After every local election I start with the same warning – local elections are not general elections. Fewer people vote, on different issues, and for some who don’t vote on local issues it’s an opportunity for a mid-term protest vote. They aren’t a prediction of the general election. That does not, however, mean that local elections tell is nothing about the bigger picture and it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have a massive impact on the wider political narrative and public opinion. What can we pick up from last night’s results so far?

Let’s start with UKIP. At the most basic level UKIP have obviously done very well. As I write the BBC suggest they are getting about 25% of the vote in wards they contest (though much worse in London) and have gained about 100 councillors. Two things to put this in context though – the first is that this is roughly the same level of support as they got at the local elections last year. I don’t really know if that’s good or bad for them. At one level they’ve sustained last year’s advance, it’s not a flash in the pan and they are more firmly establishing themselves as a major force. On the other hand, these are local elections on the same day as the European election… shouldn’t they be improving on last year? Second caveat, their vote is still very evenly spread. They are getting many more votes than the Lib Dems, but far fewer councillors. As was the case last year, UKIP are doing fantastically well at coming second in many places and that doesn’t build the council base they require in target seats for the general election. They have made some breakthroughs though – most notably in Essex councils like Thurrock and Basildon where they took seats from both parties, pushing Labour Thurrock and Tory Basildon into no overall control. They’ve also done extremely well in Rotherham.

Moving onto Labour, their results nationwide seem a little lacklustre. They’ll be pleased with the performance in London where they’ve gained several councils, most notably the Tory “flagship” of Hammersmith & Fulham, but they’ve made only sporadic progress elsewhere. As I write John Curtice doesn’t seem to have produced a projected national share yet, but he’s suggested they are up only 3% since 2010 so it sounds like it could be a very anaemic Labour lead. I think the bottom line for Labour is that their local election performance is much like their performance in general election polls. They aren’t an opposition that is soaring ahead in the opinion polls, they’re an opposition that has a very modest lead in the opinion polls. These aren’t soaring local election gains, they are modest local election gains.

The Tory performance is the mirror image of that. They are losing seats and councils, but not disasterously so. They’ve done badly against Labour in London and will be sorry to have lost Hammersmith & Fulham, but happy they have some gains here and there to weigh against it.

Finally the Lib Dems. Horrid council results have become par for the course for them, and these seats were last fought at the height of “Cleggmania” so losses are to be expected. The party normally comfort themselves with the defence that the party do far better in areas where they have sitting MPs. As usual, this is true in some cases, but not in others. The Lib Dems have held their own in places like Colchester, Sutton and Eastleigh… but they’ve also lost ground in Lib Dem held areas like Richmond, Kingston, Haringey and Cambridge, so it’s swings and roundabouts. Either way it is a continuing hollowing out of Lib Dem support as they retreat back towards islands of support around some of their sitting MPs.

And to the wider impact? To some degree we’re still in a holding pattern until Sunday, but the questions are straightforward enough. For UKIP it is how much of a boost they get from today’s successes (however impressive you think they actually are, the media narrative this morning is all “UKIP SURGE!”) and how long that lasts. For the other three parties it is to what extent they hold their nerve – overnight there were a couple of “Tories should have a pact with UKIP” from the Tory backbenches and a few grumbles from the Labour backbenches, but these were all from the usual suspects, the Rees-Moggs and Stringers of this world, who were saying these things anyway. Wait and see if it holds over the next few days and the Euro elections.

594 Responses to “Local election thoughts”

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  1. @RosieAndDaisie

    I need to point out you don’t have to say what’s wrong! I just want to make sure you’ve been given a diagnosis, you’re aware of the treatment and what happens next

  2. Ashcroft is releasing his poll at 1.30 tomorrow – the excitement is not letting up.

  3. Martyn

    “Did he say what was wrong with you?”

    Perhaps not the best choice of words on a political site!

    Asking about the medical diagnosis might have been better. :-)

  4. Colin
    Good to hear I was not reading porkies. You really have been away, I’m envious.

  5. Where are my manners, thanks folks (about Ashcroft release).

  6. @NewForestRadical

    “Another one is Labour leading in the opinion polls by a similar amount to their current lead in 1986 and 1992 and then getting smashed at the GE in the following year!”

    You can’t seriously be comparing the Conservative Party of today with the one that was at the height of it’s electoral strength in 1986 and 1992, can you? That was a quarter of a century or more ago, for pity’s sake.

    To say that a little bit of water has flowed under the political bridge since then would be the understatement of the century. As Umunna was saying yesterday, we’re probably entering an era of four party politics now and the 80s and 90s are different eras and long lost political worlds. To draw any parallels is ludicrous, in my view.

  7. @Oldnat

    I rephrased it in the next post…

  8. This is a really strange election

    UKIP are messing up predictions, and I am finding it difficult to say whether it is good or bad for Labour

    The assessment on the ‘bad for Labour’ seems to focus on VI rather than seats won. In seats won they seem to have done pretty well really and they have definitely done well in London. Some disappointments but in seats/councils a good result

    In the end VI doesn’t matter as we do not choose our representatives on how many votes are won nationally by a party (except EU and in the Celtic regions). It may not be good for democracy that this is the case but that was the decision of the British people in a referendum

    As I said, I am not really convinced the models and assessments can extrapolate results that accurately as we move the more parties being involved – perhaps someone who knows more than me on how it is done can comment

    There are a couple of final points

    LD are finished for 2015. They may be able to win some heartlands but overall they have done terribly

    If UKIP stay at this level of vote in a FPTP GE they will not lose Labour many seats but will lose more for the Tories. I cannot see UKIP taking Rotherham, for example, or taking enough Labour votes to let the Tories in . My own view is though they could cost the Tories some Lab/Con marginals

    If the UKIP VI drops significantly then I have no real idea what it will mean as the split is not that easy to ascertain – I still think a lot f UKIp supporters will drop to no-voters

    Oh, and the media coverage of this election has been a disgrace. Not so much for their bias, which I think has been pretty blatant, but mainly for their lack of analysis. Just saying it was bad for Labour cos UKIP took some seats in Rotherham and other northern towns and that the VI figures are unusual is not really good enough. There is plenty interesting to discuss but it just hasn’t been done

  9. Martyn

    No, no new information. They seem happy that it isn’t serious but I may head back again if the physio takes too long to look at it.

    Depending on how it progresses of course.

  10. 2015 will be the 14th General Election in which I have voted.
    The highest turnout was 78.8? in Feb 1974 ,when dear old Harold Wilson lead in a minority government.. One benefit of UKIP maybe a return to higher turnouts, something in the old days was said to benefit Labour. I know in S Wales Labour is concentrating on putting “foot soldiers” on the ground for the GE. Sounds old fashioned but I presume that includes all forms e contact and social media.
    IMO today has been solid for Labour, if not exciting. Good enough a year out with policies due to arrive over the Summer.

  11. For those who didn’t understand all the Barnet references – what must be a classic Wiki entry:

  12. @RosieAndDaisie

    OK, just checking.

  13. James Baillie

    As noted above, weird lack of UKIP in Kent.

    No really just a lack of elections. Of the 13 Kent districts I think only Maidstone (4 UKIP gains) and Tunbridge Wells (despite the stereotype, no UKIP gains, though 2 existing councillors) have elections by thirds – all the rest will be up for all out election next year

  14. Bcrombie ,

    It’s not a strange election , it’s just another set of English council elections and the predictable electoral musical chairs with local / regional variations depending on whether parties are in council / Westminster opposition or government .

    It will be forgotten about in days and not even noticed by 70 % of the electorate despite the media’s attempts to create images of a political earthquake !!!!

  15. Off to bed so my brief analysis of the results:

    Labour: Solid results with a few disappointments and getting a bit of a shock with a lot of safe wards in Sheffield turning marginal. Did well to gain some of the councils they did, particularly in the South and London.

    Conservatives: About as well as was expected. Some disappointments for them losing Peterborough to NOC and losing Hammersmith and Fulham but they’ll be happy to have held Barnet and taken Kingston.

    Liberal Democrats: Well at least they knew it was coming. Swept off councils up and down the country, they must be very disappointed tonight. Their vote share was slightly higher than polls nationally suggest, although maybe due to opposition status in a lot of Labour cities with no Conservatives.

    UKIP: Pretty good night for them – lots of seats gained and a presence on many councils they couldn’t previously have touched. While they’ve not done as well as some in the media suggest, it still gives them a base to work from and several notional “wins” in various constituencies.

    Greens: Despite their successes on Sheffield City Council they’ve done relatively poorly. Their anticipated high vote share coinciding with the Euros hasn’t translated into many extra councillors and they’re way behind UKIP.

    TUSC: Well despite all the noise they were making, that was a complete non-starter for them. Seems most socialists are sticking with Labour or the Greens.

    BNP: I’m genuinely quite surprised they still have a councillor left by the end of today, so they can consider this a decent night. However, the SDP still have councillors and it doesn’t mean they’re a national political party with any strength.

  16. Chasglas

    No, I disagree as we have the media screaming about UKIP and saying Labour are finished

    The fact is Labour has done well on seats but the VI is only 31% – either the models are wrong or the 4 way split is showing up FPTP for what it is

    I agree 70% of the population won’t be that bothered but this website is not for the 70% is it?

    In terms of GE I think it is interesting to examine what has happen here as we only have this and the EU results before next May

  17. Any election law experts out there?

    Is it an offence to make a false declaration to the Electoral Commission as to your status in an organisation?

  18. MrN

    It is funny how you, and the media, are portraying holding Barnet as some kind of success whilst at the same time saying Labour had been disappointing

    Barnet has never been Labour, although it has been NOC. It can hardly be considered a bellwether

    The fact Labour came so close to taking it and has taken Croydon and Redbridge as well as H&F is quite astonishing. Redbridge has never been Labour before!

    The results in the Northern towns have been disappointing to see UKIP’s rise but their record in Local Government hardly convinces me that they have enough quality to maintain it. How many will still be UKIP is 12 months. Also, in a GE these will not translate into seats and they will not let anyone else in either – perhaps reduced majorities but still solid Labour cities

  19. BCrombie,

    I’m not saying it’s a big success to have held Barnet, merely that they’ll be pleased to have done so given they lost other councils like H&F.

  20. BCrombie

    I accept it’s a mixed picture but for the first time Labour proved that they could take seats directly if the Tories – and in significant numbers.

    I think, as a GE indictor this outweighs the seat reversals in the North.

  21. This four party politics thing probably isnt a long term thing: FPTP usually seems to squash small parties such that they seek alliances or vanish. People won’t vote for parties that prove in a GE that they can’t get seats.

    There is an apparent paradox of immigrants in the vicinity possibly meaning lots of people vote UKIP: it’s true up to a point, but then there’s a tipping point where there’s enough immigrants thereabouts to counterbalance that vote (presumably by voting Labour). Perhaps having lots of new immigrants in the area has greater effect in boosting UKIP than having an established (and presumably better integrated) immigrant population. The new ones just seem more visible to voters.

    Thus, perhaps in London there are so many immigrants new and old the UKIP share of the vote is relatively small. It seems in Eastern England there are plenty of new arrivals and thus thereabouts we might expect UKIP to have a good chance of challenging for a
    seat. I still think they need to get lucky and rely on random factors to get anyone into Westminister in 2015. It also must be considered that that region is traditionally a strongly Conservative area, which may or may not help them.

    As regards Labour, they need to have something pretty good on offer as regards policies if they want that majority next time. The improving economy isn’t helping them, and it must be admitted their leader does not have the same electoral appeal as Blair did in the 1990’s. Nevertheless, they should be in a position to mount a serious challenge in 2015.

  22. I think it a foregone conclusion that we will see things in the upcoming GE along the lines of “x party have never held such-and-such a seat”. Such is the nature of the “mayhem” caused by UKIP.

  23. @Mr Nameless
    H&F is not Barnet. H&F was winnable for Labour in favourable circunstabces. Barnet should never have been in the discussion. It’s very blue.

  24. UKIP also performed poorly in places like Winchester..

  25. KeithP

    It is interesting that the motor for the improving economy, and really the only area that is improving consistently is London.

    London has gone Labour very heavily last night – perhaps the economy is not all that it is made up to be

    Of course Labour need to build their policies, in fact they are starting to announce them. Can you tell me what the Tory policies are at the moment? I don’t have a clue on many of them – all they jeep saying is they can’t implement them because of the LD

  26. Bcrombie ,

    Neither UKIP , Labour or the Conservatives have anything to scream about .

    Although UKIP and the Liberal Democrats have punched above their weight in terms of pollsters’ estimates of their current vote share , Labour and the Conservatives have underperformed .

    it tells us nothing about May 2015 , that is a world away psephologically speaking .

  27. Thanks Martyn

  28. KeithP

    It is good that Miliband isn’t Blair imho and, also, he doesn’t need to win a 150+ majority either

  29. I wish newsy types would check facts better. Just had a massive arithmetical headache as I was doing a list of gained/lost councils and could not for the life of me make it add to the BBC’s +6.

    Turns out the reason was that the Guardian’s list incorrectly claims that Labour have lost Hartlepool to NOC – they actually have a five seat majority.

    In other blunders, the results for Purbeck on the Beeb claim that CON gained a seat from LD and lost to NOC – apparently the “LDs lost seats” narrative is so strong that the journalists just assumed they’d be losing there! (According to the local council’s website it should be in reverse, with UKIP helping the LDs gain an extra).

  30. Chasglas

    I disagree with you

    This is a polling website and it is the last national poll before May 2015. We should be looking for what the trends are telling us – if we don’t then what is the point of this website?

    I also challenge how accurate the projections of voting for 2015 is

  31. @ Crossbat11

    The Tories’ 2010 performance was only 6% lower than their performances in 1987 and 1992. Sure, they are not as powerful now as they were then, but its not really the different universe you seem to be implying. However, my main point was that the most recent evidence we have for Labour in opposition, led by a politician with low ratings and facing a governing party favoured on economic competence, cautions us against getting to excited (or exercised) about a Labour lead a year out from a GE,

  32. Lol ” What is the point of this web site ? ”

    A wishful thinking chat room for partisan fantasists would be my answer .

  33. Chasglas

    Oh good, I can now just ignore your posts – thanks for showing your true colours

  34. Oh the pain ! lols

  35. @ BCrombie

    ‘UKIP are messing up predictions, and I am finding it difficult to say whether it is good or bad for Labour
    The assessment on the ‘bad for Labour’ seems to focus on VI rather than seats won. In seats won they seem to have done pretty well really and they have definitely done well in London. Some disappointments but in seats/councils a good result’

    I posted earlier that a lot would depend on whether Labour’s disappointing performance in some targets (eg Swindon) was down to the Tory vote holding up or potential Labour voters going for UKIP. It appears in Swindon that it was the latter in which case I think Labour will be quite heartened that GE seats in these areas are still within range.

  36. @BCrombie: “…it is the last national poll before May 2015. We should be looking for what the trends are telling us…”

    Well, up to a point; that point being that local elections don’t really tell us anything about future general elections. Ashcroft’s marginal poll may be more useful but even then anything could happen between now and next May.

  37. BCrombie

    Don’t actual elections have intrinsic value, and not just indicators of a future election?

    The results discussed on this thread weren’t even “national” in English terms.

    Sunday night’s results will give us national results for the nations within the UK, states across the EU and some of the nations within those states (where they are not co-terminous) Do these also only have significance in domestic terms – important as those in the various nations/states will consider them.

  38. NFR

    There have been disappointing results and missed opportunities but I think that is the case pretty much all the time unless a landslide is in the offing

    I think the result shows what the polls are showing that it is close at the moment, possibly with Labour just ahead on VI. I think though, if we see UKIP >15% in the GE then Labour could end up with a pretty good majority on a low vote

    Whether UKIP do that or not is another question entirely

  39. RogerH, OldNat

    I take your points but we only ever have one national poll on FPTP and that is every 5 years now so we have to look at something

    The extrapolation to a GE is always a bit tricky in council elections but the media don’t seem to be finding it difficult in deciding their take on it!

    What we can see is that Labour is very strong in London at the moment, and that this is the area of the country with the strongest economic growth. Labour took councils not even Blair could get, and UKIP was wiped out in Barking and Dagenham.

    I don’t pretend we can read too much into things but all the polls and predictions are floundering due to UKIP messing everything up – even Ashcroft’s poll may not tell us that much

  40. BCrombie

    Well, unlike you, we only ever have one of our elections decided by the archaic FPTP system! :-(

  41. OldNat

    and good for you

    Incidently up in Edinburgh with two old work colleagues chewing the fat this week

    They are firmly in the ‘Yes’ camp – and not SNP supporters either.

  42. BCrombie

    “They are firmly in the ‘Yes’ camp – and not SNP supporters either.”

    That’s not unusual. Indeed there are a fair number of us who are members of the SNP that wouldn’t describe ourselves as “SNP supporters” beyond the indyref campaign.

    Similarly, I know a number of folk who are regular SNP voters, but will vote No.

    Very sensibly, people are capable of discriminating between what they see as “best for their country” (whichever country that is) and which group of politicians are best (or least worst) to govern for the next term.

  43. ‘Sunday night’s results will give us national results for the nations within the U.K.’

    Many reports of people rightly entitled to EU ballot papers are being refused so even Sundays results won’t be accurate.

    Alex Andreou of the New Statesman has been refused EU ballot papers & now has a lengthy list of others who have found themselves in the same situation. Quite what will happen about it, I have no idea.

  44. So @Mr Nameless – having read your article in Forge today, how much not to spill your identity? ;)

  45. I don’t think there’s much value in using Labour’s huge seat numbers to predict a boost for them on Sunday. It was always known that UKIP would borrow voters from the other parties for the European election anyway, and I’m further convinced there’ll be no significant anti-UKIP vote specifically generated by the Westminster/media attack campaign (or whatever you want to call it) in the weeks leading up to polling day.

    It was all twitter rage and no ballot box by the looks of things. UKIP greatly over-performed on the local YouGov/Survation surveys and Labour under-performed by a greater margin, with the Cons and Libs being pretty much on the mark. Based on that, I might be a little more concerned about Labour being able to limp over the line before the Tories reach them.

    Though I’m personally still 50/50 on the eventual winner. In terms of popular vote, that is.

  46. Bramley

    Indeed. I posted earlier that there seemed to be administrative problems in (at lest some) areas that there were serious flaws in the democratic process.

    Another poster has already passed Andreou’s blog with its identification of the problem, to the EC with a request for action.

    It would be interesting to know if similar problems exist in other EU countries. Hopefully it’s not just a result of a UK policy of labelling people as “foreigners” – as some respondents to Andreou have suggested.

  47. Just read a stat that Barking – which has gone entirely Labour – has seen it’s % of white population reduce from 81% to 49.5% from the 2001 census to 2011 census. Neighbouring Newham is now entirely Labour too – I think 51 out of 51 seats. It saw an even bigger change in population.

    many of those people moved out into Essex. Places where UKIP did very well.

    What the % change in places like Barnet? That must be a big factor.

  48. @Ed

    So we can conclude that Labour’s immigration experiment was a success (for Labour)?

  49. @Ed,

    Yes, these days London shouldn’t really be thought of as an “English City”. Actual ‘Londoners’ (in the sense of people descended from the London population of the WW2 era) are just one minority amongst many.

    Even amongst the “white British” population that remains, there are huge numbers of internal migrants from all over the rest of the UK.

    It was a real shock for me to move to Plymouth, which although changing fairly fast, is still a traditional regional English city, where 90% of the population are white Plymouthians who were born and grew up locally, know everyone around them and have family living in the city.

    I feel quite ambivalent about London. On the one hand I loved it’s vibrant diversity, and the fact that you could experience pretty much anything from anywhere in the world. On the other hand, it has rather lost any sense of “place”. That old connection between the geography and the population that makes people feel “at home”.

  50. @Neil A

    “it has rather lost any sense of “place”.”

    You’re decades late. Large sections of London were like that 20 or 30 years ago. As soon as areas became too expensive for ordinary people to live in, and council housing was sold and not replaced, the low paid workers in those areas had to live elsewhere, so that very quickly only a small minority lived where they worked. Plus the reliance on private rental accommodation has meant that there is no stability – people move home much more frequently.

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