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Friday, May 04, 2012 

End of the beginning.

There is always the danger of reading far too much into local election results. By any yardstick both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats ought to have done badly yesterday, and indeed they have. The Liberal Democrats are playing their losses down, despite how this leaves them with fewer councillors than at any time since the Liberals merged with the SDP. They obviously hope that this will be as low as they go, but they seem to forget that 80% of the cuts are still to come, as have the Tories, and there is still no growth in sight.

All the same, Labour's gains are solid without being truly spectacular. The overall share of the vote, rather than being in line with results where the governing party went on to lose power does instead resemble Labour in the 80s and the Tories in the first half of the 00s. This said, we are still only two years into the coalition and have only recently reached the point at which Labour has been seeing a lead in the opinion polls that would give them a comfortable majority if repeated at an election. If nothing else it will end any murmurings about Ed Miliband's leadership, and about time too.

It is also lovely to see certain Tories so quickly turning their fire on the leadership for not being right-wing enough. It seems to have passed them entirely by that the main concerns at the moment are not immigration, crime, Europe or gay marriage, except among the usual minority, but the economy, jobs and standard of living, all of which they are less quick to be critical about. Likewise, for all the talk of the rise in support for UKIP, it's only turned into a gain of one seat, regardless of how it may have cost the Tories in places; the Greens by contrast have gained four overall. The BNP's collapse meanwhile has continued, leaving them with a pitiful four councillors in total. If there is a swing to parties to the left and right of Labour and the Tories as there has been across Europe, then it hasn't gone to the furthest extremes.

Inevitably, if Ken loses in London as he seems certain to, then the Tories will point to Labour not making the key gain they needed to. As said before, letting Ken stand again was a huge mistake as it allowed Boris to turn the election into a battle of personalities, with policies coming a very distant second. For the most part the rest of the country seems to have seen London and said, nope, we don't want that here. And thank goodness for that.

Update: Approximately 20 years later, it turns out Boris has won by about 60,000 votes. Fairly apparent that with a David Lammy or an Alan Johnson there would now be a Labour mayor to go with the 800+ council seats. Great to see Jenny Jones grab third place, and by 8,000 votes over Brian Paddick, and also impressive that Siobhan Benita ran the Lib Dems close. You also suspect though that UKIP would have done hell of a lot better had they not for some reason been down on the ballot under their slogan rather than as UKIP.

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It's not entirely surprising that the Tories have started fighting, and occasionally quite viciously too: very much like cats in a sack.

Why? because even the ones I quite like are terrible losers. One of the jokes about the Green Party (disclaimer: I'm a member) is that we're such good losers because we do it so often. But it's sort of true: that experience means don't have the sense of massive entitlement that I think the Tories - especially in the heartlands - have to a local council seat.

After all, their chums in the local Conservative Association often have seats on multiple levels of local government all at once. So why haven't they been presented with one this time round? It's just not fair!

One story, that's gone a little under-reported as far as I can tell, is that Witney and Charlbury district council votes - in the heart of Cameron's constituency - have swung rather violently towards Labour and, to our pleasant surprise, the Green Party. Someone less partisan than me might provide an interesting narrative of why. The word is, though, that this swing made the atmosphere at the count was really rather hostile, for the very reasons of entitlement that I mentioned above. It's a shame, if only because back before it was dominated by a Tory clique, the local town council was certainly much more healthy and multipartisan.

I did see that, and it is fascinating. I'd hazard it could be a backlash against the whole idea of the Chipping Norton set among the locals and embarrassment at the portrayal of their home, but that might be a slightly shallow reading.

Having spoken to my aunt in Lancashire, and she mentioned this very thing (although not in huge detail) I have to admit that it must have had more coverage than I spotted. I would've come back here sooner, but your archive links seem broken somehow - a PHP error? - so it's been a bit difficult to rediscover this post.

I would say: the dirty secret about Chipping Norton is that the town often returns Labour, at different levels of local government. We looked at historical trends across a few years, and "Chippy" tends to have quite a mix of red. So I think the Chipping Norton results are themselves less surprising than Witney's own.

Last century, Witney frequently had a hung town council; whether the recent swing is a sign that the long-lasting clique that turned it an unhealthily pure blue is finally losing its grip or not, I don't know. But if that rhetorical flourish isn't informed by my own political prejudices, I don't know what is.

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