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Local elections: Labour didn’t do enough to win in 2015

John Rentoul

locals 300x221 Local elections: Labour didnt do enough to win in 2015

What we do not know about yesterday’s local elections is how many UKIP voters will go, or go back, to the Conservatives when they are warned that a vote for Nigel Farage will let Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

But we can say this much. The early BBC estimates for the change in vote share in the local elections since those seats were last contested in 2009 are:

Con -9 points

Lab +7

UKIP-BNP +15

Lib Dem -11

The UKIP vote share is up 18 points, but the BNP’s share is down 3, so I am netting those off, with the usual caveat that I am not suggesting that UKIP is a racist party; merely that its voters share some characteristics with those for the BNP.

Now, 2009 was Labour’s lowest point in recent local elections history (see chart, with thanks to Steve Fisher). Between then and the local elections on the same day as the 2010 general election, the party gained six or seven percentage points. The gains in yesterday’s local elections, therefore, suggest little or no further progress since the last general election.

However, what matters is the size of the gap between Labour and the Conservatives, and the Tories have fallen back since the general election. In their case, their local elections share of the vote was roughly the same in 2009 and 2010, so all of the nine-point fall recorded by the BBC in yesterday’s votes has been lost since the general election.

That would turn a Tory lead of seven points in the 2010 general election into a two-point Labour lead next time, which would be enough for a small Labour majority (a one-point Labour lead is, roughly, the majority break-point). This explains why Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher on Sky News are projecting a Labour general election result of 325 seats – exactly on the cusp of a majority (326).

Update: The BBC’s latest projection has Labour doing better, with a four-point lead over the Tories: 29 per cent to 25 per cent, with UKIP on 23 per cent and the Lib Dems 14 per cent. If we assume that UKIP rise from 3 per cent in 2010 to 13 per cent, the Lib Dems take 14 per cent, other minor parties unchanged; with the Labour and Tory votes re-apportioned to give Labour a four-point lead, this would give Ed Miliband a majority of 36.

Given that some UKIP votes may end up with the Tories in 2015, after an election campaign focusing on the characters of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, and in which Labour’s alternative policies will be tested, yesterday’s vote was not good enough to put Labour on track to win.

South Shields: It may be objected that I haven’t taken the by-election into account. This is because by-elections tell us little about what will happen in subsequent general elections. The UKIP share of the vote there, 24 per cent, is remarkable, considering that they gained 28 per cent in more typical golf-club territory at Eastleigh; but it remains the case that, nationally, UKIP take more votes from Tories than from Labour, and so the question that remains is: how many UKIP votes will go, or go back, to the Tories?

Sample bias: Others have objected that you cannot read much into elections that took place mostly in Tory shires and not in London or Scotland. They are right that you cannot read much into mid-term local elections, but not for that reason. The whole point of John Curtice’s analysis for the BBC and Rallings and Thrasher’s for Sky News is to look at the change in vote share in places that have local elections and extrapolate from that to places that haven’t. This assumes that the changes in vote share are roughly uniform across the country, an assumption borne out by general elections.

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  • reformist lickspittle

    The gnats don’t have a 15-point lead for *Westminster* elections. Fail.


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