Local Elections - The Results So Far

 

 

Local Elections – The Results So Far

 

It had been expected to be an earthquake. Then some fast-fingered photographers caught a number of well-timed pictures of the Shard and it became a lightning bolt. Over the coming days, attention currently focussed on the making of waves will likely divert to talk of whether the high tide has been reached.

Whatever meteorological metaphor you choose to describe the impact that Nigel Farage and his party are having on the political establishment, the story of yesterday’s election already appears to be that of UKIP. And that’s before most the results are even in.

While we wait for the national figures from the European elections on Sunday night though, with 75 councils declared, there does seem to be several points of interest that may already be starting to emerge.

UKIP

To take the headline issue first, this is set to be an extraordinary set of results for UKIP. Most of the media focus during the campaign had been on the European elections, but UKIP have surpassed expectations in the locals. They have already gained 90 councillors, and done so across the country gaining seats from Labour in Rotherham and the Conservatives in Basildon. Given that the party has already had considerable success when the results called so far have come mostly from the Labour-inclined Metropolitan boroughs, it bodes well for their prospects ahead of Sunday’s European results when their traditional shire strongholds, lying fallow in terms of local elections this year, are added into the mix too. Nevertheless, it is still worth holding the results in the perspective of the more than 2,000 council seats declared so far (as of 13:14), UKIP have won just 90 of them.

Liberal Democrats

There have also been some strong indications of the extent to which the Liberal Democrats have collapsed. While their vote-share is down pretty much everywhere, one particular results stands out. Planning for yesterday’s election a number of months back, one of the trends that appeared clear was that if there was a collapse in Lib Dem support, Labour would be the main beneficiaries. However, if there is a really large collapse, with their vote share falling completely through the floor and their number of councillors falling by more than 300-400, it would actually benefit the Conservatives who would start becoming competitive in some previously fairly secure Liberal Democrat areas. The fact that the Lib Dems have lost control of Kingston-upon-Thames council to their Coalition partners in dramatic fashion suggests that the party’s eventual losses from this week could eventually be on the heavy side.

2015 Marginals

It is of course important to remember that mid-term elections do not directly translate into General Election results, but some of the results so far do provide some interesting benchmarks of the parties’ current levels of support. Coming under heat for only making modest gains nationally, Labour are mostly trying to focus on their successes in areas where they have target seats at the next year’s General Election. Their prospects in London, (where UKIP’s have struggled to make an impact among the younger, more ethnically diverse population) certainly look good. There have been large swings from the Conservatives to Labour in Redbridge, Enfield and Croydon, which would make their chances of gaining the marginal seats of Ilford North, Enfield North and Croydon from the Conservatives all look good.

Outside of the capital, the party’s successes have been more muted. In bellwether seat of Gloucester (which has gone with the national winner of every General Election going back to 1979), there has actually been a swing away from Labour to the Conservatives, which will be disappointing for the party. On the other hand, it does seem to have done reasonably well in holding on to gains in places it made advances in 2011 and 2012: Lincoln, Harlow, Cannock Chase, Hastings and Stevenage all remain Labour councils, having been won earlier in the Parliament. What will worry the party however is that its relative position is being mostly affected by Conservatives losing vote share to UKIP rather than gaining votes itself.  

One particular example of this is Swindon, which contains two marginal seats within it, both of which switched from Labour to the Conservatives in 2010. Although it was an early example last night of Labour failing to make council seat gains in marginal Conservative areas, there was actually a swing from the Conservatives to Labour of 5.24% since 2010. If replicated across the area at a General Election, it would see Labour take the Swindon South seat, and it would be a toss-up in Swindon North. While this is obviously positive for the party on the face of it, the problem Labour faces is that only increased its own vote share by around 1% since 2010 – the swing came from the Conservatives losing 9.5% (most of it going to UKIP). With turnout so different between local elections and a General Election anyway, how the next 12 months unfolds and how the UKIP vote holds up in these areas in that time will critical in determining year’s result.

Such is the importance of these swing seats, ComRes has developed a new “Battlebus” to track the state of play in these key areas. The results of the first wave, announced this week, showed that Labour were narrowly ahead of the Conservatives by 35% to 33% in the 40 most marginal seats between them. It also showed some of the reasons driving UKIP’s success: controlling immigration is perceived to be the second most important issue for voters in these seats.

 

Base: 1,030 British adults living in 40 most marginal constituencies where Labour and the Conservatives share first and second place between them

Furthermore, UKIP is the party most trusted on the issue by a very large margin – a full 20 points ahead of the Conservatives. Labour finds itself ahead on the cost of living and managing the NHS – an encouraging sign amidst a cloud of mostly disappointing data for it over the past few weeks. It will worry the Conservatives on the other hand that they lead on none of three issues most important in the battlegrounds, although they are most trusted when it comes to promoting economic growth.

Finally, with debates raging over free schools and free school lunches, voters in battleground seats are divided over which of the two main parties are most trusted on improving the education system, although it is a low priority.

Base: 1,030 British adults living in 40 most marginal constituencies where Labour and the Conservatives share first and second place between them

It goes to show, along with this weekend’s results, that it’s all still to play for over the next twelve months. Usually long-term trends and demographic shifts can go a long way in explaining why the political glacier is moving in the direction it is. But perhaps more so than in any other recent election, what the parties say and do over the next twelve will fundamentally influence the outcome. One suspects how they react to this weekend’s political weather storm might be their first test.

 

Where to watch:

Local Authority

Info

Dudley

The council encompasses two marginal seats. Labour held onto Dudley North by whisker in 2010 but lost South on a 9.5% swing. The party made good gains in 2012 and will be a good barometer of whether that momentum has continued.

Trafford

Today’s big one. One of the few councils that could change hands. Will likely feature prominently in the write up of the results in the press if it does. The Conservatives currently lead Labour 34 seats to 25.

Redditch

The council corresponds closely to the Parliamentary constituency Jacqui Smith lost to the Conservatives in 2010.

Doncaster

Although home of Ed Miliband’s own constituency, UKIP are reported to be doing well in the area – it may be a good measure of what inroads Farage’s party are making in Labour’s traditional Northern heartlands.

Stroud

Marginal and a must-win for Labour next year, the council boundaries are similar to the constituency. There were council elections in 2010 making the swing calculation a little easier.

Plymouth

Another council containing two marginals: one held by both main parties.

Great Yarmouth

The Labour group on the council leads the Conservatives 20 councillors to 19 – but another place to watch for a potentially surging UKIP. There is already some talk of Labour losing control.

  

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