I think it would take an extraordinary amount of chutzpah to claim that yesterday represented a victory for the Labour Party in Birmingham. We lost four seats and regained one as the Tories became the largest party on the Council for the first time in two decades. The sight of hordes of happy Tories in the Council House in the early hours of this morning was not one that left me cheered, to be honest.
Once I emerged from my pit late this morning, I fired up Excel and had a run through the figures. Overall votes were down across the City, by about 8000 on last year. Labour again had the highest vote share - taking 32% of votes cast, up 0.5% on 2006, with the Tories taking 27.1%, up 1% and the LDs on 21.5%, down 0.9%. The BNP vote share plummetted to 7.7% (entirely unaffected by the NNP/NF fellow travellers, whose overall figures are insignificant) from 11.1% and the Greens also lost out, dropping 0.3% to 4.7%. Labour lost votes in 22 wards, the Tories slid back in 25 and the Lib Dems in 29.
The brightest spark in the campaign was that the the BNP lost ground everywhere except Lozells, where they gained an extra 13 votes on 2006. In total, they managed to mislay almost 10,000 votes in twelve months. Sharon Ebanks' threats to the BNP in Kingstanding returned just 171 votes for the wacky new NNP (almost half the votes that they gathered wherever they stood). Even in their target ward of Shard End, the BNP lost votes and managed to lose 656 from Kingstanding - where they briefly won last year.
I resisted predictions in the run-up, as I didn't want them being used against my party, but I wasn't surprised at the results in Erdington, where Susanna McCorry failed to regain a seat vacated by Renee Spector in the face of a Tory campaign spearheaded by Bobby Alden. Similarly, I expected the Tory wave to overwhelm Laura Ross in Kings Norton. I wasn't sure about the result in Billesley, as Susan Burfoot has been an excellent and popular local councillor there and certainly deserved to hold it - more so as the Tory candidate was reported as being less than effective. He rode Len Gregory's coat-tails, but failed to increase the Tory vote on last year, even as Susan's text book campaign produced 300 more Labour votes from the Lib Dems - sadly not enough to close the gap on the day, but a sterling effort nonetheless. More of a surprise was the defeat of Mike Nangle, usually regarded as part of the fixtures and fittings of the Council House, who lost his Hodge Hill seat to the Lib Dems - helped by a sizeable chunk of votes that went to an independent.
Elsewhere, there was some good news. Labour retook Aston from the defective Lib Dem/Respect councillor and held on to Bordesley Green - both thanks to the presence of the Lib Dems and Respect, who divided the anti-Labour vote between them and allowed our guys through the middle. Springfield didn't come home, though, despite some positive reports during the day. Respect dislodged Dilawar Khan, the Lib Dem in Sparkbrook, who saw his hefty pile of votes reduced to under 1000 as even the second-placed Labour councillor powered past him well into four figures.
So, the current status of the council is 44 Tory, 41 Labour, 32 Lib Dem, 2 Respect and 1 independent. This is a good result for the Tories, certainly, but where do they go from here? While they may have hopes of gaining a couple of seats held by hold-out Labour councillors in Erdington and Longbridge, they will find it hard to get much further without running into the Lib Dems.
Whitless has been talking a lot of rubbish about the results and as 'The Watchman' put it on the Stirrer message board:
Saw Whitby on BBC News 24 last night saying they had taken seats in places they had not won for more than a decade and a half. Once again the idiot's analysis was wide of the mark. They already had footholds in Erdington, Kings Norton and Billesley - all of which they won last year. Hardly the first in more than a decade. They will make a clean sweep in these wards again next year and probably take Longbridge giving a maximum 48 seats. But what will concern them behind the scenes is they failed to make the inroads in areas like Oscott, Perry Barr, Tyburn, Selly Oak - areas which they really have not represented for more than a decade and that is the problem they face. Even with the Blair government at its lowest ebb and Cameron wooing the masses they can only secure 48 seats out of 120 - they will never lead on their own. Hardly a sign of a party with broad appeal.
Labour is the only party in Birmingham that can genuinely lay claim to broad appeal as most wards in the city return significantly more than a 1000 Labour votes - our support is broad, but thinly spread. In most wards of the City, it is a two way fight - Labour against either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Rarely do we see a three-way tussle - Tyburn is the only possible there, with the Lib Dems in second place and the Tories not too far behind - or a Lib Dem/Tory challenge. Hall Green is an example of the latter, where the Tories might feel buoyed in their challenge to the Lib Dems by the disappearance of over 300 LD votes from 2006 as the Tory vote climbed by over 100. The gap remains at 700, but it is a unique ward, as the Tories and Lib Dems have carved up the city amongst themselves.
While Labour undoubtedly have problems and a few more vulnerable seats and the Tories had a good night - if not the beating that some suspected - the Lib Dems are also showing signs of strain. Their heartland in Fortress Yardley remains impregnable, but their vote share dropped across the City, by almost the amount that the Tory vote increased. Across England, they are facing further grief as they have lost around 250 councillors and suffered a net loss of five councils. Snowflake5 has kept a closer eye on the national picture than I have (one of the things about being involved in a local campaign is that your focus tends to be VERY narrow) and she reports that in Bournemouth, the 33-strong Lib Dem group lost a whopping 25 seats to the Tories. (Actually, the funniest result of the night has to be in Tony Blair's own constituency of Sedgefield, where in the New Trimdon and Trimdon Grange ward, the Tory candidate Shirley Bowes failed to poll a single vote). As I've noted before, the Lib Dems were a party of protest - a safe destination for a vote against the current administration when the opposition weren't up to much. Now the Tories seem to have rediscovered their mojo, the game is on again. I still maintain that the next general election will have a higher turnout and the key decision for voters will be who they want to run the country - Tory or Labour. The LDs face being crushed by the big players at parliamentary level, where a number of their seats are vulnerable to the Tories. I still can't see Ming the Useless still being in the hot seat come the next general election - he's had little effect on this campaign and doesn't provide the necessary spark or inspiration.
All in all, it could have been much worse in Birmingham. We still have a mountain to climb, but we haven't been pushed back to the bottom.
In the meantime, we have a leadership election to deal with (Tony, not Albert).
And comrades - remember the expression on the faces of our Tory and Lib Dem friends last night. Let that fuel your campaigning over the next year.