Saturday, May 05, 2007

 

Not Quite a Meltdown But....




Labour spinners assiduously claimed, in advance of the results, that disaster was fully expected; in their wake they sought to extract some comfort from the fact that the worst of electoral hurricane had passed them by. But looking at these devolved and local election results the following items seem to stand out:

1. The SNP now has the moral right to form the basis of a new government in Scotland and has another 26 days in which to organise a coalition. Gordon Brown now faces intractable political problems; he is likely during his time in power to seek to undermine Salmond, just as Thatcher tried to do the same to the likes of Ken Livingstone, though without Thatcher's trump card of being able to legislate him away.

2. The SNP gained 20 seats in a dramatic surge which swept up, not Labour and Lib Dem seats, but the smaller parties which the PR system was supposed to assist. Labour did well to survive with 46 seats- one less than the SNP- but its negative campaign contrasted unfavourably with the positive one of the nationalists.

3. The cock up whereby 100,000 votes were spoiled through voter confusion over the AMS Parliamentary system and the new STV local government one, is very worrying and has to be addressed both seriously and instantly.

4. In Wales where Labour once ruled automatically, it now faces a 'rainbow coalition' of Plaid Cymru, Lib Dems and the (horror!) Conservatives which might well assemble to take over the executive in Cardiff.

5. In England Labour lost 450 council seats- less than feared- but with their 250 victories from the Lib Dems, the Conservatives' 850 overall gains, means the blue areas of the map dominate and the red ones look like insignificant enclaves dotted around South Wales and the north. Now it is Labour which looks like the party under siege once again, as in the eighties, and the Tories poised to complete its last 18 month's trajectory by becoming, at the very least, the largest party in the 2009 election.

6. One comfort to supporters of the mainstream parties, is that, despite widespread dissatisfaction over immigration, the BNP failed to build on its 2006 gains and managed only a net advantage of two seats.

However

1. The Conservatives at 40% of the vote are still way behind Blair's 47% performance in the 1995 locals. Arguably they still needed to be closer to 45+% of the vote, with much bigger support in the north given the considerable inbuilt bias of the voting system towards Labour.

2. In the mid eighties Kinnock pulled in shoals of council seats but in 1987 was still crushed by Thatcher. In 2004 Blair won a similar share of the vote yet still went on to win the 2005 election with a comfortable majority. Labour could still win and Brown's considerable skills should not be underestimated, but after yesterday it seems to me the next election is the Conservative's to lose.

3. In today's Guardian, Martin Kettle suggests Gordon Brown might well 'put electoral reform for Westminster back on the agenda'. Facing a revived Conservative threat, such a tactic might offer the hope of Labour staying in power via realigned non Tory parties governing in coalition. However, such opportunism might repel our already cynical voters and, based on the new devolved assemblies, there is no natural law that says the Lib Dems will always side with Labour

Comments:
Agreed that about 500 lost council, AM and MSP seats is 500 too many (we did however manage to get a Labour gain in Gloucester!). But the Tories must be worried that they only got about 40% of the popular vote at this stage in the general election cycle. We're still two or three years from the next real election and it's still either party's to win. The Lib Dems seem to be in real trouble though...
 
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