How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England

IPPR North researcher Lewis Goodall reflects on the 2012 local election results in Northern England.

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Lewis Goodall is a researcher at IPPR North, IPPR’s dedicated think tank for the North of England

Councillor Ron Round may well have earned the title of Generalissimo of English local government: he has the distinction of leading England’s sole one party state.

North-south-divideLast Thursday, the final four Lib Dem survivors on Knowsley council were knobbled by a Labour tidal wave which leaves all 63 councillors sporting the red rosette.

Knowsley is perhaps the best example of the continued ‘labourisation’ of Northern local politics. Labour has gained 260 seats across the North: from the Mersey to Manchester, from Tameside to the Tyne, the political map of northern England has been shaded an even deeper shade of crimson.

Labour has taken councils like Sefton which have never hitherto been controlled by the party. Of the councils with elections a week ago, Labour now have 1,737 councillors – an increase of some 260. They control 34 of those 45 councils and 7 of those are fresh skin.

Though Knowsley was alone in the unanimity of its verdict, others got pretty close. In Barnsley, Labour landed 52 out of 63 seats, and 50 out of 64 seats in Doncaster.

Conversely, the strange decline of Tory Northern England has continued apace. The Conservatives lost 122 seats or around 20% of their representation in the councils up for grabs this time in Northern regions. They have done nothing to arrest their chronic decline in the cities: Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool remain ungraced by a single Tory backside on the council chambers’ chairs.

In the mayoral elections in Liverpool, the Conservatives scored a desultory seventh place, behind even the old Liberal Party candidate; if Gladstone were still with us, he might be pleased that his old party can still land a punch on his old enemies.

 


See also:

Budget 2012: Osborne hasn’t done enough to help unemployed in the north 22 Mar 2012

The south is on its way out of recession, but the north is stuck 15 Dec 2011

Economic outlook getting bleaker and bleaker for the North, Wales and Scotland 13 Sep 2011

Beyond London and the East, the UK is suffering an ‘Osborne jobs deficit’ 18 Aug 2011

Two nation Conservatism: VAT rise hits North harder than South 6 Dec 2010


 

Labour has also benefited from Lib Dem losses. During the last Labour government, with civic Tory organisation still withering, it was the Lib Dems who established themselves as the oppositional force in Northern local government, slowly but surely seizing old Labour fiefdoms like Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield.

This process has been well and truly arrested. In fact, the farther up the M1, the worse it gets for the Liberal Democrats; compared to 2008, the swing against the Lib Dems is six per cent in the South, nine per cent in the Midlands and 12 per cent in the North.

Northern voters have clearly not tired of punishing the junior coalition partner for their marriage with the Conservatives.

In Liverpool, the Lib Dems lost nine seats, all picked up by Labour. Likewise in Manchester, the Lib Dems haemorrhaged 12 seats, all to Labour benefit. In Newcastle, Lib Dems lost six, Labour gained six. The pattern is well established and bodes ill for the Lib Dems’ parliamentary prospects. The line that they do better in seats with MPs is rendered rather moot in the North by the Burnley example, where the Lib Dems hold the Westminster seat.

For many progressives, Labour resurgence in its heartlands is welcome. Too much ground was lost in the dog days of the New Labour governments locally and the party’s moribund local base was one of the many factors responsible for its ejection from central government in 2010.

Nonetheless, there are dangers for the North in such political monogamy. For a start, one party (or near one party) rule lends itself neither to healthy nor efficacious government, irrespective of who is in charge. The threat of losing power to another side did help keep Labour on its toes. To elect is to choose and democracy cannot function without pluralism and healthy party competition.

There is a more systemic threat too. For a long time, the concerns of the Northern regions have been ignored by the two major parties. For Labour, the North could be guaranteed to return bulwarks of Labour MPs to Westminster, come what may; for the Conservatives, too, the urban North is seen, increasingly like Scotland, as something of a lost cause. These results will reconfirm both schools of thought in both parties.

This may reduce the political will to ‘rebalance’ the economy yet further. If no party perceives there to be an electoral premium in courting Northerners, then the electoral debate seems likely to remain stuck in the rigid ideological confines of what those in the ever elusive ‘Middle England’ want.

Northerners also spurned the government over its proposals to create a swath of elected mayors for our great cities. Save for Liverpool, Northern cities will be sticking with the status quo. Had the government put a different offer on the table, involving city-regional, metro mayors with real power and value, we might have got a different result.

Given that like AV and regional assemblies, city mayors have gone to join that great ideas scrapheap in the sky, a new devolved settlement for the North seems more unlikely than ever, again leaving the Northern voice isolated on a national stage.

Both parties should remember the North used to be much more politically promiscuous. Forty five per cent of Northern constituencies returned Conservative MPs in 1955 and 1959; in 1983 Margaret Thatcher claimed 42% of Northern seats.

Modern voters are fickle, as both the by-election and council results in Bradford have shown us. The North’s concerns and needs, political and economic, must be heeded and the parties must not become complacent and remember that both sides need those crucial Northern constituencies to form a majority in 2015.

Now mayors are off the table and attention geared ever more to Scotland and London, Northern political leaders of every stripe must overcome factional interest and work together for the economic and political needs of all Northerners.

 


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33 Responses to “How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England”

  1. Katie Schmuecker

    My colleague @lewis_goodall on what the local elections tell us about politics in the North http://t.co/6Iy4XMe5

  2. zeynep cansu başeren

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/jgkIdU4p

  3. petlovelytowel

    How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England: Councillor Ron Round may well have earned t… http://t.co/z6SeMRUh

  4. Max

    For your list of cities in the North that don’t have a single Tory councillor – you forgot to include Sheffield.

    Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester & Newcastle combined not having a solitary Conservative representative. That is a fearsome statistic!

  5. Lewis

    Noted for the future!

  6. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/7LbzknLz

  7. Magapanthus Smith

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/7LbzknLz

  8. Jamie

    How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/q9gG58F9

  9. Mathew Lyons

    How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/q9gG58F9

  10. Foxy52

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/7LbzknLz

  11. Richard

    However the lack of seats does not mean there is a lack of support (Conservatives got ~9% and UKIP almost 11% in Sheffield), such is the whim of our electoral system for local government in England and Wales. A fairer system (e.g. STV, as used in Scotland and NI) would produce a more representative result and much a healthier and vibrant local democracy.

  12. John Bax

    Most of those Sheffield Tory votes came in the three wards in the south-west suburbs where they came second to the Lib Dems. Everywhere else they were out-polled by UKIP, sometimes by two to one (albeit on very small numbers), sometimes coming fifth behind UKIP and the Greens in wards they once held. The rise of the Lib Dems in Sheffield and elsewhere in the north from the 1980s onwards came very largely from ex-Tory voters. Now the LibDems are in free-fall, none of that support seems to be returning to the Tories. While I agree that the electoral system should properly represent the 9% Tory voters, it’s very hard to see what base exists for the revival of the party here. Ukip as a right-wing protest party seems to have more potential.

  13. John Bax

    But not Leeds! Why are there so many Tories in Leeds?

  14. william haymes

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/z3SrxH1T

  15. Anonymous

    Funny, that argument goes over like a brick with the Tory party when applied at the national level.

    PR in Westminister!

  16. Mr. Sensible

    Richard, if some Tories are that keen on PR they should have a word with their leader…

  17. petlovelytowel

    How the Tories became an endangered species in the north | Left …: IPPR North researcher Lewis Goodall reflect… http://t.co/xO6yUNzq

  18. Anonymous

    Perhaps a “different offer” involving devolution and parliaments…

  19. Sue Hoyle

    Frm yest: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North: http://t.co/9YGooEEM by @IPPRNorth’s @Lewis_Goodall #le2012 #Vote2012

  20. Knut Cayce

    Frm yest: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North: http://t.co/9YGooEEM by @IPPRNorth’s @Lewis_Goodall #le2012 #Vote2012

  21. Yrotitna

    Frm yest: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North: http://t.co/9YGooEEM by @IPPRNorth’s @Lewis_Goodall #le2012 #Vote2012

  22. Paul Trembath

    Frm yest: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North: http://t.co/9YGooEEM by @IPPRNorth’s @Lewis_Goodall #le2012 #Vote2012

  23. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/7LbzknLz

  24. Andrew Lomas

    Agree: a rump Tory party isn't healthy >> RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North http://t.co/S55YkONf

  25. Foxy52

    Frm yest: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North: http://t.co/9YGooEEM by @IPPRNorth’s @Lewis_Goodall #le2012 #Vote2012

  26. Foxy52

    RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/7LbzknLz

  27. Steve Bull

    How the Tories became an endangered species in the north | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/Ky4c6Pk6

  28. Kevin Richards

    Next election all well extinction RT @leftfootfwd: How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England http://t.co/aroS6qRl

  29. uglyfatbloke

    Newsbot makes a good point, but both Labour and the Tories oppose democratic reform since it would end the propect of 100% of the power on the basis of 40% (or less) of the vote. It’s way past time that everybody stoped focussing quite so much on party advantage and a little bit more on what’s fair and honest; that dopes not necessatily mean Labout would benefit, but it would certainly be a huge blow to the tories. As things stand, if there were a general election next month the lib-edems would be destroyed, but the SNP would probaly take 7/8 seats from the lib dems and at least 15 from Labour, making them the 3rd party in place of the Cleggies. If it looked like Ed would secure a good victory in England and Wales Labour might actually do worse in Scotland since there would be value to voting Labour to keep the tories out. Now that FPTP would favour the gnats rather than Labour, 44% of the vote for Salmond’s party could give them over 40 MPs.

  30. diana foster

    Cam may think things are getting better in the North, but the voters disagree: http://t.co/MxoNmk9e #PMQs

  31. Brian Tomkinson

    Cam may think things are getting better in the North, but the voters disagree: http://t.co/MxoNmk9e #PMQs

  32. Janet Graham

    Cam may think things are getting better in the North, but the voters disagree: http://t.co/MxoNmk9e #PMQs

  33. The North needs more than just capital connections | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • How the Tories became an endangered species in the North of England 10 May […]

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