Archive for the 'Local Elections' Category

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A little local difficulty. A forgotten part of English democracy

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

I’m a dutiful son and I visit my parents regularly. They live in Hadleigh, a quiet market town in south Suffolk. Hadleigh has never quite made it onto the tourist trail. This is a little odd because Kersey, a couple of miles away, is a staple of Christmas cards and meerkat adverts and Lavenham, a few miles further away, is besieged with visitors.

Hadleigh has a magnificent guildhall and deanery tower and charming medieval buildings in abundance, many of which are slathered in pargeting, but it has somehow missed the attention. So it is largely left in prosperous quiet.

I was paying my filial dues at the weekend. Mum knows I have a bit of an interest in politics (the gambling is not discussed; non-conformists don’t approve). So she shows me a couple of election fliers she’d received. What did I make of them? I took a look.

It turns out that all is not well in Hadleigh. The town council has been riven with factional in-fighting. This has percolated into the pages of the Suffolk Free Press and the East Anglian Daily Times. Now a group of well-organised dissidents, under the banner “Hadleigh Together”, have forced a referendum of confidence in the town council, alleging mismanagement and that it is dysfunctional. The town goes to the polls on Thursday. Both sides had issued leaflets putting their case. The dissidents’ case can be found here and here.

I can honestly say that I had never heard of such a thing. So I did some digging. And I found out that I know rather less about the English political system than I thought. For parish residents have long had the right to call for parish polls on whatever topic they choose, provided that a third of electors present at a parish meeting are in favour (and not fewer than 10). At this point the local district council must hold a poll. The result is advisory only.  The Hadleigh Together group have called for just such a parish poll.

This mechanism has been used hundreds of times over the years (no one seems to know how often, no one seems to have been interested enough to keep track). The subject matter has been many and varied: at least one parish conducted a parish poll on whether to hold a referendum on EU membership – it passed convincingly, as it happens.

All this time commentators have been telling us that referendums weren’t a longstanding part of British politics and it turns out they were wrong. Voters up and down the country have been passing judgements on car parking arrangements, low level radioactive waste and whether to allow a Tesco’s for many years. No doubt you all knew this. I didn’t.

It’s easy to be condescending about this and allude to Passport To Pimlico insular localism. Easy, and wrong.  The decisions of town councils have direct impact on the residents and giving the residents a direct say is a safety valve.  If, as in Hadleigh, there are electors unhappy about the plans for the cemetery, it is healthy for them to be able to take direct action about that.

All politics is local.  It would be amusing if what finally definitively killed Boris Johnson’s chances of leadership was his pusillanimous response to the Heathrow third runway vote, given his vaulting ambition, but no MP can afford to neglect the interests of the area that he or she represents.

The government consulted on whether to tighten up the rules on parish polls at the fag-end of the 2010-15 coalition government, but so far as I can see nothing came of it.  Instead of treating this voter power as an irksome anomaly, perhaps the government should extend its use to borough and district councils.  If voters felt more empowered, perhaps they would be more engaged with the political process more generally.  This is, after all, something that politicians of all stripes claim to want.  If, like parish polls, such council referendums were advisory only, the risk of batty decisions being mandated on low turnouts would be much reduced.

One way or another on Thursday, Hadleigh’s local politics are going to be given a jolt.  All sides seem to agree that the logjam on the town council needs to be broken in one way or another.  The parish poll looks to have been an efficient way of seeking to do just that.  Isn’t this something that British politics at rather more elevated levels than town councils might benefit from right now?

Alastair Meeks




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General Election 2017 : One year on

Friday, June 8th, 2018

At 10.00pm this evening, a year ago, the Prime Minister’s gamble backfired. Whether this was due to the polls being misleading from the start (indicating a Con lead of 25% at the start of the campaign), the so called “youthquake” (identified by the Britsh Election Study) or reasons best summed up by Brenda from Bristol of “Oh, no, not another one!” we simply cannot tell, but we do know this. The Conservative overall majority was lost and if it had not been for saving grace of twelve Conservatives gains in Scotland (all from the SNP), the Prime Minister would not have been able to govern with the DUP and the whole history of the UK from that moment could have changed.

But what has happened in that year since? Well, completely unnoticed by everyone (save us who have a vested interest) 397,562 real votes have been placed into no fewer than several hundred real ballot boxes across the United Kingdom electing no less than 255 real councillors, and in those 255 by-elections the people of the United Kingdom have told us this: “Thank you, UKIP, and good night”

Yes, if proof was ever needed that the age of UKIP is over, then here it is. UKIP in the year since the general election, have seen their vote share fall by 10.48% compared to last time.In fact it is even worse than that for them. Last time, in these 255 by-elections, UKIP had a candidate in 88 of them (35%), now they only had a candidate in 69 of them (27%).

It is now that I am expecting those surviving UKIP supporters to declare “Now come on, all parties have problems fielding candidates in the year after a general!” to which I would reply “Then please explain why there are 90 more Conservatives, 89 more Labour, 110 more Liberal Democrats, 50 more Greens, 21 more Independents and even 9 more Local Independents standing than last time” and add that compared to last time UKIP are the only major party who are fielding fewer candidates than last time.

And what of the main parties? Well, it’s clear that the Labour and the Liberal Democrats are picking up the UKIP spoils, to which of course Labour supporters in Mansfield will be screaming “But we lost Mansfield to the Conservatives!” and Conservative supporters will be screaming “But we lost Oxford West to the Lib Dems!” so let’s look at those changes through the prism of the referendum.

In those councils that voted REMAIN Con +2%, Lab +5%, Lib Dem +6%, UKIP -6%, in those councils that voted LEAVE Con +3%, Lab +6%, Lib Dem +7%, UKIP -11% and yet these changes have a very marked difference in seat changes

Well, there’s your answer. I cannot say what answer it is but that’s the answer the UK is giving a year since that general election.

Harry Hayfield



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The very early results show the Tories doing well and being optimistic

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

However if it is a truly great night for the Tories it doesn’t change the arithmetic at Westminster or Mrs May wouldn’t be kicking the can further down the road.

TSE

Update



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Ahead of this morning’s YouGov London poll what happened at the capital’s last elections and the Feb 2018 poll

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

With so little polling or other hard data ahead of next Thursday’s elections there’s a lot of focus this morning on the new YouGov London Poll from YouGov for QMUL.

As can be seen the February survey suggested that Labour were going to make huge gains and it was on this that the early betting and predictions have been made.

There has been a suggestion that the latest survey is going to be nothing like as good for Labour hence the interest that is being shown.

I understand that the poll is due to be published about 1100.

Mike Smithson




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Alastair Meeks looks ahead to next month’s local elections

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

Every year, the politically engaged pore over the local elections, seeking to make deductions about what they mean for national politics. They do so undeterred by the fact that the relationship between local elections and national elections is not all that strong and they disregard the fact that local elections have an independent purpose from acting as a proxy national opinion poll. It’s usually a largely fruitless exercise that serves only to keep wonks occupied until Eurovision hits our screens.

On this occasion, however, the local elections may have some useful things to tell us about national politics. Both main parties’ coalitions of voters were remade in last year’s general election. This is the first large scale test of whether that change might endure. So here are some things to keep an eye on.

What is the par result?

At the 2017 general election, we saw a swing of 2% from the Conservatives to Labour. Many commentators are getting very excited to see whether Labour can build on those swings at the local elections this year. This is a triumph of Conservative expectations management, because the last time these seats were contested was in 2014, not 2017.

In 2014, Labour were slightly ahead in the national polls – a YouGov poll from the day of the general election had Labour on 34% and the Conservatives on 33%. At present, the Conservatives look to have their noses in front – the pollsters differ on the current state of play and I am going to use the split at the last election where the Conservatives scored 43% and Labour 40%. So all things being equal we should see a swing from Labour to the Conservatives of 2% or so between 2014 and 2018.

The Conservatives should, in normal circumstances, be feeling quietly confident.

Are all things equal? Well, no, and for more than one reason.

Was there anything unusual about the 2014 local elections?

Yes, lots. They were held on the same day as the Euro-elections. This ensured that large numbers of people who felt intensely strongly about the EU were lured to the polling booths. UKIP topped the poll in the Euro-elections. Many, probably most, of those determined Europhobes in the local authorities with elections taking place will have gone on to vote in the local elections too. UKIP tallied a national equivalent vote share in the local elections of 17%, a record. The Lib Dems tallied an unusually low national equivalent vote share of 13% (they did far better in both 2016 and 2017 at a local level).

No Euro-election is taking place this year so that cohort will be deprived of that additional motivation. UKIP have collapsed and are not far off asterisk status in the national opinion polls. 2014 Euro-kippers’ voters are up for grabs and the vote share attributable to them is up for grabs. Who is going to benefit? And what will that mean for seat counts?

Is there anything unusual about the seats up for election?

Yes. The seats up for election are skewed towards London and the other metropolitan areas, where Labour has historically performed well.

Did anything unusual happen in the 2017 general election?

Yes, lots. Both main parties increased their vote share substantially and very unevenly. Different parts of the country swung in different directions between the two. Labour did especially well in London and other metropolitan areas.

We don’t know whether these new coalitions formed last year will continue to hold together in the current election round. The working assumption must be that they will.

So what should the adjusted par expectation be?

You will note that there is a happy coincidence (for Labour) between the last two observations. There has been a lot of commentary to this effect, particularly about London. Some data would be helpful.

I previously looked at the swings in each constituency at the 2017 election. I have now estimated the swings in 2017 (from 2015) in each council where elections are taking place – see the map at the top of the page. I hope that it is fairly intuitive. The key is as follows:

A – no swing (less than 1% either way)
B – swing of under 5% to Labour
C – swing of 5-10% to Labour
D – swing of over 10% to Labour
E – swing of under 5% to the Conservatives
F – swing of 5-10% to the Conservatives
G – swing of over 10% to the Conservatives
H – swing of under 5% to the Lib Dems
I – swing of 5-10% to the Lib Dems
J – swing of over 10% to the Lib Dems
K – swing to the Greens
L – swing to others

You can zoom in to inspect the detail.

Because Parliamentary constituencies and council boundaries are drawn differently, the map is more useful in general impression than in specific detail – and you certainly should not place bets on specific councils without conducting further investigations. Nevertheless, the general picture is clear enough. These are indeed areas where in general Labour did well last year, but there are quite enough areas that the Conservatives will be eager to face the polls in.

You would expect the Conservatives to see a favourable swing in any council where the swing from 2015 to 2017 was less than 4% to Labour (or the Lib Dems). So if the new coalitions are holding together, the only councils that Labour can expect to make substantial progress in on current polling are those in the deeper shades of red.

The councils shaded pink are to be expected to be fairly neck and neck. Don’t be surprised if the Conservatives get the better of these exchanges.

The deep grey and blue councils should all be happy hunting grounds for the Conservatives this time round, as they look to take advantage of the swing to them since 2014. If so, the Conservatives can expect to see gains in some councils even in London, even as they are getting pummelled elsewhere in the capital.

What else should we look out for?

UKIP will almost certainly lose more or less all of their seats and vote share. Who is going to profit by their absence? It is conceivable that all the other parties might pick up vote share and seat counts. Everyone else might legitimately be able to claim to have made progress.

The Lib Dems historically have outperformed their national polling in local elections. 2014 was a bad year for them. They will be hoping that the absence of a Euro-election will assist them this time. If they do better this time, will this be at Labour’s or the Conservatives’ expense?

Will the new voting coalitions lead to different voting practices? Historically Labour have had to work harder to get their vote to the polls. Will this continue?

Summary

Don’t believe the hype. Labour should do well in London but the Conservatives have many opportunities for gains and quite possibly might make more than Labour does.

Alastair Meeks