What will we learn from this May’s elections?

20th January, 2016 1:39 pm

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The local government elections are coming down the track just as the new political landscape begins to take shape, and speculation mounts as to what the implications will be – if any.

Rallings and Thrasher, the authorities on such matters have made their prediction that Labour’s poor poll ratings will result in the loss of 200 Council seats. This is a result that would surely call into the question the merits of the Corbyn project and whether it is sustainable or credible.

The New Statesman have also analysed where they think the battleground may be.

Not all forecasts are so pessimistic however, and following the great result in the Oldham West parliamentary by-election Labour has a great deal to be very optimistic about. An enthused Labour leader reflected that buoyant confidence that Labour now feels: “By-elections can be difficult for the party holding the seat, and turnouts are often low. But to increase our share of the vote since the general election is a vote of confidence in our party. It’s a clear demonstration that Labour is the party working people trust.” Whilst Labour increased its vote share by 7%, the Conservatives saw theirs fall by 9%.

Marcus Roberts in the Times has analysed in detail local government elections results from 1974 onwards and concludes that Labour should gain some 300 council seats. He concludes that the main opposition party has only ever lost council seats whilst in opposition on two occasions in the last 42 years of local government since re-organisation in 1974. In 1983 when the SDP split away from Labour and 1985 when dragged down by Militant. Though in 1985 Labour still won more seats that the Tories. In Michael Foot’s first year Labour gained 988 seats.

Labour’s councillor base remains a long way short of 1996 when it had 10,929 to the Tories 4,276 so there is plenty of room for Labour to make gains over the next four years. Labour currently stand on 7,087 and the Tories on 8,292.

Roberts makes a good point in reflecting on 2012 being a good year for Labour. Labour only polled 38%, compared to 1994 (43%), 1995 (48%) and 1996 (43%) and the 823 seats gained did not make up for the 331 lost in those elections in 2004, the 464 lost in the same election cycle in 2008 nor the 568 seats Labour lost in 2012. Since 2000 Labour has gained 823 seats back from the 1,363 Labour lost.

In short, we need 541 seats to make up to get back to 2003 levels when Tony Blair was 6 years in as Prime Minster.

Clearly Ed Miliband’s 35% strategy failed, and realistically Labour has to do much better, by building on the doubling of party membership and maintaining the wave of momentum that saw Labour do so well in Oldham – confounding all the critics including The Telegraph, The Guardian, The New Statesman and UK Business Insider. Labourlist had a spread of outcomes with 5,000 majority being ‘no need to worry’ down to a ‘extremely worrying’ 2,000 majority. Even Peter Kellner of YouGov predicted that “A 5,000-plus majority [is] hard to represent as anything other than good news for [Jeremy] Corbyn.”

Jim McMahon won with a Majority of 10,772.

Labour has to be confident and positive when taking our message to the country. Reaching out and enthusing voters in what are traditionally low-turnout elections. It’s an opportunity and a test. So where can those Labour gains be expected realistically and more importantly where should Labour be gaining from a parliamentary perspective ahead of 2020?

There is some low hanging fruit with a clutch of Councils where there is No Overall Control and Labour requires less than 3 seats to take control. These should be achievable and would be important victories.

Labour requires 1 seat in Kirklees where Tory Jason McCartney MP (Colne Valley) has a majority of just 5,378 and is Labour target seat 275 out of the 326 seats Labour require to form a Labour government.

Similarly in Plymouth where Labour require just one seat to take control, and where both parliamentary seats are held by Tories. Oliver Colville MP (majority 523, and target seat 241) and Johnny Mercer (majority 1024, and target seat 245).

Newcastle-under-Lyme requires one Labour gain and so too does the important North East Lincolnshire where Tory MP Martin Vickers is Labour target 310. In Calderdale Labour requires two seats, in an area where Tory MP Craig Whittaker is Labour target 266.

In Derbyshire Labour requires 2 council seats to take control of Amber Valley Council, and this is one of 3 councils Labour should take directly from the Tories (Tory MP Nigel Mills, in Labour target 268), another being Worcester where 3 gains from the Tories & Greens are required (Tory MP Robin Walker, in Labour target 286).

Walsall should fall to Labour (2 gains required) and Labour should get closer in Tamworth (4 gains). In Weymouth & Portland (5 gains are required) and Watford (5 gains required) Labour should come close to taking overall control by winning seats from the Liberals and Tories.

In Bristol there is the mayoral and all-out Council election with Labour just 5 short. Whilst the Mayoral may be a tighter win for Labour, the Council should be much more achievable.

The battleground councils are clearly where Labour can make significant inroads either taking control, or almost taking control, on Councils where there is a Tory MP. Stroud is all-out and target seat 264, and both Swindon (6 gains required) and Milton Keynes (6 gains required) Councils sit on 4 key marginal parliamentary seats (targets 289, 306, 312 & 339) – these are very important and Labour should come close to taking them.

Importantly, these two will be a test of Labour in the south.

Further afield Labour should be looking to make significant inroads in Pendle, Great Yarmouth, Gloucester, Rugby, Welwyn Hatfield, Thurrock, Stockport, Trafford and Basildon. All key parliamentary constituencies and Councils which Labour should be looking to take in the next round of local elections in 2018.

Labour should regain 8 Councils where they require 3 gains or less. There are five other Councils which are within striking distance (3-8 gains) and winning some of these (Watford the most achievable) would put Labour on course for a better result in 2020 than we had in 2015.

There are also Police and Crime commissioner elections, Scottish and Welsh Parliamentary elections, London Mayoralty and elections in Northern Ireland.

Labour gains:
Kirklees (NOC, Lab requires 1 seat)
Plymouth (NOC, Lab requires 1 seat)
Newcastle Under Lyme (NOC, Lab requires 1 seat)
North East Lincolnshire (NOC, Lab requires 2 seats)
Calderdale (NOC, Lab requires 2 seats)
Amber Valley Council (Con control, Lab requires 2 seats)
Walsall (NOC, Lab requires 2 seats)
Bristol (NOC, Lab 5 short, all out and mayoral)

Labour battleground:
Worcestor (Con control, Lab requires 3 seats)
Watford (NOC, Lab require 5, 8 LibDem seats up)
Milton Keynes (NOC, Lab require 6, 2 LibDem & 6 Con seats up)
Swindon (Conservative, Lab require 6 seats)
Stroud (NOC, all out, Cons 3 short, Lab 8 short, 6 Greens & 3 LibDems & 1 Ind)

Labour making progress:
Tamworth (Con, Lab 4 short)
Weymouth & Portland (NOC, Lab 5 short)
Great Yarmouth (NOC, Lab & Con 14 seats, both 6 short but more Lab seats up 2016)
Trafford (Con, Lab 6 short, 10 Con seats up)
Pendle (NOC, Lab 6 short, 6 Con & 4 LibDem seats up)
Thurrock (NOC, Lab largest 7 short)
Gloucester (Con, all out, Lab 9 short, 7 LibDems up)
Welwyn Hatfield (Con, seat 350, southern test)
Rugby (Con, seat 328, Lab 10 short, 6 Tories, 2 LibDems and 3 Ind seats up)
Stockport (NOC, LibDem largest, Lab 2nd 11 short, 10 LibDem & 3 others up)
Basilidon (NOC, Lab short by 12, 7 Tory and 1 LibDem seat up)

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