Published on 4 May 2012

Labour on the march? Or Tories staying at home?

Look at the detailed figures for council elections in England and a pattern emerges that should temper Labour’s excitement. Look at the absolute numbers of votes cast in councils like Bury, Reading, Dudley, Southampton, Harlow, where Labour’s made serious gains in council seats and a pattern emerges. Turnout is down quite substantially from last year’s locals, from around 40 per cent to somewhere between 30-33 per cent.

In every council I’ve looked at you find that for every 10 people that voted Labour in 2011 council elections, about eight or nine voted Labour yesterday. But for every 10 that voted Tory in 2011 only six did the same thing again yesterday.

This all suggests that Labour isn’t converting ex-Tory voters in great numbers but that 2010 and 2011 Tory voters are staying at home. Ed Balls seemed close to saying that a moment ago on BBC Vote 2012. One Labour MP close to Ed Miliband told me he hadn’t met converts on the doorstep and that the party is “nowhere near” being in a winning position.

From rolling tally on London Elects website it looks like Boris Johnson is safely re-elected … also looks like the Lib Dems will struggle to hold on to 3rd place, maybe even not make it to 4th place. The big story here though will be what does Boris’ victory mean for the Tories. In Tory MPs’ away-days David Cameron (speaking through his polling man, Andrew Cooper) has consistently tried to put out a message: back the man who polls better than the party. That used to mean “Back David” but by the end of today, and with the PM’s own personal poll ratings on the slide, some will think that means “Back Boris.”

What does “Backing Boris” mean when Boris’ agenda is a maverick, unpredictable thing? Tory MPs will take whatever lessons best suit their purposes. Plenty will say it proves if you’re stridently Euro-sceptic you do better. Just how much Londoners voted with Europe on their mind when they voted for Boris is not something that will trouble them.

And Europe is coming back to haunt David Cameron. UKIP didn’t stand in that many seats but where they did they tended to get 13 pr cent. That’s on a smaller turnout and only standing where they think they have some strength. But dozens of Tory MPs will sweat looking at those figures, thinking that UKIP could make the difference in their constituency in the general election.

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5 reader comments

  1. e says:

    The turnout simply confirms that votes are available for the taking. (As if we didn’t know. Low turnouts are decade long trends are they not?). The question is can any of the current parties prove themselves capable of speaking to that trend prior to the system completely disintegrating.

    It requires honesty on an industrial scale, so more likely we will continue down the authoritarian ‘democracy’ route, in favour of global enterprise… slowly.

  2. Andrew Dundas says:

    Negative political narratives are always more powerful than positive ones. There are negative events aplenty affecting the Tories just now.
    When any party is thought to be ‘to blame’, many of its marginal supporters are likely stay at home – or ‘waste’ their votes by voting for a minority party. [The obverse is also true: when events are favourable, marginal supporters of the incumbent party are more likely to turn-out to vote].
    That explanation might help to explain what happened in both Scotland and the remainder of the UK. In Scotland, SNP share of votes rose; Labour votes rose by a little more: neither could be blamed for Westminster issues. Lib-Dems lost their marginal supporters everywhere.

    Arguably, that ‘blame game’ is what’s happening in France and the USA too.

  3. Chris says:

    Please explain to the public why photographs such as the one you are showing now of Ed Miliband are used?. What point are you trying to make exactly? Oh, I know the negative point that he is a geek, not electable.
    This sort of cruel, nasty media coverage is what the public are absolutely fed up with. There is no longer any fair balance by the media. They think they are the powerful ones, when in fact they destroy our democracy.
    It is about time they had their wings cut and made to realease the public want more fair coverage of our politics.

  4. Mudplugger says:

    The UKIP-effect is both substantial and threatening for the Tories.

    Now that there is perceived to be so little between the major parties in operational terms, the old threat that ‘a vote for UKIP would let in Labour’ is now greeted with “So What ?”. No difference, so no value in the threat now.

    UKIP may not win the seats, but that doesn’t really matter – the electorate desperately wants to send the mmessage and no-one’s listening, so, with no realistic threat hanging over them, they’ll use that ‘ultimate deterrent’ channel to get the message over.

    The voters have worked all this out and, unless Cameron takes some bold steps on Europe soon (an In-Out Referendum being the minimum), hoardes of ‘safe’ Tory MPs will see their ‘assumed votes’ leeching way in their thousands to UKIP, and with it, their seats (and pensions and expenses – ouch!).

    And they’ve only themselves to blame – the writing’s on the ballot-box wall, if only they could be bothered to read it.

  5. Andrew Dundas says:

    In most of the UK-wide elections of the last thirty years, its abstentions by former voters of the losing party that are the most notable change. As it was this May.
    In May 1997, Labour’s ‘landslide’ was caused mostly by Tory voters in marginals either switching to Lib-Dems or simply staying at home. Only a small minority could bring themselves to actually cast a vote for ‘New Labour’.
    Lib-Dems and SNP are often the gainer of other parties’ discontents, rather than gaining from the specific merits of their policy.

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