Labour’s devastating summer of appalling council by-election results

Sir Keir Starmer: Labour’s bad record in council by-elections

Council by election results are not always a guide to a party’s performance in a general election because local issues can determine how people vote. But they are a guide to how the most politically active think since the people who vote are likely to be those most interested their local community. They are also a guide to how each political party can get their vote out and are real results – not an opinion poll.

Whatever way you put it this summer- with a couple of exceptions- has been a disaster for Sir Keir’s Starmer’s new model Labour Party. As well as the high profile Parliamentary loss of Hartlepool to the Tories, only just holding on to Batley and Spen and the collapse of the Labour vote to the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham it is the local council by-election results that have been particularly bad.

Since this is against the background of a pretty incompetent Tory government facing allegations of corruption and mucking up people’s summer holiday arrangements by constantly changing the rules and causing confusion about what, if any, rules to follow to keep safe from Covid 19, it is no mean achievement for Labour to lose more electoral support.

The by-election results also show that underneath the serenity of a successful and well organised NHS vaccination programme the political scene is pretty volatile. Council seats that should have naturally stayed under the same party’s control are falling to other parties with enormous changes in vote share. The trouble is that in England and Scotland Labour is not the beneficiary. The exception is Wales. In the one Welsh by-election in the Rhondda, Labour did do well with the Tory share falling significantly.

The pattern that is emerging for Labour- from both the Midlands and the North- is that the Tories are consolidating the gains they made in 2019 and wooing the working class vote in once safe Labour areas. If this continues Labour under Starmer might lose more Parliamentary seats in a snap election in 2023 than Corbyn lost in 2019 and the Conservative Home dream list of scores of fresh Tory gains in Yorkshire , the North East, and the East and West Midlands become reality. In Yorkshire alone this means 11 seats could go.

Tories consolidating 2019 election gains

Examples of consolidation include Tory by-election wins from Labour in Grimsby, Bassetlaw and Sandwell and North East Lincolnshire. In Sandwell the Tory share of the vote was up 20 pc, the Labour share down 13.7 per cent. In Bassetlaw, the East Retford South seat saw the Labour share down 47 per cent and the Tory share up 25 per cent with the intervention of an Independent.

Even more concerning for Labour should be by-election results in Leicester, Harlow and Basildon. In Leicester Tories gained their first seat on the council with an 18 per cent rise in vote share while Labour slumped nearly 16 per cent. With the full council up for election next year, the Tories are hoping for large scale gains and possibly one of the city’s Parliamentary seats soon.

In Harlow and Basildon Tories took council seats in Labour areas like Pitsea in Basildon and Mark Hall in Harlow. The Labour vote share was down 16 pc in Basildon and Tories up nearly 15pc. In Basildon the Tory share was up 24 per cent enough to take the seat from Labour who kept a 41 per cent vote share. These new towns used to have Labour councils and Labour MPs like Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. In Hemel there are now no Labour councillors.

Greens having remarkable results

The Tories are on the defensive in rural England and the South and West of England. But the main beneficiaries are the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The Greens had a remarkable result in Somerset going from nowhere to 64.9 per cent vote share when the Liberal Democrats did not contest the seat. They held on to a seat in Staines just outside London, and gained seats in Aldeburgh in Suffolk and Mid Sussex from the Tories. In Aldeburgh they just pipped the Tories with a 26 per cent rise in vote share and in Balcombe, Mid Sussex they won a little more convincingly with a 13 per cent rise.

Lib Dems winning “safe” Tory council seats

The Liberal Democrats also did well winning seats from the Tories in Knaresborough, King’s Lynn, all with big swings in their vote share ( 28pc in King’s Lynn and 20 per cent in Knaresborough). In some seats the Labour vote switched to the Lib Dems, in other cases it remained steady but the Lib Dems leapfrogged Labour. The Lib Dems also took a seat from the Tories in Cobham in Dominic Raab’s Esher constituency with a 18.4 per cent rise in vote share. Labour did benefit on East Devon council when the voters switched to Labour when the Lib Dems did not stand winning a seat at Honiton.

In Scotland Labour lost a council seat to the SNP on West Lothian council, Vote share was down by nine per cent.

What does this all mean? Difficult to gauge from a clutch of by-election results, but it does suggest the electorate is particularly volatile and not necessarily enamoured with the Tories in rural areas. But it shows Labour has a long way to go.

The worst scenario would be if the Labour Party continued to haemorrhage votes to the Tories in the provincial cities and to the Greens and Liberal Democrats elsewhere. In the end the internal disputes could lead to the Socialist members permanently switching to the Greens and the moderate members switching to the Liberal Democrats. It would mean the end of Labour as a mainstream party. It hasn’t come to that yet, but could be unless Labour comes forward with a much more aggressive and thought provoking agenda.

Election 2019: What is the best offer for 3.8 million pensionless 50s born Women voting on Thursday ?

BackTo60 outside the Royal Courts o Justice demanding compensation

Thursday’s election offers a defining moment for some 3.8 million women who have had to wait for up to six years for their pension.

None of the parties are offering full restitution for the women – which could still be won in the courts if the Court of Appeal gives permission to appeal the High Court’s dismissal of the judicial review bought by the BackTo60 campaign.

There is however a very big difference in what is (or not) on offer because we have an unexpected general election this week.

The most comprehensive and only detailed offer comes from the Labour Party.

The offer is not full restitution but for those born between April 1950 and April 1956 it promises substantial compensation. It is less generous after this tailing off altogether by April 1960.

The offer starts at £400 for those who lost the least and rises to £31,379 for those born around April 1955. It is a universal payment but is taxable.

John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, has promised both further negotiation with all the groups involved and early implementation. He has set February 5 next year – the date of both Labour’s or the Conservative’s Budget – for the full announcement. He also announced recently that repayments could either be at the rate of £100 a week over five years or an annual lump sum.

At the moment this is the only firm offer in town and he has been roundly criticised by the other two main parties for the cost of ther compensation which amounts to £58 billion over five years. Some Labour candidates want to go further and pay full compensation – notably candidates standing in Hemel Hempstead and Ian Duncan Smith’s seat in Chingford.

The Conservatives are offering nothing after Boris Johnson at first suggested he would look at it and then said it was too complicated to compensate people and he did not have the money to do so. All Conservative candidates have been told by the party not to pledge any money to help them.

The Liberal Democrats have also been critical with Jo Swinson, their leader at one stage denouncing Labour’s offer as offering ” something for nothing ” to 3.8 million 50s born women.

They do back a reference to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who is going to look at six test cases to see if compensation is justified. This will take time though and will certainly not be delivered in time scale envisaged by Labour. Any offer depends on whether the Parliamentary Ombudsman does think there has been maladministration.

The Welsh Nationalists-Plaid Cymru – say there is a moral case to back the women.

Adam Price, their leader said:There is a moral debt that is owed to these women … scrap Trident – that will save you £205bn … HS2 – there is a £100bn there – I’ve saved you £300bn – there’s money to spare for the WASPI women.

Intriguingly the possibility of abolishing Trident would come if a minority Labour government joined forces with the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists – who both have a commitment to abolish Trident while Labour at the moment do not.

The Scottish Nationalist Party have always had warm words for the 50s born women and do want them properly compensated. But they have failed, unlike Labour, to say exactly what they would do.

UKIP have not mentioned the plight of the 50s women at all.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party have a strong commitment towards 50s born women – they are the only party to support a special temporary measure offering full compensation. But they only have a tiny representation in Parliament – and have fallen out big time with the Conservatives over Johnson’s Brexit deal. Should Labour form a minority government, they could like the Nationalists, put pressure on Labour to improve their offer.

The Green Party have avoided a direct commitment to compensation but instead offered a basic pension of £178 a week and a supplement for lone pensioners.

It is your choice who you vote for – but if getting compensation is your main priority this election you should look very carefully at what is on offer and weigh up which party could deliver. It is a once in a lifetime chance to influence events.

The surreal 2019 local election results

Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow

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The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.

The voting results Pic credit: BBC

They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.

The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.

England scoreboard

PARTYCOUNCILLORSCHANGE +/-
Conservative3564-1330
Labour2021-84
Liberal Democrat1352+705
Green265+194
UKIP31-145
Others1177+660

So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.

However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.


The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.

The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.

When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.

The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.

Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.

And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.

The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.

The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).

What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.

Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.

We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.

Local Elections 2018: Reality triumphs over expectation

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Local elections 2018 Pic credit:BBC

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The local elections have been portrayed  in the mass media as a disappointment for Labour ,a shot in the arm for Theresa May and a revival for the Liberal Democrats

In the pre election scenario Labour were expected  to  sweep all before them winning Tory councils in London and elsewhere, Theresa May was going to face a dire night and the Lib Dems were not going to do so well because of their poll ratings.

Yes  Labour are partly to blame for creating this scenario  with the promise of a Momentum style surge knocking  the Tories out of Barnet, Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon in London and winning Swindon, Plymouth and Trafford outside the capital. They had high expectations after the surprise  rebirth under Jeremy Corbyn in the last general election and thought another heave would do it.

But it would be very foolish to write up these elections as the end of Labour’s progress or  ruling out a slow revival of the Liberal Democrats.

For a start the final analysis of voting by the BBC shows that if there was a  general election was based on these voting figures Labour would have got another 21 seats, andbecome the largest party in Parliament . The Tories would have lost 38 seats and the Lib Dems gained another 10. If that had  happened last year Theresa May would not have been able to form a government and it would be Labour plus a coalition that would be negotiating with Brussels.  And if you compare it with last year’s council elections it was the Tories making nearly all the gains. not Labour.

A more detailed analysis shows why this is true. Although Labour did not gain the breakthrough to take another four London boroughs from the Tories, their vote share was much nearer than their seat share. In Westminster where the Lab vote share jumped by 7.6 per cent – the difference in percentage support between Labour and the Tories is not much more than point. In Wandsworth there is only a 150 votes difference between the Tories and Labour running the council.

Even in Barnet where Labour’s self inflicted wound over antisemitism  led to a 13 seat Tory majority- the Tories biggest gains – the Labour share of the vote went up 2.8 pc but was trumped by a 6.6 per cent rise for the Tories.

Also not noticed in London is that Labour increased the number of seats on councils they already run, notably in Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hammersmith and Fulham and Waltham Forest – which will make it difficult for the Tories to regain Parliamentary seats.

In Swindon where Labour gained just one seat more people voted Labour than Tory but obviously not in the key wards. Interestingly in Plymouth where Labour won the council, more people voted Tory than Labour but not in the right places.

Also where councils switched from no overall control to Tory control – it was often by a couple of seats in places like Peterborough. The one exception was Nuneaton and Bedworth where the Tories were robbed – they got 51 per cent of the vote there but could win enough seats to take the council.

The other big factor which stymied Labour  and helped the Tories was UKIP. Many UKIP voters became Tories so they could get a hard Brexit. In Basildon and Great Yarmouth this gave the Tories the edge over Labour.  Labour did take  back seats from UKIP, but the Tories took more. In Great Yarmouth former UKIP candidates actually became Tory candidates. Britain Elects shows this disparity examining 81 UKIP losses with the Tories gaining 47 seats from UKIP while Labour gained 30.

It should not be a total surprise that the Lib Dems do well in local elections, they have won quite  a number of by-elections over the last year. But in three councils- where the whole authority was up for grabs – they did spectacularly well, trouncing the Tories. These are South Cambridgeshire, Richmond and Kingston, where they won sweeping gains pushing the Tories out. They also won seats in Hull, Sunderland  and Gosport but were pushed back in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.

So what is the prospect? The Tories can take comfort that they were not trounced and could claim a mandate for a hard Brexit after hoovering up  much of the UKIP vote. It is rather ironic that Theresa May treated councils she had not lost  as a victory parade-normally you go to places to celebrate a Tory gain.

Labour need to tackle the antisemitic issue promptly and to reflect soberly on how they need more than an incompetent government to form a majority administration. And the Lib Dems need to build on their local government base as a springboard to win  more seats in Westminster.

The reality for all parties is that it is going to be a hard slog to get or stay in government.