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Sean Fear’s local election commentary

May 26th, 2006

    HOW BADLY ARE LABOUR DOING AT LOCAL LEVEL?

My initial reaction to the local election results was that while they were bad for Labour, they weren’t terrible. Having thought more about this, I think the results were indeed terrible for Labour.

Labour now has almost as few councillors (in percentage terms) as it had in 1978, and far fewer than it had in the 1980s. Labour’s local government base has eroded far more rapidly than that of the Conservatives in the 1980s. In 1979, the Conservatives held 48% of council seats in Great Britain. After nine years, that share had fallen to 39%. Labour, by contrast, held 46% of council seats in 1997; that share has now fallen to 28%

Almost certainly, Labour will suffer further losses of seats in the next two rounds of local elections, possibly taking its share of seats down to the same level, 20%, as the Conservatives in 1997.

Things are equally grim in terms of vote share, which was projected at 26%. Although that was no worse than in 2004, it is the worst score that any governing party has ever recorded, one year into a Parliament. By contrast, the hugely unpopular Conservatives still managed to take 31% of the vote in May 1993. In all likelihood, Labour’s vote share will fall below 25% in the next two rounds of local elections, worse than John Major’s government ever achieved.

    This matters, because political parties are so dependent on local councillors to keep themselves before the electorate, now that the days of mass membership are over. If Labour are not seen to be active in a particular area, and if people get out of the habit of voting Labour in that area, then its support at Parliamentary level is likely to decline sharply as well.

The Conservatives discovered this to their cost in the mid 1990s. If, as is likely, the general popularity of the Labour Party recovers as the next election approaches, the party may still underperform in many constituencies if it has withered away at local level.

Last night’s by-elections continue the bad news for Labour:-
Caradon DC – Saltash Pill: Lib Dem 474, Ind 334, C 280. Lib Dem gain from Ind.
North Kesteven DC – Branston and Mere: C 570, Ind 440, Lab 150.
Con gain from Lab.
Tynedale DC – Wylam: Lib Dem 364, C 247, Lab 206. Lib Dem hold.


Sean Fear
is a Tory activist in London






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