Sunday, 8 May 2016

My 2016 elections analysis, part 2: The councils and Police & Crime Commissioners

'And finally, FINALLY....nothing much happens.' (Narrator, Space Quest IV game)

This year's council elections were crucial for all major parties in the UK-not just Labour and the Conservatives as the BBC (aka the Biased Brainwashing Corporation) tried to make out, with better organisation from other parties, especially the Green Party, compared to 2012 when those seats were last up for election.

Despite many councils having all-out elections, and with many key marginal seats being up for election, little or no net change happened in the majority of councils, and out of the 124 councils up for election just six changed hands, and then only to or from no overall control. These six councils were Dudley (Labour lose to NOC), Worcester (Conservative lose to NOC), Elmbridge (Conservative lose to NOC), Peterborough (Conservative gain from NOC, with majority of just 2 seats over all other parties), Watford (Liberal Democrat gain from NOC with majority of 14), and finally Bristol (Labour gain from NOC). A Conservative failure to make any real progress on councils covering key electoral battlegrounds, such as Harlow, Lincoln, Reading, and Southampton was also another feature of these elections. Notable failures to progress for Labour, meanwhile, include the areas of Amber Valley, Derby, Pendle, and Stockport.

One unfortunate result from these elections is how the Green Party suffered significant losses or failed to make progress in university cities or towns as a result of the so-called 'Corbyn effect', which notably occurred in Bristol, Cambridge, Colchester, Exeter, Norwich, and Oxford. However, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn actually made overall losses in seat terms, with the Conservatives losing more seats than Labour overall. Notable Conservative losses included 4 seats in Cheltenham, where the current Conservative MP, Alex Chalk, was alleged to have failed to declare election expenses that would have exceeded the allowed local spending limit if they had been declared, and all 5 of their seats in Watford (despite returning their MP Richard Harrington with a much increased majority last year), which the Liberal Democrats recaptured with ease after narrowly losing overall control last year. The Green Party compensated for losses in Bristol, Norwich and Oxford by making some key breakthroughs in these elections, in the councils of Weymouth & Portland and Cannock Chase, and consolidated and improved their representation in Epping Forest, Rochford, Solihull, Stroud, and Worcester; none of these areas have considerable student or intellectual populations at all. UKIP's unfair level of media coverage compared to the Green Party proved to be over-hyped, since they only made 25 gains (compared to the hundreds of council seat gains they made in 2013, 2014, and 2015) although the BBC lauded their gains in Thurrock several times. The Liberal Democrats made the highest net gains in these elections but they slipped back further in such councils as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Portsmouth, Southend-on-Sea, and Worthing, which coincidentally happen to be on the coast (however in Gosport, also on the coast, the reverse happened); the Liberal Democrats have previously polled well in coastal towns and cities; they also notably did not quite gain control of Winchester in its all-out elections. Residents' Associations across the country were also pleased, with Elmbridge's Residents' Association winning enough seats to deprive the Conservatives of overall control of Elmbridge council, which covers some of the most affluent areas in the UK.

The Police and Crime Commissioner elections have also finished, and whilst turnout substantially improved from the dreadful 15% low of 2012, it did not improve very much in police areas with no or few council elections occurring at the same time; some areas had respectable turnouts of 40-45% and others just 20-25%. Improved turnout was enough to defeat many incumbent PCCs, especially Independents who sought re-election (several did not, however). The Conservatives generally benefitted from this but lost several of their positions to Labour candidates, with Bedfordshire's Labour PCC Olly Martins being the only one to lose his job to a Conservative. Plaid Cymru's decision to field candidates for PCC this time proved to be a wise move, since Arfon Jones and Dafydd Llewellyn succeeded in becoming PC's first PCCs in Wales without much trouble in the second round of voting. One major concern in PCC elections remains the lack of real campaigning by candidates offline and on the doorstep; I myself never encountered any of the candidates standing for PCC in Hertfordshire , where I live, or even saw any literature from them despite the fact these elections were much more competitive than the last ones.

These elections, despite not featuring the three-figure overall gains or losses for any party that were expected by pundits and the media, do have important stories to tell. British politics is becoming more heterogeneous and is not turning back towards a two-party system in many places except in tight traditional battlegrounds like Amber Valley (where Labour's loss of Ironville when they simultaenously gained Belper Central and Belper North cost them their recapture of Amber Valley council from the Conservatives by a mere 16 votes). They will also be remembered for lots of things that did not happen rather than for things that did.


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