In the run-up to the various May 2012 elections, Left Foot Forward has teamed up with Britain-Votes.co.uk to present a series of primers on the votes; Tom Harris, editor of Britain Votes, has penned the first
With less than two months to go before the annual round of council elections on May 3rd, you can already detect the electioneering from our leading politicians.
Indeed, the spring conferences that took place last week are generally seen as the start of the campaign, which this year will involve almost all the councils in Scotland and Wales, 128 councils in England and, of course, the big battle for London.
Over the next couple of months we will be offering an overview of what to expect from this year’s elections, but first it is worth providing an overview of what this should be compared to and how that will affect the expectation levels of the political parties.
This May will be relatively quiet compared to the last few years.
In 2009 the county council elections were moved to June because of the European Parliament elections, the 2010 local elections played second fiddle to the General Election and last year’s batch of 170 councils along with the AV referendum has meant this is the first time for four years some parts of the country do not have to head to the polling stations.
Conveniently, most of the seats which will be contested in May are the same ones as the last ‘normal’ year in 2008 – in psephology, the less external factors the better if we are to make any meaningful comparisons.
The notable exception is Scotland, where the last council elections in 2007 were marred by the unusually high number of spoilt ballots following the flawed decision to hold simultaneous STV and AMS elections on the same day. This year will see the second STV elections in Scotland and it is certainly more interesting from an electoral analysis perspective than the personality driven race for the London Mayoralty.
• Across the nations, devolved parties fight the Tories 25 Feb 2012
On top of the other problems associated with the two different elections taking place in 2007 there was an extraordinary amount of under-representation by the political parties. The Scottish National Party were the biggest culprits, and their conservatism cost them a number of seats as a number of their candidates easily passed the quota on the first round but they did not have a running mate to take advantage of their transfers.
The main parties should be a lot more clued up with how to take advantage of this electoral system and coming just a year after the SNP gained an unprecedented overall majority in the Scottish Parliament the results are sure to very interesting.
Moving on to May 2008; it was certainly a round to forget for Labour as they fell behind the Liberal Democrats in the popular vote and lost more than 400 councillors, as well as control of 10 councils. This was not the sort of electoral performance Labour had expected when they finally switched from Blair for Brown the previous summer, and these results confirmed that the next couple of years were going to be hard work for the party.
Labour’s performance in Wales was particularly disappointing as they lost a number of councils to No Overall Control in their heartlands.
Labour weren’t the only party with a new leader in 2008 as the Liberal Democrats had moved on to their third in as many years. Ming Campbell resigned after the election-that-never-was didn’t happen, which led to the narrow election of Nick Clegg over Chris Huhne in late 2007.
They too would have been disappointed with their performance this year as despite edging ahead of Labour in the popular vote they had not made the breakthrough they had hoped for against such a vulnerable government. Bar a few isolated successes the Lib Dems had made little progress on the 2004 results, which were strong given the salience of both tuition fees and the Iraq War at that time.
The big winners in 2008 were undoubtedly the Conservatives as they gained 300 seats from an already high base whilst Boris ousted Ken from City Hall. After these elections the Conservatives held more council seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats put together, which underlines the vulnerability they have this May, especially after two years in power.
They will be defending the best part of 1500 seats, many of which are in Labour leaning areas of Unitary and Metropolitan councils.
In the coming weeks we will be looking at the elections in Scotland, Wales and London in more detail well as helping you cut through the spin of election night by setting some expectations of our own for the political parties.