfolk: 14 (22) -8
    Suffolk: 11 (22) -11
    Lancashire: 39 (44) -4
    Leicestershire: 10 (13) -3
    Lincolnshire: 12 (21) -9
    North Yorkshire: 7 (9) -2
    Nottinghamshire: 34 (38) -4
    Warwickshire: 22 (23) -1
    Worcestershire: 12 (17) -5

    In brackets are the seats Labour had in 2005, they should be well up if UKIP were splitting the vote, yet they are down 55 seats.

  34. I imagine the LibDem 2015 plan was to get the economy sorted out and claim they were a moderating influence on the Cons. Now with the economy unlikely to be much improved if at all and the Cons likely to move to the right. What should the LibDems do? Could there be an early election?

  35. Changing tack somewhat (but then, that’s events)… wonder if the possibility of a by-election in Ribble Valley is filling Tory Central Office with joy and happiness?

  36. @SY

    I imagine as the GE was the same day in 2005 the turnout was higher which helps Lab. You are not comparing apples with apples.

  37. What do people think the odds are now that “on a point of principle over benefits vital issue” a LibDem MP will defect to Labour and if so who will be the first to jump the sinking ship???


  38. I should have added in a. Seat where he is up against a Tory and got elected by tactical Labour voting.


  39. @Anthony Wells

    I enjoyed your review….of course governing wisely and well are, as this government has discovered, not as simple as it seems from the sunny-side of Opposition. Governments often come into their own in their second terms….the great exception of 1945 not being such an exception since many of the ministers had been in government since 1940.

  40. @Couper

    You can never with these large scale comparisons have exact likeness.

    The fact that the Lib Dem vote collapsed, Positive for Labour, should have offset any lower turnout effect, negative for Labour(so we are lead to believe)

  41. Nicp might be right and it cold be Labour with a small majority in 2015, but having read the FT cover to cover today, there are a lot of economic indicators moving in the right direction, in particular business activity and exporting. Stay tuned for a surprise on GDP growth in Q2, mark my words.

    Conservatives best chance is to get a good recovery underway and ask the question of whether voters want to hand that to Labour. Could still be a surprise yet, there are NO guarantees two years out.

  42. @cheesewolf

    “Changing tack somewhat (but then, that’s events)… wonder if the possibility of a by-election in Ribble Valley is filling Tory Central Office with joy and happiness?”

    I think the universe may be sending Dave a message.

    That’s not libellous, is it? Against the universe?

  43. Some interesting rumblings that Nadine Dorries is about to become the first high profile defection to UKIP from the Conservatives and, as SY has observed, there has been quite a lot of below-the-radar defecting going on in the lower reaches of the Tory Party for some time. Foot soldiers, activists, councillors, that sort of thing, but if sitting MPs start to go then we could be entering SDP country on the right of British politics.

    This is why I think the growth of UKIP is so toxic for an already electorally anaemic Conservative Party. It’s bad enough that growing numbers of natural Tory voters are backing UKIP at the ballot box, but if they start to become a credible and viable alternative party to join, rather than just indulge every now and again in fairly meaningless elections, then all bets are off politically. A trickle of MPs defecting could become a steady stream and Farage’s dream of supplanting a Cameron led Tory Party starts to become more than just a passing fancy.

    I don’t think a lot of Tories have cottoned on to what may be about to happen to them if the UKIP surge continues. The insouciance and complacency is mind-boggling. “They’re all come back into the fold to stop Labour in 2015” or “If Cameron promises an EU Referendum before the General Election they’ll be a busted flush”, are common refrains, very much like the “It’ll be alright on the night” thespian reassurances of old. I’m not so sure, myself, because the current block of UKIP voters contain a lot of first time voters who have emerged, blinking into the light, for their first foray into political activity. They’re no more likely to vote Tory than the SWP and have no affinity with any of the mainstream political parties. What they’re doing, and this is the danger for the Tories in my view, is creating an alternative centre-right bow wave that is attracting existing Tory voters and politicians. It’s a mirage, but an alluring one for restless conservative minded people raging against the iniquities of the modern world. The old Tory Party used to have a monopoly of such people but not any more, it would seem. Farage is the new false God of conservatism.

    Mrs Angry from Tunbridge Wells has a new hero and he isn’t donning a blue rosette any longer.

  44. I’m really intrigued as to how it a “national” vote share has been extrapolated from the English county council election figures.

    The cross-breaks on the YouGov polls consistently show UKIP Voting Intention as far lower in London and Wales compared to the varoius English Regions. UKIP also apprears to have almost negligible support in Scotland.

    Within the projected national vote share of Con 25%, Lab 29%, Lib Dem 14 % UKIP 23%, it would be interesting to know what the projected UKIP share was for the parts of Britain which did not vote on Thursday.

  45. The opinion polls showed Labour getting in the region of 39-40%.

    On polling day their PNS was a paltry 29%.

    Surely by now it is clear that UKIP is taking heavy support from Labour, Lib Dem and Con.

    No-one should be complacent.

  46. What a god’s send for Nadine D. Give her back the whip or she might be the snowball which starts an avalanche of Tories moving to the UKI Party.

  47. I think Blazeaway has got it spot on – all this partisan waffle and that simple sentence from Blazeaway said it all !

  48. MJ

    Except Anthony explained this all earlier.

  49. @Sy – “You can never with these large scale comparisons have exact likeness.”

    Taking just one county as an example, turnout for *local* elections was 62% in 2005, and 33% in 2013. No exact figure for 2009, ranging from a low of 29.7% to a high of 52.9%, but I’d guess low/mid 40s on average.

  50. I was just looking on con home (snooker is on the telly so I am bored ) and firstly it is hard to tell whether they are con home or ukip home (smile). But they seem very keen on giving Nadine back the whip (why did she lose it?) My guess she is such a self publicist she would prefer the profile of defecting to UKIP

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