Saturday, May 05, 2007

Thursday's local election results

The party line is that the local election results were "a mixed bag". Looking at the results locally, this was certainly the case.

Where the Liberal Democrats were well organised and campaigned strongly, we did extremely well. We gained Northampton and Hinckley & Bosworth, and increased their grip on Oadby & Wigston.

But we lost badly in both Leicester - where the council group had split - and Harborough - where we are short of activists and the party infrastructure was sacrificed in pursuit of victory at the last general election.

This pattern was repeated nationally. As Norfolk Blogger shows, the we generally did well in constituencies with Lib Dem MPs or are Lib Dem targets for next time round. Elsewhere we tended to slip back, losing the odd seat to the Tories.

If this analysis is right, it suggests that nothing that happened on Thursday should make us too alarmed about the next general election. And we should not be too surprised that we slipped back in areas where we are weak on the ground. After all, it used to be expected that the main opposition party would do spectacularly well in mid-term local elections. The Tories even won Sheffield in the late 1960s.

There are, however, two things that should worry us about Thursday.

The first is the failure of the party's national campaigning to bear fruit over and above that won by local activism. This is seen most clearly in the results in Scotland and Wales. James Graham writes of the Welsh experience:
the Lib Dems have a sad history of failing to live up to our ever declining ambitions in Assembly elections, and once again we have failed to break our duck of 6 AMs. Back in 1999, I remember being confidently told by the then-Lib Dem Chief Exec that we would get 11-12 AMs. In 2003, at least one person predicted we’d get up to around 10. This year, people were talking of 7-9 AMs being a sure thing. The worst thing of it all is that, on paper, they should have been right. Because the system is only semi-proportional (2/3rds FPTP, 1/3rd list), each region has 4 top ups and we are the fourth party, we need to make fairly modest gains in each region to significantly increase our number of assembly members. In South Wales Central, we only needed an increase of 1% to double our Assembly Members. The fact that we have failed to do this twice now ought to be setting off alarm bells about how we fight the Welsh air war.
The other thing that should worry us is our limited ability to make gains from Labour in the North of England.

Look at the figures: Manchester (net increase of only 1 seat),Warrington (ditto and still NOC), Kirklees (-2), Leeds (-1), Liverpool (-4),Oldham (-1), Newcastle (-3), St Helens (no change). Of the Northern targets, only Rochdale was gained outright, and that from NOC with a net gain of only 2 seats. There was a net gain of 4 seats in Sheffield, which was not enough to regain control. (Thanks to Simon Titley.)

A year ago I wrote that "unless things change - the next election is likely to be rather like the last one for the Liberal Democrats". This again appears to be the moral from the local elections results. Shouldn't we be doing better than that?


Anonymous said...

The seat we lost in Leeds was the same one which made the front of the times on electoral fraud allegations. It seems its now up to if cowely street will fund a court case over the allegations.

Peter Pigeon said...

Isn't Hull in the north?

Anonymous said...

The key issue with Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle - and Kirklees? - is that we run those cities already, either on our own or in coalition. That the seat we lost in Leeds is nowhere near Greg Mulholland's seat, where there was a swing to us, is a Good Thing.

Anonymous said...

We took 6 seats in Hull and that comes on top of running a minority administration on the Council. But we were stretched. So you could say that in places like Leeds and York another factor in our defeats there is balancing running the council and an election campaign with a modest number of councillors/activists. But all parties face the same, hence the Tory losses in Scarborough, Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate, North Lincs and so on.

Richard Gadsden said...

St. Helens we were up one on the last elections - two gains, one loss and one councillor who was elected as Labour and defected to the Lib Dems lost his seat back to Labour.

But winning those core Labour seats is very very hard, especially as large local Labour memberships are now fighting on a much narrower front, defending the handful of target wards.

Anonymous said...

For crying out loud. Your first point is key:
1. 'the failure of the party's national campaigning to bear fruit over and above that won by local activism'

Just like 2005 and 2006. And it's getting worse. So what does this tell us. We've changed our leader, we're whinging about the current one. The former campaigns director has gone. The politician notionally in charge of the campaign committee has changed. What or rather who is the constant?

Anonymous said...

anon at 21.53 - fat chance
cowley street only fund court cases for members of staff or their spouses or so it appears. as for the rest of us it is on our own heads.