I wrote a short piece on the local elections on CiF yesterday, which is now live. At the time I was struggling to come up with a proper assessment of how the Lib Dems had done in the local elections so mostly concentrated on the departure of Lord Rennard, but I did write this:
The Lib Dems’ performance in the local elections last week appears to be a perfect example of the perniciousness of the British electoral system. Our overall share of the vote was up but we haemorrhaged councillors because of a swing from Labour to the Conservatives and independents. The Tories certainly performed strongly in this election, but their gains massively outweigh their share of the vote. This ought to make any right-minded individual seethe with a sense of injustice.
At the time I was wondering if the final Lib Dem tally would actually end up positive. Looking at the BBC results service yesterday, every time I refreshed our negative score got a bit smaller. In the end, the BBC have recorded a net -4 result for the party. However, Sky are saying -47.
Why the difference? Well, it seems that the BBC are counting all the new unitaries as entirely new and thus not recording them as gains or losses for any party, while Sky are basing it on notional results. I have to say that Sky are right – these unitaries didn’t appear out of nowhere and in the case of Cornwall they have simply phased out all the district councils. Nonetheless, -47 is an uncomfortable result for the party.
Tim Montgomerie has been jumping up and down on ConservativeHome and the “independent” PoliticsHome to brand this as “the decline of the Liberal Democrats” but let’s have a bit of perspective. Firstly, there is the fact that by all accounts the Lib Dems got more votes on Thursday than in any other set of county council elections. Hardly a decline. Secondly, these losses are almost exclusively limited to the South West – where we had the most to lose. Discount the South West and we made a healthy net gain of seats overall.
Clearly something happened in the South West. Tim puts it all down to the tactical genius of Eric Pickles and the fact that the Tories have finally learned that goose-stepping and doing Hitler salutes (figuratively speaking) isn’t a particularly effective way to win votes. However, we are talking about the South West here and on a day where the county council elections coincided with the European elections. The South West is notoriously eurosceptic and this was presumably a major factor as well. And in Cornwall in particular there is a lot of strong feeling about the creation of the unitary – this almost certainly hurt us.
Should the party have diverted more funds to battling the Tories and UKIP in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset? I’m sure a lot of people in the area think so and it might have stopped Tim from being able to crow today, but long term it would have been foolish. But it might also have simply been a collossal waste of money. You can’t simply throw money around and employ a bag of tricks and win elections. One would have thought that a Conservative, of all people, would understand that.
Hopefully we’ll have some decent county-by-county analysis of these results to chew over soon. My guess is that it will throw up some appalling examples of undemocratic results. Labour have been wiped out in many parts of the country, but they still got more than 1-in-5 votes. The Tory share of the vote is not particularly high and has plunged compared to last year. Their success nationwide is almost entirely down to the collapse of the Labour vote.
I’m sure a lot of Tories reading this will retort that all this is just sour grapes, but what is the point of an election if it doesn’t reflect public opinion? What’s worse, it creates a political vacuum in places through which extremists rush through (Hugh Muir seems to absolve the Lib Dems of this in his article today – he shouldn’t. The English Democrats’ victory in Doncaster yesterday for instance was helped by the local Lib Dems’ decision not to field a candidate).
These results ought to be a wakeup call. Sadly, the media has now switched all its attention back on Labour infighting.