Sunday, 7 June 2009

On the 2009 local election results - an update

Yesterday, I blogged about the English local election results, and suggested that the Liberal Democrats appeared to have performed very well in the national equivalent vote and, perhaps, not so well in terms of council seats.

In today’s Sunday Times, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, co-directors of the LGC Elections Centre and compilers of the Local Elections Handbook, estimate the national equivalent vote as follows: Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 25%, Labour 22% and others 18%.

Labour’s result is their worst on record and the Conservatives are down 8 points on last year’s showing. The Lib Dem figure is 2 points higher than last year’s (23%), meaning that it is also 2 points higher than in 2005, the last time the same seats were contested. But it is also a little lower than the pre-Blair (1994) and post-Iraq (2004) high watermarks cited by LDV's Stephen Tall yesterday. (I have taken my figures for previous years from the House of Commons library research paper on 2008 local elections.)

Rallings and Thrasher underline the point that I made yesterday about the implications for the Lib Dems of the Tories’ increase in support since 2005.

"The Lib Dems can point to their own more modest successes, most particularly the sweep to power in Bristol. It is noticeable that here, as in other pockets such as Ashfield in Nottinghamshire and Burnley it was Labour rather than the Tories that they damaged."

Rawlings and Thrasher say that the Lib Dems suffered a net loss of 50 council seats – just on the threshold for a “bad Lib Dem result” (a net loss of 50-plus) that was set before polling day by, for instance, the Financial Times.

I still don’t agree with Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome when he claims that the Liberal Democrats are in decline. The Lib Dems' 25% share of national equivalent vote estimated by Rallings and Thrasher is an improvement on the party’s showing in 2007 and 2008 and the same level of support as in 2006.

In terms of seats, these results are cause for some concern, but not panic.

2009 is shaping up as the year of the minor parties. Rallings and Thrasher note that:

"The “others” often polled heavily without winning, and in almost one in six wards their presence led to a fall in the share of the vote for all three major parties."

I’m not sure whether they are using the same basis of comparison as in other years, but the 18% share of the national equivalent vote that Rallings and Thrasher give for "others" is by far the highest on record. Previously, the highest total for “others” was 10%, which was reached in four very recent local elections: 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

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