What do the election results actually mean?

For the really lazy amongst you, scroll to the bottom. There is a tl;dr.

So, if you’re an interested-in-politics type person, you’ll already know the answer to this. If you’re not, hopefully, this will give you an idea of what has been happening.

So, the following elections happened on Thursday:

  • English local council elections
  • Scottish Parliamentary elections
  • National Assembly of Wales elections
  • Northern Ireland Assembly (yet to be determined)
  • Police and Crime Commissioner elections
  • Mayoral elections
  • Greater London Assembly elections

Hopefully, I’ve not missed any. I’ve put London at the bottom because I live in the North and London is basically in Calais as far as I’m concerned.

How important are these elections?

Councils control a lot of things: housing, council tax, parking, planning permission, road maintenance, schools and school catchment areas, local health and social care policy. Indeed, the majority of issues which people complain about are controlled by councils, not the UK Parliament at Westminster.

The Scottish Parliament has more regional powers. Local elections happen in Scotland too though not this year. The same is true of the Welsh Assembly (though it has fewer powers) and then again of the London Assembly (with fewer powers still).

I’m going to start with the Liberal Democrats because I’m a Liberal Democrat, I’m very important and therefore this must be the most important party. Parliamentary representation be damned.

NB: ‘net’ is how much is gained or lost, not the total number. For things like council seats, that is a more important number than the total as not all council seats are up for election.

Liberal Democrats

  • Net +44 council seats
  • Net +1 council
  • Scottish Parliament: net 0 seats, stayed at 5/129
  • Welsh Assembly: net -4 seats, down to 1/60
  • London Mayor: Caroline Pidgeon 4.6%
  • London Assembly: net -1 seat, down to 1 seat
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: N/A

So what does all that rubbish mean?

Last year, the Liberal Democrats were – to anybody not a weird optimist like most Lib Dems – dead in the water. Now, not every council seat in England was up for grabs and most years only around a third are. Which ones depend on local conditions.

As such, we had the biggest gains of any party in England albeit for a limited slice of voters and offices. For a party  that has not won for 6 years, these were modest gains, but gains nonetheless. Firstly, it means we were actually discussed in the post-election coverage. Secondly, for party activists, it’s a boon to be trying to win rather than merely hold on.

The Scottish Parliament election is notable as, though there was no net change, we took seats from the SNP. Until now, the nationalists were a seemingly invincible force. Though we lost two other seats, it’s nice to know we can win.

Wales was the not insignificant fly in the ointment. Although Kirstie Williams, leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, managed to win a seat, the loss of 4 seats was stark. She has now stepped down and been replaced by Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion.

London was much of a muchness. Our performance in the mayoral election was as expected – we largely don’t do well.

Summary: not bad. Shame about Wales.

Labour

  • Net -18 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net -13 seats to 24/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net -1 seats to 29/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Sadiq Khan 56.8% (43.2% 1st round)
  • London Assembly: net 0 seats change, 12/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: N/A

Ah, Labour. So Corbyn and his allies believe that Labour ‘grew support in a lot of places’. Indeed, you may have seen comments that the negativity around Corbyn’s performance is largely spin. You may have even seen a meme comparing Corbyn’s performance to those of Blair in 1995 and Cameron in 2006.
image

It’s not. These results are bad. Really quite bad. Oddly, the examples are excellent ones of how badly Corbyn did.

To put them into context, consider this. The last time an opposition lost council seats outside a general election was 1985. Michael Foot, leader of the opposition, went on to a landslide (read: massive) defeat to Margaret Thatcher.

In 1995 local elections, Tony Blair achieved net +1800 councillors; in 2006, Cameron +300 councillors. These numbers – not the percentages – are the legitimate comparators to Corbyn’s measly -18.

The only saving grace is the prediction of 150 seats lost was wrong. This served to lower expectations. In politics, the aim is often to play to expectations rather than numbers. Appear to do well rather than do well and the positive press will follow.

In Scotland, they again floundered against the SNP, a place where they were once assured. And Wales was, though not as bad, an indifferent showing.

In contrast, Sadiq Khan smashed Zac Goldsmith to become London mayor. He has the biggest mandate of any directly elected British politician in history (the Prime Minister is not directly elected) in a fairytale story. The son of an immigrant bus driver from a London council estate who defeated the billionaire running an (allegedly) racist campaign.

Summary: Corbyn bad, Khan good.

A word on the BBC

Corbynistas suggest the BBC, specifically former Conservative and current  Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, are biased against Corbyn’s Labour. The coverage of Khan’s victorious campaign suggests otherwise.

Jeremy Corbyn has been under fire from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP, the Labour MPs) for some time. They detest him. They think he’s unelectable and may render the party obsolete. Kuenssberg’s appointment coincided with Corbyn’s. It may feel as though she does nothing but bash Corbyn but in the end, it’s simply her job, one I’m sure she’ll continue regardless of whom future Labour leaders are.

Conservatives

  • Net -48 council seats
  • Net -1 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net +16 seats to 31/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net -3 to 11/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Zac Goldsmith 43.2% (36.5% 1st round)
  • London Assembly: net -1 seats to 8/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland: net 0 seats to 0/108 seats

The council results were OK. As I’ve alluded to, in the same way oppositions should win council seats in a non-general election year, governments usually lose them. Exactly why this happens is debatable but often it’s because voters want to give governments a kicking but don’t want to remove them from power.

That the Tories haven’t been destroyed at the ballot box is remarkable. They are at war over Europe; in conflict with doctors over hours and pay; with teachers of over academies; George Osborne has failed to meet his own budget targets; not to mention Tory MPs rebelling on welfare changes. It highlights the abject failure of Labour to provide meaningful opposition.

Tories – for the first time in a generation – have been victorious in Scotland; they are the official oppositionin the Scottish Parliament. Their new leader, Ruth Davidson, provides a real contrast to the SNP. Many centre-left voters will have voted SNP rather than Labour. However, unionists have a new home, even if they don’t agree with all Conservative policy.

Rather like Labour, the Welsh Conservatives produced an indifferent performance. It pales in comparison to their performance north of the border.

London has been a disaster. Lynton Crosby, a political strategist, has been castigated for running a racist campaign. He specifically targeted the British Hindu community on the basis they would not vote for a Muslim. Tory peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has criticised Zac Goldsmith. Even sister Jemima Goldsmith has criticised the campaign.

The real sadness is, Goldsmith had the potential to be an excellent candidate. Despite his inherited wealth, he cut a less arrogant figure than previous Conservative mayor Boris Johnson. Instead, a debate about racial division replaced one on the key issues of transport and housing.

After Labour’s anti-Semitism debacle, Goldsmith has somehow managed to out-racist Ken Livingstone.

(I just found out that the Conservative Party existed in Northern Ireland. It didn’t do well.)

Summary: did alright except for the racism in London thing.

UKIP

  • Net +25 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net 0 seats to 0/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net +7 seats to 7/60 seats
  • London Mayor: Peter Whittle 3.6%
  • London Assembly: net 0 to 0/25
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: net 0 to 0/108

UKIP made reasonable gains in English councils which will worry Labour. They made some in Labour strongholds.

They have little presence in Scotland but their Welsh performance was remarkable, gaining 7 assembly seats. Until then, ‘Celtic UKIP supporter’ was almost a contradiction in terms. (Interestingly, disgraced former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton won a seat for UKIP and may be their Welsh leader.)

Their performance in London fits with their anti-cosmopolitan ethos. Bizarrely, UKIP also has candidates for the Northern Ireland assembly who were unsurprisingly unsuccessful given much of the place doesn’t even want to be British.

Summary: impressive performance in Wales, should worry Labour in England.

The Green Party

  • Net -3 council seats
  • Net 0 councils
  • Scottish Parliament: net +4 seats to 6/129 seats
  • Welsh Assembly: net 0 seats to 0/60
  • London mayor: Sian Berry 5.8%
  • London Assembly: net 0 seats to 2/25 seats
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: net +1 seat to 2/108 seats

Yeah, they did alright. Not great in England but pretty good in Scotland – managing to push the Liberal Democrats in to 4th. They have little presence in Wales (which slightly surprises me) and their London performance is about expected. I have no idea what to make of the fact they have 2 seats in Northern Ireland. But they do. So there.

Nationalists

Scottish National Party

  • Scottish Parliament: net -6 to 59/129 seats

For an incumbent party to only lose 6 seats is remarkable but they are showing signs of weakness. They tackled Labour by dominating the centre-left of Scottish politics. It will be interesting to see how a party which sold itself as anti-establishment will perform as a minority government against Ruth Davidson’s now much stronger Tories.

The contrast between the two is much starker and so I imagine Davidson will find it easier to highlight failings of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration.

Plaid Cymru

  • Welsh Assembly: net +1 to 12/60 seats

Still some way behind Labour, it bodes well that Plaid’s only gain was from Labour. Labour are now in a minority with Plaid the official opposition. It’s not a meteoric performance but not an awful on either.

Northern Ireland Assembly

The Northern Ireland Assembly is complicated and beyond what I can cover in this post. Suffice it to say the three primary parties the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) (both loyalist ie want to stay in the UK) and Sinn Féin (republican ie wants to join Ireland) have to work in a power-sharing agreement.

Sinn Féin now have a small but significant presence within Republic of Ireland politics. It remains to be seen how power-sharing will fare following this election.

Police and Crime Commissioner

The problem with this is, nobody cares. It’s not that it isn’t an important position but it just doesn’t make the headlines. Indeed the only one that did was Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire and that’s largely due to the release of the conclusions of the Hillsborough inquiry.

Summary/tl;dr

  • Lib Dems: starts of a recovery
  • Labour: awful but saved by Khan
  • Conservatives: great in Scotland, awful in London
  • UKIP: impressive in Wales
  • Greens: good in Scotland, unremarkable everywhere else
  • SNP: did well but no invulnerable any more
  • Plaid: meh

Hope that helps!

Please register to vote in the EU referendum. I’ll be writing some things about it to try and make it a little less impenetrable. 

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