May 2012 Election Lexcomm

04/05/2012

2012 Election Lexcomm

THE MORNING AFTER: LABOUR MEET EXPECTATIONS

Predictably a bad night for both Coalition parties. The loss of seats was at the pessimistic end of expectations but, as the Tories are pointing out, Labour secured a lower percentage of votes in local elections in 2000 and 2004 than that secured by the Conservatives yesterday and still went on to win a general election.

Labour did quite well in the south, winning control of councils in Plymouth, Southampton and Reading. They also won Birmingham and Dudley in the Midlands and had a particularly strong showing in Wales, where they have regained control of Cardiff from the Liberal Democrats.  Importantly, they also took control of councils in areas where they lost Parliamentary seats at the last election, including Harlow.  The Labour leadership will be relieved to see a strengthening of the party in seats they need to win to in order to stand a chance of being the largest party at the general election.

Where UKIP did well, they helped Labour win seats. This is worrying for the Tories who fear that traditional Conservative voters, dismayed by a government they consider too liberal on issues such as gay marriage, will see UKIP as a real Tory alternative.  UKIP’s good showing at these elections will further the debate within the Conservative party about appealing to voters on the right, with those on that wing of the Party using the results to push the case for an EU referendum.

The votes against mayors in the big cities is pretty disastrous for what is a flagship Tory policy. Ministers are being blamed for not campaigning hard enough. The Labour leadership will be relieved that they have been spared difficult arguments about whether sitting MPs should be allowed to stand, causing by elections in their parliamentary seats.

A key consequence of the results is that it will strengthen those Tories who believe that Cameron needs to be tougher on the Liberal Democrats. It will be interesting to consider the impact on the presentation of the Coalition’s programme, to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech next Wednesday. The poor results have led to renewed calls from Conservative backbenchers for Cameron to avoid being bogged down in Lords reform and instead focus on growth policies. 

For the Lib Dems, the loss of so many seats has serious consequences as it reduces their activist base.  For Labour, it will be a largely satisfactory outcome. Livingstone’s expected failure in London will be pinned on the candidate’s own personal and political failings, underlined by a likely good Labour result for the Greater London Assembly. And the good results overall will be a boost for Ed Miliband.

What does this tell us about the next general election? Although we should be careful to read too much into these results, they give Cameron no comfort that his Party is positioned to win an overall majority in 2015. Unlike the 1980s when disastrous Tory local election results were followed by large general election wins, it is the right of centre vote which is in danger of fracturing, while left of centre voters are much more likely to support Labour. This is because the effect of the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Tories has been to boost Labour support by about seven to eight percentage points. And those left of centre former Liberal Democrat voters are showing no signs of going back to their former party.

This is not to say that Labour has made the crucial breakthrough either. Conservatives will say, just as Labour used to when in power, that their opponents have not gone through the magic 40 per cent barrier. Turnout was low and the public interest in these elections was limited. The rejection of directly elected mayors may indicate continued voter disillusion with the political class.

If Boris has a good victory in London, the Conservatives will hope the local election results will look like old news. The tentative conclusion from yesterday’s elections however, is that another hung parliament remains a strong possibility.

Coming up…

The London Mayoral result expected around 7pm (although this could be delayed by a power cut). Early indications are that Boris Johnson is ahead on first preferences.

The Scottish Councils started counting at 9am. Labour will be hoping their good night isn’t dented by the loss of Glasgow to the SNP. With three out of 21 wards declared as we go to print, the SNP have gained one seat from Labour.


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