by Frank Schnittger
Fri May 3rd, 2019 at 04:59:06 AM EST
The UK Local Council elections took place yesterday and the votes are currently being counted. The elections took place in much of England and all of N. Ireland but not in Scotland, Wales, London and smaller parts of England. Turnout has been quite low, in the 30-40% range, but this is normal for local elections if they are held on their own. The last major Local elections were held in 2015 at the same time as the general election of that year.
Despite the growing disparity between the performance of the Conservatives and Labour, the BBC is still headlining its Election report by saying "the Conservatives and Labour have lost hundreds of seats"... The Conservatives and UKIP, the leave supporting parties have lost a combined 1,500 seats, while the Lib Dems and Greens, Remain supporters, have gained 900. And yet Corbyn and May think the elections represent a mandate to complete Brexit.
With 100% of the votes counted, the main trend is that pro-Remain Lib Dems and Greens are gaining a lot of seats at the expense of the Pro-Leave Conservatives and UKIP parties. The Conservatives have lost 1,334 seats. Labour, which has tried to have it both ways, has ended up treading water and losing 82 seats and control of some councils. The other major trend has been a big gain for independent candidates at the expense of the major incumbent parties - usually the Conservatives, but sometimes Labour as well.
Overall this has been a very poor result for the two main parties, and a triumphant comeback for the Liberals. It has also been a debut for the Greens as major players on the UK political scene. It is not clear from the BBC website, where the graphic below is sourced, whether it adjusts for the fact that London (a Labour stronghold) did not go to the polls yesterday.
The new Brexit and ChangeUK parties are not contesting these elections so these early results are not necessarily a clear indicator for how the European Parliament elections will turn out. Local elections are also often fought on local issues, but on this occasion many candidates reported that Brexit was the most important issue for most voters.
The talking heads for the various parties and "expert" commentators on the BBC are putting these results down to four main factors:
- It is normal for the Governing party to lose seats the longer it has been in power. Labour lost several thousand seats at the equivalent stage after 9 years in power. Up until now the Tories have only lost 500 seats.
- The position of a party on Brexit, and the clarity with which it has articulated that position.
- Voters tend not to vote for divided parties.
- In some areas particular local factors may have had a decisive influence.
In the Northern Ireland 2014 local elections the DUP won the most seats even though Sinn Fein which most votes. The Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party did relatively well. It will be interesting to see if they can sustain that relative success.
The last N. Ireland Local Elections at the same time as the European Parliament elections which would have boosted the turnout. This time around turnout is also estimated to be quite high, at 50-55%, and the first results are now in. It is too early to discern any trend, however.
The big question in N. Ireland is whether the big two parties - DUP and Sinn Fein - will suffer the same fate as the big two in England - Conservatives and Labour - and suffer a loss of seats to some of the smaller parties, the Official Unionists, Alliance, Greens and SDLP.
While England has been in the grips of Brexit paralysis, the political situation in N.Ireland is, if anything, much worse. Not only have the DUP been pursuing a hard Brexit policy against the wishes of the majority of N. Ireland voters, but the N. Ireland Assembly and Executive has been in abeyance for over two years because of a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
The Renewable Heat Initiative scandal is still rumbling on, and violence has returned to the streets. Voters may well use the local elections to register a protest against the stalemate, although most observers still expect the poll to degenerate into a tribal headcount.
With over half the seats filled, patterns are beginning to emerge in the N. Ireland Local elections. However it would be wrong to read too much into these initial results. The final seat totals for each party will only become clearer as the lower preference votes of defeated candidates are distributed. Sometimes, in the Single Transferable Vote multi seat constituency system, winning a lot of the early seats with poll topping performances can be a very wasteful use of votes, and the party with less first preferences better distributed between viable candidates can end up with the more seats.
Remarkably, I can find no data on the percentage of the first preference vote for each party, particularly, by comparison with 2014. The initial indications are that the changes since 2014 are reasonably minimal, although Alliance and the Greens have done particularly well.