Election scorecard: how did we do?

26th May, 2014 6:56 pm

Every year I look in advance of the May elections at what the measures of success will be for Labour. This year’s article is here.

After the elections I check to see how we did.

This year we had both European Parliament and local authority elections.

For the local elections I outlined four measures of success: national vote share, raw number of councillors, number of councillors gained and number of councils controlled.


The accepted measure of national vote share for local elections is the BBC projected national vote share, which factors in an estimate for those areas which did not have elections this year. It therefore irons out any artificial boost Labour received from this year’s elections including London and the metropolitan boroughs but not many shire areas. The BBC says Labour got 31%, the Tories 29%. Labour is therefore up 2% since last year, the Tories up 3%. Labour therefore passes the test of coming first.

It looks like Labour now has about 7180 councillors, the highest number since the 2003 elections, which were held before the full impact of the unpopularity of the Iraq War was felt.

I suggested 200 net gains of councillors would be a stretching target and 150 was more likely. We passed both these benchmarks easily, with a net gain of 338 (with one council still to declare at time of writing). To disaggregate this between London and non-London, I thought we would be lucky to get 25 gains in London because of the high starting point in 2010 when the London borough elections had already been very strong for Labour. In fact we made an astonishing 201 gains in London. This means that outside London we made 137 net gains against a target I suggested of 125 – more modest than in London but still impressive.

In terms of control of councils, we made a net gain of six councils, taking us to 124. This is the best total we have had since 2002 and means we now control 70 more councils than at the last General Election, including most of the powerful and populous London and Metropolitan boroughs, giving us considerable executive power in many areas of the UK.

Of the three specific targets I mentioned, we gained Cambridge and Redbridge but West Lancashire only went from Tory to hung rather than outright Labour control.

I highlighted Crawley, Walsall and Worcester as authorities where we would want to make gains without necessarily taking control. In Crawley we exceeded expectations by actually taking control of the council direct from the Tories. In Walsall we missed taking control by one seat which may mean we can take control on the mayor’s casting vote. In Worcester we gained a seat but remain two short of a majority.

Whilst UKIP gained councillors their vote share was actually down 6% from the high point of last year’s local elections. Their gains from Labour were of two distinct types – replacing the Tories, BNP and Lib Dems to garner the anti-Labour vote in places like Rotherham, where they can’t affect the General Election as the seats are very safe; and creating an unpredictable multi-party politics in some east coast marginals which could now go any of three ways in 2015.

The Tories lost control of a net 11 councils including a group of four in South Essex (where we also lost control of Thurrock) which is clearly, and given the “white flight from London” demographic expectedly, a UKIP heartland (it was the first area to turn against Blair in 2001, again because of Europe and immigration). Their other losses included Amber Valley, iconic Basildon, Crawley, Peterborough and Croydon, all of which are significant in General Elections, and their London Neo-Thatcherite flagship Hammersmith & Fulham. They did well to hold onto Swindon.

In terms of parliamentary marginals, Labour won in target seats including Amber Valley, Bradford East, Burnley, Bury North, Cambridge, Carlisle, Colne Valley, Crawley, Dudley South, Harlow, Hastings, Ipswich, Keighley, Limcoln, Norwich North, Pendle, Peterborough, Plymouth Devonport, Reading West, Swindon South (despite not taking control of the council), Warrington South, Weaver Vale, Wolverhampton South West and all the London targets plus some seats like Enfield Southgate which is not on our target list and was lost in 2005 not 2010. Outside London it looked like our 2005 victory, inside it looked like the 1997 landslide.

For the European Parliament elections I suggested we should be happy with 25% of the vote and 7-10 extra MEPs. We got … 25% of the vote and 7 extra MEPs. Our vote share is up nearly 10% from the low point of 2009 (i.e. we got two thirds more votes than then) but is also higher than the 23% we scored in 2004 which was a year before we won a General Election. It’s thus our best European Parliament result since the first PR election in 1999, 15 years ago, in the context of a UKIP vote of 28%. Given the tiny gap between Labour and UKIP we would have come first for the first time since 1994 if 175000 people had voted Labour instead of UKIP (about 15000 per region). Important for the “One Nation” narrative is that we won an MEP in every region, including the south west where we jumped from 5th to 3rd.

For the Tories the European result was the first time they have not won these elections for 20 years, the lowest number of MEPs they have ever had, and the first time they have ever come third in a nation-wide election.

For the Lib Dems it was their worst result since 1989 when they were in crisis after the Liberal/SDP merger. They were only a handful of votes away from losing every single one of their ten MEPs. They came fifth which is even worse than their fourth place in 1989.

Despite some hype about the Greens taking votes from Labour’s left flank and them overtaking the Lib Dems, they actually lost vote share compared to 2009 and were beaten by Labour in Brighton and Oxford which they had won last time.

It would be absurd to suggest Labour hasn’t lost potential supporters to UKIP, that this isn’t a serious problem and we need to work out how to win them back. I should caution that the stance needed to win some of them back might involve policy choices that are unpalatable to our existing supporters and incompatible with our core values! But the initial assessment that UKIP hurts the Tories far more than Labour remains correct – UKIP represents a serious problem for Labour (particularly in a specific batch of east coast seats such as Thurrock, Great Grimsby and Great Yarmouth) but an existential threat to the Tories as well as being a serious short term threat to their ability it form a majority in 2015, both by siphoning off votes in critical marginals and because they may win half a dozen primarily Tory constituencies outright. I remain convinced we should be resourcing a couple of seats in Kent that were Labour until 2010 and will be three-way marginals because of UKIP e.g. Sittingbourne & Sheppey and Thanet South.

Overall these were clearly not elections when Labour swept all before it (except in the inner urban areas where we achieved a virtual monopoly of councillors). This is not 1996. But no one has suggested it was or could be. These represent steady gains, achieved in the context of a new four party politics, which mean we can win in 2015 but it will be close fought and come down to the campaign in individual marginal constituencies. In this context Lord Ashcroft’s mega-poll of the marginals showing Labour doing better in the marginals than nationally and on track to gain 83 seats may be as important to this weekend’s picture as the two actual sets of elections. Our field operation is already operating at a very high level, we now have a good armoury of attractive policies. The obvious flaws in our top level communications performance now need to be urgently addressed.

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail moderator@labourlist.org
  • Duncan Hall

    This is worrying, Luke, I’m agreeing with you again…

    • reformist lickspittle

      This is indeed a very level headed analysis.

      Which is not to deny we could and should have done (even) better, especially in the European elections. We really should have topped the poll in the W Mids and Yorkshire regions, and finished second in the E Mids. And the result in Wales was – for whatever reason(s) – genuinely poor.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    I agree. Solid result in the places that counted. The big challenge is that 4 party politics with a UKIP vote that represents a clear segment of the electorate and will not go away could turn a ‘35% Strategy’ (whether it is the approach or not) into a ‘33% or 31% Result’ for the largest party and the biggest challenge after the election will be the post-election ‘mandate’ debate. How a Labour government (minority of not) with such a small share reaches out to show it represents the nation is a debate we have not yet had

  • Duncan Hall

    What worries me is that even Labour sources (including some on this blog) are full of “it was a disaster!” It really wasn’t – for Labour. I’m unhappy about the UKIP vote, of course, but Euro elections have never been a good barometer of what would happen in a General Election. Nobody is anticipating a 1997 result in 2015, but Labour should feel reasonably happy (though not satisfied) with Thursday’s performance.

  • Brumanuensis

    Slightly on the optimistic side perhaps, but Luke is a good analyst of these sorts of results and it is nice to read something a little more level-headed than ‘the sky is falling!’ type nonsense.

  • markmyword49

    Colne Valley – For years now this constituency at local level has been represented by LibDems and Independents with a couple of Conservatives. We returned a Labour MP from 1997 to 2010 but that was more to do with the LibDem and Conservatives running neck and neck in votes even when they put up poor candidates and Labour sneaking through. The current MP is a media savvy Conservative. He’ll take a lot of unseating because compared with what we got from the previous MP he’s a beacon of openness, accountability and likability. If I was a Labour strategist I’d put some effort in but wouldn’t expect it to change parties in 2015. Too many voters still remember the car crash that was the Labour MP and given that once again it will be a candidate picked from an all female shortlist they’ll be wary of putting a cross against Labour.

    • MikeHomfray

      Very nasty comments. You know perfectly well that the MP in question was very ill during the final term and could have easily stood down and caused a disastrous by election. It is to her credit that she didn’t. I have friends in your seat and they certainly wouldn’t agree with your comments.

      • markmyword49

        It has nothing to do with her final illness. I stopped voting Labour after 1997 until 2010. It was obvious after the first year that she wasn’t up to the job so combined with my dislike of the “New Labour” agenda I took my vote elsewhere. Besides I wrote to her on two occasions early in her second term and got no reply. Her appearances locally was only when she was up for re-election. In parliament she was nothing more than lobby fodder.
        I don’t blame her for continuing as MP. I blame the local Labour Party. They should have eased her out when it was obvious she wasn’t up to the job.
        By the way she should have stood down when she became unfit to continue her role as MP to the full. I’ve no time for the type of politics that has a sick MP hanging onto a seat just because headquarters fear a by election. The voters deserve to be properly represented. That type of action is one that brings MPs into disrepute just as much as expenses.

  • kb32904

    Luke, can you send a copy of this to our whiners that got into the tv studios as soon as the Sunderland result was announced ? Graham Stringer & John Mann need to stfu & realise that publically slagging the party off does nobody any good, especially Labour !

    We need to learn how to communicate *effectively* Short, easy to understand answers with no waffle would be a godsend – and quit the bloody slogans ! Every time I hear ‘cost of living crisis’ I cringe just as I do with ‘long term economic plan’ ! I know messages have to be repeated over & over to be heard but these have been done to death & it’s time for a new, more effective one.

    • RomJim

      couldn’t agree more about the slogans and especially “hard working families” the Labour Party should be about all and especially those who can’t be hard working families because of disability, or other reasons.

  • Edward Davie

    I like the idea of Hammersmith and Fulham being taken from ‘Nero-Thathcherites’

  • keithveness

    Aaarrgh! I totally agree with Luke Akehurst’s article – something I never thought I’d see in forty years of party membership. Even agree with his idea of extra resources for Thanet South CLP (but then I moved here two years ago after a lifetime living in Islington and working in Hackney). Anyway, like the stopped clock that right twice every twenty four hours, comrade Akehurst’s views and mine must coincide as the struggle rotates just occasionally.

  • Lewis Pearce

    Labour versus other main parties on seats in the local elections.

  • Alan Ji

    Do you have any data on how the turnout for Euros varied between places that had all out, thirds and no local elections?


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends