Iain Dale points me to two differing accounts of the local election results, one by Sean Fear and the other by Mark Pack. Dale hails the former and dismisses the latter as “desperate post election spin” but I know who I’d rather have on my psephological team.
Sean peddles the increasingly desperate-sounding myth that these results show that the Tories are back in business in the North, but his own statistics give lie to the real situation:
The Conservatives gained more than 110 seats across Yorkshire, the North West and the North East.
That would sound quite good, were it not for the fact that total Tory gains were just south of 900. Those regions represent just over a third of the population of England, yet only an eighth of Tory gains were in them. Meanwhile, Tory gains stacked up in areas where they already hold seats. In the most densely populated part of Yorkshire, the West, Sean admits that they actually went backwards. They couldn’t go backwards in many other parts of the North, because they have already been wiped out.
True, they have made a small step forward, and no doubt the Tories will be pinning their hopes on a handful of Northern seats in the next General Election. But a handful does not suggest a comeback.
Meanwhile, Mark points out that, essentially, that where the Lib Dems did badly we did very badly, but elsewhere we held our own. Iain might want to dismiss this as spin, but it is actually a very important point for a party serious about what the implications of last Thursday actually are. As has already been pointed out, the Lib Dems did well in held or target parliamentary seats – overall, they suggest that we are likely to move forward in the next General Election. Meanwhile, I haven’t done the analysis, but I suspect you will find that the Tory gains are concentrated in relatively few areas, suggesting that while they too should move forward in the next General Election, it will not be by as much as they seem to currently think they will.
A caveat to all this, before I get too carried away. I’ve been looking at these results through a Parliamentary prism. From a local government point of view, they are undeniably bad. From a longer term perspective, they are similarly bad news as they suggest a decline in a whole slew of areas that we will struggle to recover from. Jonathan Calder’s suggestion that we perhaps ought to be wanting rather more than just yet another small step forwards next time round also should be considered.
I also think that we need to look at our local politics – reasses whether we are actually practicing community politics or populist pavement politics and also use the Focuses to promote liberalism by framing the debate in liberal terms not populist terms.
I think that is very pertinent. I suspect the genuine community politicians managed to hold out against the Tory horde better than the pavement politicians. The ones who had made great gains in the past due to tactical populism will have struggled as soon as the shoe was on the other foot.
Ed Davey promised a big campaign to promote Community Politics within the party last autumn, but thus far we have seen very little sign of it. Hopefully this set of results will encourage the party to get moving on this.
One thing I do agree with Sean Fear on is the importance of local councillors to keep parties going in areas where there is no immediate prospect of parliamentary representation. The problem we have as a party is that we are terribly good at the tactical business of winning elections but not terribly good at the strategic business of developing a local party over the longer term. There are places where we are better at this than others, but how do we spread best practice, and how do we ensure there we dedicate resources to training and development without harming our target seat operation? These are questions that need to be tackled.