All this news of appalling council election results for Labour seems to have rather passed Brum by. Sir Albert Bore, the Labour Group leader, can feel rather content with life at the moment - the forecast meltdown failed to happen.
As I was heavily involved, my focus really came down to a single ward, but the attitude on the doorstep wasn't that negative - surprisingly, given the run-in gifted to us by our national leadership (a word I use advisedly). What with Prescott, Hewitt, Clarke and the shadow of Blair, it wasn't a good time to be on the doorstep asking for votes. I actually found a degree of sympathy from the electorate for what we were trying to do.
Anyway, the outcome was pretty much as I expected. A couple of seats shifted around, but nothing has really changed. Handsworth Wood returned to Labour, as the councillor who defected to the Tories was swiftly ejected by the electorate and Aston came home from the Liberal Democrats. Longbridge was lost to the Tories and the Alden family put yet another member on the benches in the Council House as their son won in Erdington. Susanna McCorry, the defeated Labour councillor, blamed her defeat on the national situation, but I'm not so sure. The Labour vote held up well, only actually dropping by 10 on 2004. It was the Liberal Democrat vote that switched to the Tories to give them the seat. To offset their loss in Aston, the LDs took Moseley from Barry Henley - a shame, as Barry was good councillor and a decent bloke who put in bucketloads of work to try and secure the seat. To be honest, that was only won at a by-election last year because it coincided with a parliamentary vote, so we had that one as a bonus for twelve months and serious resource was thrown at the seat by the Liberal Democrats this time round. Sparkbrook went to RESPECT, which was no surprise to anyone around that area.
And then there was Kingstanding - see my post on that issue for details.
How did the parties do?
The problem with assessing this is finding a decent baseline figure. The ward boundaries all shifted in 2004 with all-up elections, throwing a spanner into the works of calculating vote share. While the major parties put up three candidates in all wards, the minor parties only put up the odd candidate (some VERY odd) in some wards. The method I've chosen is twofold. I've taken the votes for the 2004 winning candidate retiring in 2006 and only the next best votes for the other parties - this works in most wards, but is problematic in wards with split party representation. The other method is 'best vote' compiled by taking the top figures for each party in each ward in 2004 and compare them to 2006. My 2006 figures include the corrected result for Kingstanding.
2003 was the usual single-member election across the city and while the borders have changed internally, the overall city border hasn't, so the figures for total vote share hold up.
So, here's the voting breakdown based upon best vote in 2004:
And now the vote share figures for councillors elected in 2004 in third place and therefore up for election in 2006 against votes cast for the next best candidates from each party. The relatively low variance on 2004 suggests that these methods show a reasonably reliable guide to performance.
A couple of caveats here. The published figures for 2002 don't break down the 'Others' vote to include the BNP, but judging from the wards with high 'other vote', the BNP aren't likely to have been strong. Many wards had no candidates other than the three major parties. Note also that the BNP have been increasing their slate across the city since 2003, fielding a full 40 candidates in 2006, so the vote has increased partly because more people COULD vote for the BNP. The 2004 figures also include the disputed returns from Aston and Bordesley.
From this we can see that Labour's vote took a kicking in 2004, as expected, but has recovered over the past two years to a level closer to 2003. The Tories have also gained in the past two years, but the bad news is for the Liberal Democrats, who have lost vote since their strongest year in 2003 and at best, are trying to match their 2004 performance.
If we look at the number of wards where vote changed, we find that on the 2006 best performance figures, Labour vote declined in 26 wards, the Tories dropped in 24 wards and the Liberal Democrat vote dropped in 37 wards. In only three wards did the LD vote actually increase. It fell by a net total of 14,043 votes across the city. By comparison, the Tories dropped 4035 votes and Labour lost only 1243 votes across the city. Looking at the retiring councillors' figures, Labour actually gained a net 2865 votes across the city, dropping back in 18 wards, compared to a net loss of 1212 votes and a drop in 19 wards by the Tories and a loss of 8067 votes across 31 wards by the Liberal Democrats.
This suggests to me that the Labour vote is swinging up again, the Tories are making some gains, although nothing spectacular from either, but the Liberal Democrats had a dreadful election by their standards. Nationally, they seem to have gained a net total of two (count 'em) councillors, so that would seem to reinforce the facts presented above.
Everyone's talking about a bad election for Labour, but nobody's talking about the disaster suffered by the Liberal Democrats. They seem to have stalled in Birmingham, despite some improvements to further secure seats that they already hold - like Perry Barr. Their chance to alter the coalition has gone - if Whitless hangs onto the leadership of the Tory group, then the LDs will have to settle for their usual crumbs from the masters' table. Even John Hemming can't find much to sing about and has to rely on selective editing of figures to find a positive outcome for the Liberal Democrats (he conveniently ignores 2003 and avoids trying to calculate anything for 2004). The usual graph proving that only the Lib Dems can win here can't be far away.
Nationally, of course, they are suffering from the dreadful performance of Ming Campbell - how much would they give to have Chatshow Charlie back at the helm? He may have been a drunken sailor, but at least he knew how to steer the ship. Locally, the equally dreadful performance of the 'progressive partnership' is hurting them as well.
The Liberal Democrats look increasingly likely to come under pressure from both the Tories and Labour. 2007 and 2008 could be VERY interesting elections.