Sunday, 7 June 2009

Local Reflections..

As we await the results from the European Elections due later this evening, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on Thursday's County Council elections.

For the Conservatives, it was an excellent night with widespread gains from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. A crop of Councils are now under Conservative majority control including Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Lancashire (from Labour) and Somerset and Devon from the Liberal Democrats. In Cornwall, the Conservatives have turned the near-eclipse of the 1993 election (down to just 6) to being (with 50 seats) the largest party on the new Unitary Council.

There were small setbacks - three seats lost in Surrey and the failure to take Cumbria while the gains masked a vote share down to 38% from the heady heights of 44% in the 2008 local contests.

There is also the fact that the Conservatives are now about as high in local Government as they can go after over a decade of continuous advance. The 2013 round of these contests will be fought under very different circumstances and the loss of numbers of seats must be considered likely.

For the Liberal Democrats, the capture of Bristol failed to overshadow some poor results in the south-west though Somerset was always going to be tough to hold and the Party's performance in the areas held by its MPs suggests there will be some fierce battles next year. Cornwall was especially bad and it looks ominous for two or three of the party's MPs. The Unitary authority has proved deeply unpopular and pushing for power to be removed from District Councils to a single County authority seems curiously illiberal to me.

It wasn't all bad - there were gains in many areas including West Sussex and Surrey but it was disappointing to see so many northern and midlands seats go straight from Labour to Conservative. The 28% national vote share was good enough and overall seat losses are below 50 - BBC quotes only 4.

Labour's performance was catastrophic - 23% of the vote and its Councillors annihilated. In some areas, Labour was wiped out, in others it was reduced to the status of third or fourth group. The portents for the General Election look dire.

The performance of other parties was mixed - the Greens won some seats and polled well in others but failed to achieve a real breakthrough. UKIP won a few seats and polled well in Surrey but its main focus will be tonight where it has a real chance of finishing second in the national poll.
The BNP achieved very little while the other real winners of the night were the various Independents and Residents whose vote held up strongly against all comers.

Sky projected a Conservative overall majority of 24 on the basis of these contests but I just don't see it. The Tories are in a much stronger position and we are moving into potential landslide territory though Labour will argue most of its core areas weren't involved. Nonetheless, the omens look very bad for Labour in England and the Liberal Democrats face a tough fight to hold on to some of their seats too.

Let's see what tonight brings...

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