Liberal Democrats: On the rise again in the shires?


Lib Dem poster Pic credit:


Almost without any comment  there appears to  be quite a  Liberal Democrat transformation in voting patterns outside the big cities in the latest rounds of council by-elections

The meltdown in the 2015 general election  left the Liberal Democrats with just eight seats in Parliament.The party seemed incapable of recovering from the damage it suffered from the electorate by going into a coalition with the Tories.

Indeed last year’s council by-elections saw the Lib Dems losing more ground to the Tories in places like Woking and Brentwood. The party made a little progress in the May local elections gaining 45 seats and control of one council, Watford.

Yet since the Brexit vote the Liberal Democrats – unscathed by any party infighting – have made  no fewer than six gains – two in Cornwall and one each in Wiltshire, Surrey, Norfolk and Northampton. I have written about this in Tribune  this week.

The interesting thing is not just the gains but the huge leap in vote share by the Liberal Democrats.

The latest result in Northampton – which came in after Tribune went to press- saw in Westone the Lib Dem share up 36.4 per cent and the Tory share down 28.8 per cent. A very useful website Vote UK Forum  records that in this ward the Lib Dems – despite a low poll – garnered 268 more votes  than in the general election.

The only other factor appears to be that the Liberal Democrat had stood for a nearby area some time ago and there was some resentment that the Tory lived in a village and not in the town.

The party – like Labour – is being helped by the decline in support for the now leaderless UKIP since the referendum. UKIP appears to be both declining and having difficulty in putting up council candidates.
The Lib Dem gain from UKIP in Cornwall was caused by UKIP not putting up a candidate in a seat they already held. As a result the Lib Dem candidate won the Newquay seat with a 57 per cent share of the vote. Conservative and Labour shares were down.
Lib Dems did well defeating another independent in Cornwall and one in Trowbridge, Wiltshire where the party got 45 per cent share of the vote. In North Norfolk they roundly defeated the Tory candidate in a seat which the Lib Dems had not contested at the last council election.

The interesting point is this is not being repeated where the Liberal Democrats are fighting Labour in metropolitan areas.Apart from a modest rise in one Islington seat won convincingly by Labour and a near miss in Southwark the party is performing dismally.

Indeed the challenge to Labour -if any- has come from the Greens who nearly won a seat in the London borough of Lambeth and ate into the Labour vote in both Luton and the London borough of Newham.

This would suggest that the “Corbyn” factor has not damaged Labour in its strongholds – indeed often the opposite with the Labour share increasing. And the Voter UK website also points that the revitalised local Labour Party are by far the best in getting their local vote out – up 10 per cent on average this year. But the Tories are holding off challenges from Labour in Tory marginals.


Labour’s UKIP fear factor: A ballot box illusion


Jeremy Corbyn ; Labour doing well in council elections as UKIP declines


One of the reasons Labour MPs  are deciding to try and ditch Jeremy Corbyn is the fear that following the referendum result UKIP would become the official opposition by seizing swathes of Labour seats in the North and Midlands at the next general election.

Their ( at present) ex leader Nigel Farage boasted to journalists at a reception earlier this year that UKIP would win hundreds of seats from Labour in a Scotland style  melt down as the working class deserted Corbyn over immigration and leadership issues.

Since UKIP achieved its ambition for Brexit this month  one would expect them to be riding high every time voters went to the polls.

But the handful of council by-elections since Brexit are telling a totally different story with Labour actually increasing its share of the vote in some seats – and when under fire mainly losing votes to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Although these results are at present straws in the wind they seem to suggest that public is separating its vote to remain or leave the EU from its support for parties on domestic and local issues. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

By coincidence two of the first council by-elections  were in heartland UKIP areas in Kent and showed an increase in the Labour vote and a decline in support for UKIP.

In every other seat UKIP contested they lost their previous share of the vote and when they challenged Labour in a Luton ward for the first time came bottom of the poll with a derisory 69 votes.

The by- election in Welling in the London borough of Bexley was in a borough that voted to leave and in an unpromising ward  for Labour that included had one UKIP and two Tory councillors.

Yet the result last Thursday in St Michael’s ward saw the Labour share of the vote increase by 11.5 per cent to come a close second to defeating the Tory who recorded a 2.7 per cent increase in his share. UKIP’s share of the vote declined by 14.7 per cent.  Over 30 per cent of the electorate voted – one week after Bexley recorded a decisive vote to leave.

The second by-election in Newington in Thanet – a UKIP stronghold – saw UKIP just retain the seat by 14 votes. But the UKIP share was down four per cent and the Labour share was up 1.9 per cent. The Tory share was down 2.5 per cent.

Two other results in High Town, Luton and Leatherhead North in Surrey saw Labour lose a share of the vote but not at the expense of a declining UKIP. Leatherhead was a straight battle between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats who gained the seat with a 27 per cent  increase in the share of the vote.

In High Town the main challengers were the Green Party who clipped Labour’s majority and the Liberal Democrats who stood for the first time gaining 14.2 per cent. UKIP got 5.4 per cent of the vote. Labour’s share of the vote was down 13.4 per cent.

Conway in North Wales might be a example that detractors could quote. The Labour share of the vote in last Thursday’s by election in Mostyn fell 6.1 per cent. Local circumstances – the previous Labour councillor, a ship’s captain who hardly attended council meetings – may have been a factor.

The Tory share went up by 4.7 per cent and the Lib Dems by 4.9 per cent. But significantly the UKIP candidate – known in the area as he had stood as an independent – could only muster 75 votes -under 10 per cent of the poll. A full analysis can be seen on  this site.

Given the state of the Labour Party at the moment their performance in local councils is extremely robust. It still has to be tested in a by-election in the North and Midlands. But on the evidence so far the UKIP threat is a myth when it comes to the ballot box.

Oldham West: How Labour is defeating the UKIP challenge


Anybody who has followed UKIP’s recent performances in council by elections would not have been surprised at the resounding victory by Labour over UKIP at Oldham West, the seat held by the late Michael Meacher MP.

Once again the Westminster Parliament appeared out of touch with local reality when it assumed that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would mean the end of Labour as a serious fighting force and a close run result at Oldham, heralding a revival for UKIP.

The combination of a popular young local candidate in Jim McMahon, the leader of Oldham Council, and the fact that the Labour Party  has had a surge in membership meant that the party was well  placed to win.

The serious loser is Nigel Farage who ran a vicious anti Corbyn campaign using the worst of the deluge of bad press coverage, expecting a big boost from white working class voters in Oldham. But it didn’t happen – hence his outrageous attack today on Asian voters for keeping Labour in poll position.

This is a real problem for Farage because his entire strategy is to get the votes of mainly white working class voters in the North so he can replace  Labour as the official opposition by winning swathes of Northern seats.

This is clearly not happening in Oldham. Despite I suspect some switching  from the Tories to UKIP – resulting in the Tories very bad performance where their share of the vote dropped to under 10 per cent.

If you analyse the UKIP bad run of  council by-election results – it shows they are falling back  everywhere except in their traditional heartlands in the Fens, Kent and Essex. They are making no headway in London

The Oldham West result was preceded by a similar UKIP slump in a council by election in Chorley in Lancashire. In Chorley Labour recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes.

And there have been similar bad performances – including two last night -one in the London borough of Newham where there was an 9 per cent swing to Labour and UKIP got only 3.9 per cent of the vote.Labour got 1440 votes, UKIP, 78.

The other was in the Malvern Hills – a Tory heartland – where UKIP was pushed into third place, halving their share of the vote, to 13.3 per cent from 27.7 per cent. They got 56 votes. Labour, standing for the first time in the ward, got nearly 23 per cent of the vote, 96 votes with the Tory winning with 268 votes.

Where UKIP do have presence – their effect has been to hit the main parties without winning outright. In Ashford, Tories took a seat from Labour by two votes and in Rochford, Essex, Labour took a Tory seat by four votes.

However pundits or commentators want to play it.- this was a good result for Labour, a bad result for UKIP, and an appalling result for the Westminster Establishment who had written the Labour Party into the history books.


The full result
Jim McMahon (Labour) – 17,209 (62.11%)
John Bickley (UKIP) – 6,487 (23.41%)
James Daly (Conservative) – 2,596 (9.37%)
Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrat) – 1,024 (3.70%)
Simeon Hart (Green Party) – 249 (0.90%)
Sir Oink A-Lot (Monster Raving Loony) – 141 (0.51%)





Is Corbyn’s Labour already cutting the mustard with local voters?

Tommy Gray- Labour's biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

Tommy Gray- Labour’s biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing


One interest I found I share with Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects – which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.

Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft’s Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.

Corbyn’s mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.

In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.

They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London  and Banbury in Oxfordshire..

In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes.

In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.

In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.

The results are not mainly good  for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others.The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains  this autumn – three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat  almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.

The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from then with a swing approaching 14 per cent – but other parties also lost votes.

The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas – running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat – but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.

All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for – but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn’s victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.

The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve – otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes  the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.

Will a Tory town hall victory in May lead to bitter defeat in July?

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans

St Albans Civic Centre: One of the new Tory controlled councils. Pic Credit: St Albans

This weekend’s Observer contained a very interesting article from Toby Helm revealing that local councils are planning to lobby the government like mad to stop yet another huge wave of cuts.

What was interesting is that it was coming from the victorious Tory leaders in May’s local elections who are now fearful of having to implement heavy unpopular cuts to local services.

It has gone virtually unreported the scale of the local government gains by the Conservatives who gained of 32 councils and 541 more councillors on the back of getting a majority in Parliament. the full results are on the BBC website here.

The gains – many from  no over all control include Amber Valley (from Labour),Basingstoke, Bath,Brentwood, Broxtowe,East Staffs,Gloucester, Gravesham,Hinckley (from Lib Dems),Herefordshire,Lewes, Newark,North Warwickshire,Scarborough,St Albans,Taunton, Warwick, West Devon,Winchester,Worcester and Wyre Forest.

Labour had just three gains, Chester, Stockton-on-tees and West Lancashire but overall lost control of  three councils and lost over 200 councillors.  But this masks the scale of Labour defeat in places locally like Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead where Labour is down to two seats and the Liberal Democrats down to three, with 46 councillors from the Conservatives.The Liberal Democrats lost another 411 councillors and control of four councils, holding on to South Lakeland, Eastleigh and Eastbourne..

UKIP gained their first council in Thanet  where Nigel Farage was defeated and put on another 176 councillors.This council will become a yardstick on how UKIP run local services.

The Conservative victors have every reason to be apprehensive. Local government has borne a disproportionate share of the cuts under the now departed Eric Pickles and George Osborne is introducing an emergency budget in July. The Treasury often prefer to land local government which supplies personal services with big cuts to spare some of the lobbying from anxious Whitehall departments.

I predict that we are going to see some very radical changes to services. Private companies like Capita must be rubbing their hands with glee and many councils may have to follow the London borough of Barnet and outsource the entire council to private companies. People will soon find out that the only way to contact their council will be by a call centre – if they are lucky in England – but if unlucky in Bangalore or Chennai. The Tory victors could end up being defeated by their own austerity policies.

Election 2015: Are We Bovvered?

Driving around England just days before this week’s poll what has struck me forcibly is the absence of party political posters in ordinary people’s homes. Years ago when it was a simple two horse race with a rogue mare in a few Liberal strongholds the country would be a sea of red and blue with a spattering of orange.

Twice I have driven between Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire ( half of it not on the M1  but sticking a lot to the A5 and cutting across towns and villages Like Leighton Buzzard and Towcester) and I could count the number of party political posters on two hands. Now it may be that the old party poster is out of fashion or political support is now emblazoned on Twitter rather than the front window, but I suspect it may reflect a deeper malaise reflected in the polls.

Given that we have had a ferocious election campaign the extraordinary fact – barring a last minute switch in the next 48 hours -is that the English polls have remained roughly the same ( given a point or two ) throughout the campaign.The earth has not moved.

The exception is Scotland where the SNP looks heading for a landslide on the back of the referendum campaign – and has if anything strengthened its lead if the polls are to be believed. It could achieve a virtual wipe out of the opposition. Gordon Brown , Alastair Darling and Sir Menzies Campbell must be very relieved they stood down this election rather than face defeat at the hands of the voter.

What I suspect – beyond the hard core of supporters – is a general disillusionment with politicians, a lack of trust, and a sad view that politics can’t change things. This was shown by one Tory supporter who told me she had decided to support the party ” because things were just about all right”. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for a party which claims to have saved the country from Labour fiscal disaster, created full employment in the South and destroyed inflation. I know the Tory top guard -minimum income £67,000 a year – just can’t understand why voters aren’t flocking to them in droves to give them like the SNP either a  Thatcherite landslide or a decent working majority.They must be desperate now.

Labour seems also to have failed yet to achieve a convincing swing – though Miliband who is being portrayed as a weird wonk by the right-wing media- has actually increased his poor ratings once people saw him perform on TV. How Murdoch must regret he hasn’t got Fox News over here where he could run stories which  Sun Nation and Zelo Street highlighted – like Miliband’s plans to evict the Downing Street cat – to garner landslide Tory support from the Cats Protection League and RSPCA.

And Nick Clegg has the student tuition fees lying promise like an albatross around his party’s neck – people do not trust what he says. Individual Liberal Democrats may do better in individual seats than national polls suggest – and they could even have a freak win in Watford  over the Tories where the  Liberal Democrat mayor is fighting a ferocious campaign against strong  opposition from Labour and Tory.

As for UKIP – their highlighting of immigration and quitting the European Union – has meant they have not faded away – and still attract a significant minority of disillusioned voters but their poster count is not high either.In my view they have a nostalgic and nasty view of the modern world that won’t work in the 21st century.

And the Greens have made some inroads though not enough to gain seats – though they have a fighting chance in Bristol and Norwich.

But the general impression is a public still interested in political issues but disillusioned with politicians. The expenses scandal, and broken promises still resonate. The lack of trust can be shown by Cameron’s desperation in promising to frame in law his uncosted plans to promise no tax rises and Miliband’s promise to erect a stone monument in the Downing Street’s garden  featuring his election pledges.

My serious worry about this election is what happens next if politicians and political parties can’t garner the trust of the people.Siren voices are already suggesting getting rid of them and leaving the country-like much of society -to be run by business. The latest is Ministry of Sound man James Palumbo. His article in the Evening Standard is dangerous stuff. It suggests  simplistic solutions that would deny a proper debate about the issues. And there are real issues – but politicians have to level with the British people to regain their respect.

How Britain’s Political parties still campaign in an age of steam

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

The county council elections are upon us. Ed Miliband goes on a soapbox, leaflets are pushed through doors, canvassers turn up on doorsteps and people are supposed to rush to polling stations.

How brilliantly nineteenth century when  Gladstone and Disraeli drew crowds of thousands or even early twentieth when  Churchill (then a Liberal like Clegg) and Balfour campaigned across Manchester.

Politicians seem wedded to the old ways – like our splendid heritage railways – harking back to the glorious age of steam.

But this is the twenty-first century – the age of the internet, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and the rise of the blogger. – and the parties still – especially Labour – seem totally oblivious.

Indeed it is said that Tony Blair never communicated by computer – always getting a gopher to do his work – and  Gordon Brown tried to – but I gather his mistyping and mispelling are going to provide a field day  for commentators when his 5.30 am  e-mails are eventually released in 20 odd years time.

I see from my lobby colleague Oliver Wright (  – that Ed Miliband has asked Matthew McGregor, the British savvy computer guy who helped Obama attack dog Mitt Romney  to work on a new project for them. But this is but a straw.

Compare this to the massive success of campaigns since 2010 by groups like  38 degrees  and the glimmering of fights between Political Scrapbook and Guido Fawkes blog on the net , the rapid rise of hyper local blogs across London  from Barnet to Kidbrooke and  rural Derbyshire to West Wales. Compare  this also to the end of newspaper buying (unless free)  by almost anybody under 40, TV losing ratings, and most news being confined to a few sentences on an I phone.

Yet many politicians still behave as though the entire public still engage in debate in the same way as the crowds listening to Gladstone and Disraeli and avidly reading the morning newspapers. Sorry, I do not see people on the Berkhamsted Flyer debating the merits of Matthew Ancona versus Polly Toynbee.

It is time that  Britain’s political parties looked at how 38 degrees harnessed public opinion and not only used the net to find out what people want but engaged with their own members.

Otherwise David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are little more than replicas of Squire Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd They are sad political estate owners who give an annual Christmas party ( substitute party conferences) for their labourers who till the land (  the party faithful). Why not use  the net for dialogue with their members and bring in the public to debate the issues.

Deference is dead, people want to communicate on an equal basis. They have great freedom to express themselves, from praise to local attack dog, and through the net  reach a wider audience  than they could possibly dream about a decade ago.

But politicians cling to being patricians, all not only out of touch but out of date. None of them has to live on £50 or even £250 a week. No wonder an  old fashioned election campaign is encouraging a party harking back to a Golden Britain, UKIP. Wake up you dozy leaders, get a grip.