Thursday, May 24, 2012

Election 2012 Review

I know it has take a while to get around to putting this online, but here's my (usually) annual review of the election results. 

Last year, Labour in Birmingham thought that 14 net gains was a great result - and it was. To gain another 20 this year and take control of the City Council was a greater prize.

Labour remains the only party that represents the entire city - we had over 1500 voters in 38 of the 40 wards. By contrast, the Tories achieved that in only 19 wards and the Lib Dems in just 9. My stats only go back to 2002, but in simple voter numbers, this was the worst year for either of the opposition parties since then. Indeed, in two wards, the Liberal Democrats failed to break into three figures – unprecedented in my records. In Shard End, by the way, they didn’t run a candidate at all because of an administration error.

In vote share, Labour took just over half of the votes cast across the City, with the Tories not even getting a quarter and the Liberal Democrats languishing on 16%. When these seats were last contested, back in 2008, the parties were much closer. We had 30.1%; the Tories had 30.2% of the vote and the Liberal Democrats 23.2%. That was a pretty bad year for us, with the Tories gaining 6 seats and the Liberals holding all their earlier, post-Iraq gains.

Across the City, we saw a 14% swing from Lib Dem to Labour and a similar 13.6% swing from the Tories to Labour. Those figures mask some bigger changes, however. Swing of the night was hotly contested, with Washwood Heath narrowly beating Lozells with a thundering 34.9% Lib Dem to Labour swing, compared to 33.2%. And then, of course, we had the shock of the night with the rise of Cllr Pocock.  How many of you thought that 2012 would be the year that would happen? He engineered a 21.8% swing from the Tories in Sutton Vesey – the biggest swing from Tory to Labour in the City and a tribute to long term community campaigning. Either that or the people of Sutton Vesey got bored with seeing his name on the ballot paper and reasoned that electing him would at least force a change for the next four years. I've tried something similar in Acocks Green. 

Something to remember is that because we elect by thirds and the boundary changes forced a rare ‘all-out’ election in 2004, many of the opposition candidates this year were their most popular winners back in 2004 – often their most experienced councillors in each ward, which is why we also dislodged a number of cabinet members. I’m sure that will cheer Mike Whitby as he looks towards 2014 as the sole Tory in Harborne against two excellent Labour councillors.

While all parties lost numbers of votes compared to last year – I don’t think the weather helped anyone and there is some general dissatisfaction with all politicians – the Tories were particularly badly affected. Overall, votes were down by 21% year on year. The Liberal Democrats actually did rather well – only losing 14% of their vote from last year and we lost 16%, with the Greens around the average with a 22% loss. The Tories haemorrhaged 31% of their vote from last year – a precipitous fall and hardly a great first outing for their deputy leader and campaigns leader, Cllr Robert Alden. This year saw his father evicted from his previously secure seat. 

Last year, Cllr Alden was profiled in the Post and his quotes are instructive: 
He also accuses colleagues of sitting on their laurels, because the city council’s social services and housing have improved in seven years of Tory-Lib Dem control. “Candidates can’t expect the electorate to be grateful, they have got to keep on improving. We have to show how we can improve Birmingham. And highlight the differences between a Con-Lib Dem administration and Labour. Labour have the same faces and same leader as they did when they ran the council so badly a decade ago.”
He was, of course, right. Sadly, that was largely the campaign that they ran - neither party voiced a real alternative to the manifesto put out by Labour and they relied on a mix of rehashing their self-identified successes and harking back to a Labour party of the early 2000s in an attempt to scare the electorate. A Labour Group of 77 suggests that this didn't work. It would seem that despite his position, Cllr Alden's message didn't get through to large parts of the coalition. Even the Liberal Democrats - who threw everything at the campaign in an attempt to defend their remaining councillors - failed quite dismally.

Clearly, the national political situation helped us – we’re watching the decline of the Liberal Democrats to a position below UKIP in national polling and the utter incompetence of the government post-Budget helped tip the balance in some Tory seats that they might have held. However, don’t forget that each of these victories came because of re-energised campaigning across the city – by people on the phones and on the doorsteps. That can’t stop now. We have more seats to take in 2014 and we need to keep up the pressure on the opposition and to keep the message rolling - having positive things to say on the doorstep about the future rather than just whinging about the past proved very effective. 

In other good news, the BNP – although they fielded more candidates than last year – saw their vote share and total vote decline again. UKIP increased their city-wide vote share, but that is because they ran more candidates, not because of any real shift – if you look at the wards where they ran last year, their vote is largely unchanged, although it did bump up in Shard End, possibly they were used as a receptacle for a safe protest vote with the absence of the Liberal Democrats. The other major party of opposition, Respect, seems to be quiet for the moment with  no representation at all and will struggle unless Salma Yaqoob is able to return to health and the fight, although it seems to lack any serious figures apart from her in Birmingham. The loss of the mayoral vote will also deny her a shot at Hodge Hill or the mayoralty itself.  Similarly, the Socialist Labour and anti-cuts candidates made no real inroads. It seems clear that Labour has had some success in offering real opposition and a real alternative to the Liberal Democrat/Tory coalitions in Birmingham and nationally.

The Greens were the only other party to run a full slate of candidates and while their vote share remained static year on year at 4.5%, they also have the potential to become the home of the oppositionalist vote – the role that the Liberal Democrats used to fulfil. Just an aside – the Liberal Democrats were courting the Tory vote in wards that they held, sending leaflets targeted at Conservative voters warning them that a Tory vote would ensure they had a Labour councillor. I suspect that this may account for some of the Tory loss – in my own ward, I think that may have added about 100 votes to the Liberal Democrat tally. 

In 2014, we’ll be defending 21 seats, while the Tories will be defending 11 and the Liberal Democrats 8, so our chances for net gains are lower, but there are some obvious targets. We should be looking to clean up the last men (and women standing) in the seats that already have two Labour councillors: one is Conservative (Harborne) and five are Liberal Democrat seats (Acocks Green, Hall Green, Moseley & Kings Heath, Selly Oak  and South Yardley). Another three Tory seats have new Labour councillors this year, so we should be looking to put a second alongside them in 2014 in Bournville, Northfield and Sutton Vesey. And then there’s Weoley to avenge. 

Weoley was probably the toughest one on the night - Steve Booton lost by just two votes and that can easily be ascribed to the foul weather that afflicted the city on the day and also to the relocation of a polling station, which wrongfooted a number of voters who may have struggled to get to the new location. 

Holding all our seats and winning those would give us a Labour group of 87 – a tough number to overturn easily and enough to insulate Labour against a number of poor years. 

And if we fancy a stretch target, there's always Sutton New Hall. That only has a majority of 925 - well within reach of Team Pocock with two years to go.

No comments: