Looking Forward to Next Year
In all likelihood, next yearâ€™s European Elections, and local government elections (mostly for the County Councils, and a few unitary and shadow authorities) will be held simultaneously. Year three of a Parliament is almost invariably the worst year for an incumbent government, in terms of secondary elections, and so Labour can expect to do slightly better next year than this (as they did in 1978, and as the Conservatives did in 1996).
Unfortunately for Labour, almost all the seats they will be defending will be ones they last won in 2005, on the same day as the general election, when they led by 3%. â€œMiddle Englanderâ€ on Vote 2007 estimates that Labour will be defending 483 seats, of which 173 have majorities of 10% or less (with the Conservatives second in the large majority of cases). A further 162 have majorities of between 10% and 20%.
If this yearâ€™s results were to be repeated next year, Labour would be reduced to a handful of seats in English County Councils. Even if, as I expect, Labour do improve somewhat, they might well lose at least half the seats theyâ€™re defending. It is unlikely that they will retain control of a single County Council, either. There are a couple of authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, and Surrey, where in all likelihood, Labour will lose all its remaining seats. Others, such as Hertfordshire, Essex, and Kent, will see Labour representation reduced to low single figures.
At European Parliamentary level, it will be interesting to watch the fate of UKIP, who took 16% of the vote, and 12 seats, in 2004. UKIP have been wracked by leadership disputes since then, and have struggled to make an impact (although they did gain a handful of council seats this year). In all likelihood, their vote will fall sharply, although their relevance in European contests may well enable them to match the 8% vote share they won in 1999. This yearâ€™s London vote suggests that where the UKIP vote falls sharply, the main beneficiary is the Conservative Party, although the BNP can expect to benefit to a smaller extent.
If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by next year, then the number of Britainâ€™s MEPs will fall from 78 to 72. That means that while the Conservatives may expect to pick up a handful of extra seats at UKIPâ€™s expense, all other parties will struggle to make any gains. Both the Greens and the BNP will struggle to win seats, even if they push up their vote compared to 2004. Labour and the Liberal Democrats will probably see little change, compared to 2004.
Last night, there were four by-elections, all in Somerset. No seats changed hands.
Somerset County: Shepton Mallet Conservative 950, Lib Dem 783, Labour 271. This was a three-way marginal in 2005, but the collapse in the Labour vote seems, if anything, to have helped the Conservatives.
Mendip District, Street North Lib Dem 347, Conservative 297, Independent 81. This showed a big swing to the Conservatives, compared to 2007.
Mendip District, Shepton East Conservative 435, Lib Dem 307, Labour 122.
South Somerset District, Chard Crimchard Lib Dem 423, Conservative 320, BNP 154.