Canvey East

I remember canvassing in sub-zero temperatures in the last Canvey East by-election (December 2009). It was not as bad as it sounds – I was wrapped up, and many winters on the football pitches of Essex had helped to inure me to the cold. It was a poor result for Labour then, and yesterday it was poor for us too. Once upon a time Canvey Island was a very good place for the Labour Party. Nowadays we really struggle. Our nemesis has been the Canvey Island Independent Party, yet I wonder whether their best days are behind them. Last night saw them defeated. Maybe hitching onto the UKIP bandwagon was not such a good idea after all.

The result

Colin Letchford Independent 389 39.1%
John Payne Canvey Island Independent 323 32.4%
Chas Mumford Conservative 208 20.9%
Jackie Reilly Labour 76 7.6%

 

The Labour candidate in 2009 was also called John Payne – not the same person as the CIIP candidate above!

September’s by-election summary

There were sixteen contests in September, which is a pretty small sample. This still meant that 19,596 votes were cast in real contests.

UKIP are back in fourth spot after three months of being third, and whether this is a blip or a return to normality now that the European elections are receding remains to be seen. They did manage a gain at the expense of the Conservatives and fielded a healthy number of candidates.

Labour are back on top (they were second on vote share in July and August). The Greens continue to struggle to make any impact.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Labour 27.3 9 14 1
Conservative 25.3 2 15 -2
Liberal Democrat 22.4 3 12 1
UKIP 13.3 1 13 1
Independent 7.4 1 9 -1
Green 3.7 0 8 0
Others 0.6 0 4 0

A look at seats gained by the three main parties in General Elections since 1945

Seats won by the three main parties in General Elections since 1945

Seats won by the three main parties in General Elections since 1945

History is often used when pundits start playing guessing games about elections. I am guilty of this too, using vote share precedent to suggest that the Conservative numbers are likely to fall in 2015. Likely, but this is not assured. One thing is true, each General Election is unique and as such precedent has only so much value.

Vote share may be important in establishing mandate, but it is not the critical statistic. It is the number of seats gained – which often bears only a passing resemblance to vote share.

Since the end of the Second World War the Government of the day has increased the number of seats it has on five occasions: 1955, 1959, 1966, October 1974, and 1983. Since there have been eighteen General Elections in this period this means the Government has improved its presence in the House of Commons in fewer than one in three occasions.

This will not cheer Mr Cameron. What might, though, is that there has only been one one-term Government during this period (Ted Heath: 1970 – 1974), although its successor barely exceeded five years (Wilson/Callaghan: February 1974 – May 1979).

The brief Lib-Lab pact in 1974 resulted in the biggest party (Labour) increasing the number of seats when they sought a fresh mandate. However, this fresh mandate was given a mere eight months after the pact was formed, whilst the current coalition will have given voters five years to judge its performance.

Since 1997 the third party, the Liberal Democrats, have won forty-plus seats. The intelligent guess-work suggest this will reduce to 1980s levels – a chunk of their support will find it difficult to forgive Clegg for jumping in bed with the Tories.

Many I have spoken to are suggesting another hung Parliament – although this is difficult to deliberately engineer. Again, history would suggest this is unlikely (only twice since 1945 has this happened), but with a fourth party now polling regularly in the teens we are clearly in new territory. British voters, it used be said, liked strong Government – hence their preference for an electoral system that normally guaranteed a decisive result. It is entirely possible that Labour could get a majority with only about a third of voters choosing them – a sustained UKIP presence could do enough damage to the Conservative vote to make this a reality. This would be a perverse result – and make those of us wanting a voting system reflecting our increasingly pluralistic politics would feel emboldened. I wonder whether some Conservatives are reconsidering their opposition to AV.

There is all to play for, and the most recent polls have shown that it is nip-and-tuck between Labour and the Conservatives. No-one can say for sure what will happen in seven months time – but if the numbers do not change then a Labour Prime Minister is the most likely outcome – and if is a majority Labour Government that majority will probably be slim.

Lab Con Lib
1945 393 197 12
1950 315 282 9
1951 295 321 6
1955 277 345 6
1959 258 365 6
1964 317 304 9
1966 364 253 12
1970 288 330 6
Feb-74 301 297 14
Oct-74 319 277 13
1979 269 339 11
1983 209 397 23
1987 229 376 22
1992 271 336 20
1997 418 165 46
2001 413 166 52
2005 355 198 62
2010 258 306 57

Eastern large urban areas

Six conurbations in the East of England are large enough to warrant two Members of Parliament. Since it is a loose rule of thumb that towns vote Labour, whilst the country goes for Tories, it is worth looking at the recent electoral history of these eleven seats. The East returns fifty-eight members to the Commons, of which just a pair, at present, are Labour. For a majority Labour Government to be elected next May some of this sea of blue must turn red.

2010 2005 2001 1997 1992 1987 1983
Basildon and Billericay** Con Con Con Con Con Con Con
South Basildon and East Thurrock++ Con Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Thurrock Con Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Lab
Central Suffolk and North Suffolk## Con Con Con Con
Ipswich Con Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Lab
Luton North Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Luton South Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Norwich North Con Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Norwich South LD Lab Lab Lab Lab Lab Con
Rochford and Southend East Con Con Con Con Con Con Con
Southend West Con Con Con Con Con Con Con

** Billericay up to and including 2005
++ Basildon up to and including 2005
## Did not exist before 1997

Many of these seats have stretches of countryside, and do not truly deserve the appellation ‘urban’, but it serves well enough for this illustration. However, these are largely urban, and the six towns represented here (Basildon, Thurrock, Ipswich, Luton, Norwich and Southend-on-Sea) are significant in this region.

The most obvious conclusion is that that loose rule (urban equals Labour) does not apply in the East of England. Southend-on-Sea is the only town in this list not to have returned a Labour MP, and whilst Rochford and Southend East does include a couple of villages (or small towns), Southend West is a compact urban seat, albeit a largely wealthy one. Southend West also avoids the town centre wards, which surely would have changed its electoral history had they been included in the constituency.

No seat has been exclusive Labour territory. Norwich South has only been won once by the Tories since the start of the eighties and with Ipswich and Thurrock shares the distinction of returning Labour MP in five of the last seven General Elections.

South Basildon and East Thurrock continued the weathervane characteristic of its previous incarnation, although UKIP’s influence may change that. In fact, UKIP is rather the joker in the pack in many of these seats, and should they maintain their one in six vote share all the way to May we will see some very curious declarations.

The Labour challenge is to persuade, to identify its support, to engage, and to ensure they actually vote. If Ed Miliband is PM next May then expect some of these seats to return to Labour. Whilst we could win without increasing our representation in this region, unlike the Conservatives we do aspire to be a party of all of Great Britain, reaching into all parts. The south and east, therefore, whilst not critical for success, must be important in establishing credibility. The Conservative failure in the north should not be mirrored by a Labour failure away from its heartlands.

July and August’s by-election summary

I begin with the oft-repeated caveat: local authority by-elections are not representative of the country as a whole. However, they are actual votes, cast at polling stations, and as imperfect an example as they may be they nonetheless gives us something to chew over.

So, to July and August’s numbers; the table here summaries the two month’s elections.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Conservative 29.2 14 49 -5
Labour 25.6 18 45 5
UKIP 16.1 2 43 -1
Liberal Democrat 14.1 10 36 0
Independent 5.3 3 18 0
Green 4.1 2 25 0
others 5.6 1 18 1

There are number of indicators here worth considering.

I find the number of candidates fielded an indicator of the health of a party. There were fifty contests in all, and yet again I bemoan Labour’s failure to contest everywhere. UKIP, for the first time that I can recall, fielded more candidates than the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservative got the biggest vote share, but suffered more losses than anyone. UKIP also showed that holding onto their gains is problematical for them.

The Green Party is struggling to make any sort of impact. Consider their vote share over recent months:

4.1% July and August 2014
2.1% June 2014
2.7% April 2014
1.8% February and March 2014
2.1% August and September 2013
3.9% June and July 2013
3.8% May 2013
1.6% April 2013
5.8% March 2013

(For those who would like to peruse the numbers for themselves try this – http://warelane.wordpress.com/?s=by-election+summary)

Whilst 4.1% is their best showing that I have recorded in over a year, it is some way shy of having any real impact.

Weak analysis by Mr Rejected

Nigel Holdcroft’s psephological writing has left me wondering whether he really does not know his stuff, or is deliberately choosing the blinkered approach. Either way, his attempt to explain away the May election results in Southend-on-Sea as some sort of short-term blip is wide of the mark – very wide.

He is bound to defend his record, but this obstructs objective analysis of what went on. His party’s rejection this May needs to be looked at in context.

Before we look at the facts I feel obliged to offer Nigel, and his fellow Southend Tories, a bit of advice. If you continue to act and speak as if this year’s rejection was a one-off and that things will return to normal (i.e. Southend back in Tory hands) in pretty short order then you will be disappointed. You have got to face up to one obvious fact: Southenders did not like what you were doing to the town. Unless you admit this and change tack you will suffer further losses.

Nigel has written: As it was the Conservatives polled aprox 30% of the vote acroo the Town, well ahead of UKIP with 19% and the rest from 18% downwards

This is broadly correct as it is, although it avoids the most obvious conclusion from these numbers. First, though, a reminder of what happened in May:

30.29% Conservative
19.10% Independent
18.99% Labour
17.50% UKIP
12.96% Liberal Democrat
1.23% Green
0.04% National Front

The Conservatives, it could be argued, won in the Borough. I think a more accurate telling of the story is to state that with 69.71% voting for other parties it was quite a rejection.

The context of these elections is of a town that has only ever elected Conservative MPs since 1906 and has seen the local authority run by the Tories for far more years than they have sat in opposition. The fracturing of the anti-Tory vote in many ways emphasises the desperation of residents keen to see anyone without a blue rosette elected. I accept that this does not really account for the UKIP surge, which in many ways demonstrates that even the Tory faithful have begun to lose their faith.

I have always said, though, that any election taken in isolation can only tell part of the story. Thus, we should look at the story over a number of elections, and this shows a steadily declining Conservative vote in the town. 2014 was no one-off, but rather a continuation of a trend begun in 2005; a trend that shows the Conservative vote dwindling year after year.

To be fair, during the same period there has been only a modest growth in the Labour vote (from 16.6%). It is the vote of the ‘other parties’ (other than Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) that has grown considerably over the last decade (from 7.8% to 37.8%). To complete the story the Liberal Democrat has halved over the same period.

So Nigel, you may think that in the “ West … the picture looks strong” and you maybe “looking forward to a strong blue fightback in the East” but unless things change in your party I do not see why you think as you do. It is somewhat arrogant to think that any rejection was a blip and that the electorate will suddenly change their minds and think you were alright all along.

Mind you, perhaps I should encourage you to continue thinking this way. After all, your loss is my gain.

June’s by-election summary

Thirteen local authority seats were up for grabs in June’s by-elections. Being such a small sample there is only so much one can read into these results. As always, I feel that a good indicator of the health of a party is the number of candidates it puts up. In this respect no-one managed a full slate, although it should be noted that UKIP fielded more candidates than the Liberal Democrats.

Despite the size of the sample it is nice to see Labour on top.

party vote share % seats won candidates net gain
Labour 42.1 4 11 +1
Conservative 21.0 3 11 0
UKIP 10.9 0 9 0
Independent 8.3 2 8 -3
Liberal Democrat 6.3 2 8 +1
Green 2.1 0 4 0
others 9.4 2 3 +1
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