Nationally, the big story was the surge in UKIP support. Of course, they gained about 140 councillors, while Labour gained 291 (undoing the losses from 2009). And I have seen claims – and no evidence to disprove them – that UKIP didn’t take any Labour seats. In the South Shields by-election, the ‘shock’ was UKIP coming second, but it was a distant second to the Labour victor.
The big losers were the Tories, who are either calmly putting it down to mid-term protest votes or panickedly urging the government to tack rightwards and bash Europe and immigrants. The Lib Dems had a bad time, but more so in the areas they don’t do that well in, and where UKIP were not so active. The Greens made gains around the country.
But as these are Shire county elections in the main (with a couple of Mayoral elections – two gains for Labour there), they are not necessarily going to reflect the national picture, so even trends compared to 2009 may be distorted compared to other local elections years. Still, putting the projected national vote share from the Beeb (Lab 29%, Con 25%, UKIP 23%, LDs 14%) into UNS seat predictors for a General Election gives Labour a slim majority – a feature of First Past the Post that will perhaps have Tories ruing their opposition to AV two years ago.
But, Rugby. Well, Warwickshire before that. The Tories lost control to a hung council, seeing seats in the north of the county fall. Labour gained 12 seats from the 2009 result to be not far behind, but far enough that it would be difficult to try and run the council in coalition. The Lib Dems lost a few to go down to 9 seats, and could hold the balance of power, but I hear that neither of the main parties wants to treat with them. The Greens gained two (one from the leader of the Tories up in Nuneaton, one from Labour in Leamington), and there were two new independents to add to the one already there.
UKIP didn’t put many candidates up, although they did get about 20% or so of the vote when they did – but that wasn’t enough to win a seat, just get some second places. I was surprised that they didn’t have candidates across all of the areas affected by HS2, given their stance on it and how they’d been claiming last week it would make a difference in Warwickshire. Are they not well organised around here, or perhaps better at vetting candidates than other UKIP branches?
The pattern seems to show that Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats are very likely to go back to Labour in 2015. Leamington & Warwick and Rugby seem a little more tenacious.
In Rugby, UKIP were somewhat of a factor, perhaps – and they may be wishing they had stood elsewhere or had more candidates. Labour gained three seats in the town, partly perhaps due to Tory defectors to UKIP, but also it has to be said due to a fairly consistent swing across the town of 9-10% from Tory to Labour. I would say that the main difference UKIP made was to increase the size of Labour majorities there.
I know Labour were hopeful of winning Admirals back, having lost it in 2009, but it is an area that has changed a lot since last being won by a Labour candidate – Cawston Grange having been developed greatly in that period). Had UKIP stood and got the 20-25% they did elsewhere, however, it could easily have been another Labour gain.
In places where Labour has in recent times been in third place – such as the two-seat divisions of Hillmorton & Eastlands and Caldecott, they are right in the mix. The Lib Dems comfortably won in Hillmorton & Eastlands, but one of the Labour candidates was third ahead of the Tories (and while the other Labour candidate was sixth, the combined Labour vote was higher than the Tory vote). Caldecott saw the Tories hold, but with a cut majority and with Labour and Lib Dem candidates so close they alternated places. Caldecott may be another seat where a UKIP candidacy might have had a major impact.
Outside the Town, the Tories saw their majorities hit, but even in Fosse where UKIP took a chunk these are pretty solid seats for blue. The exceptions, as for last year’s Borough elections, were ex-Tory Howard Roberts winning as an Independent in Dunchurch (causing some mean-spirited comments from some jilted Tories) and Labour taking a seat from the Tories in Bulkington – Dunchurch is in Rugby Borough but not the Parliamentary seat, Bulkington is in Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough but is in the Rugby Parliamentary seat.
In my own race, the by-election for Bilton in the Borough Council, I came third, behind a safely re-elected Tory and a strong showing from UKIP. I did manage to come above the strong local Lib Dem candidate Bill Lewis, which was my main aim. It would have been nice to come second and reduce the Tory majority, but it was not to be.
So what does it tell us? Well, if Labour are to retake the Rugby seat in the General Election, it seems there is more to do. However the swing was large (and larger than the national average), which is better than the 2011 and 2012 Borough elections. The Lib Dems appear to be spent as a force outside the Eastern corner and Overslade/Caldecott, and so their 2010 support appears to be moving away. The Greens and TUSC are still putting up candidates but at the end of the day not really making many inroads – Green share of the vote fell where they stood in Rugby (even if they are doing rather better in other parts of the County). So it seems that the problem of a ‘split left vote’ is less acute for Labour than before. The Tories have been until now successful at holding their vote, but this time did see it slip, especially when the ‘split right vote’ problem emerged in the form of UKIP.
If UKIP in and around Rugby start to build up to the level of activity they have in other areas, they could well be a major headache for the Tories – next year sees Borough elections for the least secure seats won in 2012 and the European elections. But it’s still very uncertain whether that would carry through to a General Election. For Labour, it does have to be about getting a good candidate (and there should be one in place soon) and trying to win on our own terms.