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

MMXV

This is my first look at next year’s local elections in Southend–on-Sea.

ward defending in 2015 winner in 2010 (last GE)
Belfairs Con Con
Blenheim Park Con Lib Dem
Chalkwell Con Con
Eastwood Park Con Con
Kursaal Lab Con
Leigh Lib Dem Lib Dem
Milton Con Con
Prittlewell Ind Lib Dem
Shoeburyness Ind Con
Southchurch Con Con
St Laurence Con Lib Dem
St Luke’s Ind Con
Thorpe Ind Ind
Victoria Lab Lab
West Leigh Con Con
West Shoebury Con Con
Westborough Lab Lib Dem

The current situation in Southend-on-Sea has the Conservatives as the largest party with 19 councillors, some 7 shy of the 26 needed to have a majority of one. The Independent Group (13), Labour (9), and Liberal Democrat (5) have a Joint Administration. UKIP, on 5, are also in opposition.

The Joint Administration has a majority of 3. To survive beyond a year they have to keep their majority, if not actually increase it. How likely is this? Well here are the facts, and a few guesses.

Next year will see the local elections held at the same time as the General Election. This means that turnout will increase (probably double). It will also see the three main parties dominate the news agenda, and possibly a fourth in the guise of UKIP will join them. The way our democracy works at the moment means that UKIP have an almost impossible task in getting any MPs, and the Prime Minister will come from either Conservative or Labour ranks.

So, let’s look at the wards. The Tories should hold Belfairs, Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and West Leigh. However, as this May showed surprises can happen and none of these will be held without concerted effort – the days of super-safe Tory wards in Southend are over. Note that these wards are all in the West.

The Liberal Democrats are only defending one ward, and whilst I imagine the Tories will push hard here, the Lib Dems will, almost certainly, concentrate their dwindling resources here.

Labour is defending three wards. I think victories in Victoria and Westborough should be straightforward enough. Kursaal has been quite unpredictable in recent years – I was predicting a Labour success here this year; this was taken by UKIP (with a 36 vote majority).

Labour will be hoping for the hat-trick of successes to be completed in Milton. The Tories will be hoping their vote will be boosted for the General Election. Expect a tight contest.

My home ward, Blenheim Park, is now represented by three different parties. This is almost always a marginal.

The Independents are defending four wards, and only in Thorpe is success assured. Prittlewell is another ward represented by three different parties and promises an intriguing contest. Shoeburyness and St Luke’s are currently an all Independent Group preserve, but the Tories will be hopeful in Shoeburyness, and Labour is a well-placed second in St Luke’s.

Southchurch is one that the Independent Group will be hoping goes to them. The challenge for them will be how to make their voice heard in a General Election year. The results in the last General Election year show that they struggle when the turnout goes up.

The Tories will hope that they can hold St Laurence and West Shoebury, a far from certain prospect.

It is all quite unpredictable, but the Tories will be lucky not to make further losses. I think Labour will make progress, the Liberal Democrats remain static, and the Independent Group will stutter. This will mean the Joint Administration will get another year at least (and I suspect quite a few years more).

Another take on that West Shoebury result

On a personal level I get on very well with the former West Shoebury Conservative Councillor, Tony Cox. Our politics are some distance apart, although there will be some things we can agree on. I like him because it is easy to know where you stand with him – he speaks his mind. This does not endear him to everyone, but at least you cannot accuse him of saying one thing whilst doing another.

For some he has become a bogeyman because his portfolio, when in office, covered sea defences and the CCTV enforcement vehicle. This attracted all sorts of ire, some of it justified. This is cited as being the principle reason why he was unseated. I disagree with this analysis, although I accept that this was a contributing factor.

I think his fall came about largely because of the unpopularity of his party in Southend-on-Sea, and in large measure this is driven by the poor record of the David Cameron-led Government. Austerity and cuts to public services, in my experience, have not gone down well with voters. Add into the mix the switching off of supporters once their party achieves power nationally, and you begin to understand what really happened in West Shoebury (and this will explain Tory losses across the borough too).

The graph shows the votes attracted by local government candidates in West Shoebury in 2010 and since.WestShoebury2010-2014

Two obvious things stick out: the steady decline of the Conservative vote, and the steady rise in UKIP’s fortunes. Tony Cox managed to turn around the decline in the Conservative vote, although this is likely to be caused by his hard work as any real increase in love for his party.

If you add together the 2010 votes for UKIP, BNP and the Independent you will see they collectively attracted 1265. The BNP and the Independent did not stand in West Shoebury this year; and whilst it may be speculative, there is some logic in assuming that their votes transferred en bloc to UKIP in their absence. UKIP’s James Moyies (now Cllr Moyies) got 1226 – which in context is not as wonderful as first appears. True, it is a significant improvement on their previous polling, but given my assumption about vote transfers you could credibly claim his vote has gone backwards.

My analysis is crude and should really be backed up by some proper fieldwork. However, I am attempting to show that some assumptions about what happened last month can at least be challenged. My analysis is crude, but is it any cruder than other claims about what happened and why?

My obvious preference is for a Labour victory in West Shoebury, and this is something we will continue to work for. Ordinarily I would cheer a Conservative defeat, but not here. This has nothing to do with Mr Cox, and everything to do with the fact that I see UKIP as being far worse than the Tories.

No overall control

Nine local authorities in Essex had elections last month, and six of them ended up with no single party commanding a majority in their respective council chambers (and Harlow’s Labour administration saw its majority reduced to one). For a county that completely embraced the Conservative message in 2010 this is some significant change. Seventeen of the county’s eighteen Members of parliament sport the blue rosette, and the Liberal Democrats in Colchester means a clean sweep for the Government parties at Westminster.

Since 2010 there has been a steady nibbling away at the Conservative councillor base, and NOC was likely this year in one or two places before the UKIP surge. UKIP did not just eat into Conservative support; Labour had realistic dreams of taking Basildon, and UKIP have removed Labour’s majority in Thurrock.

In Southend-on-Sea three of UKIPs five successes came at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, two from the Conservatives. Labour may have held them at bay here, but it would be wrong to suggest that our vote was not affected. Besides, in Kursaal ward it may have been a UKIP win at the expense of the Conservatives, but Labour were the favourites having won the ward in the previous two elections.

No overall control means either a coalition or a minority administration, and either way there will be challenges. It will be four years before UKIP can be removed from local government in Essex, although the next set of elections for these authorities is less than twelve months away, and I am sure UKIP high command will be dreaming of more success.

The coincidence of the next set of elections with the General Elections will certainly influence local election voting patterns, if for no other reason than it should more than double turnout. If UKIP is a protest from those fed up with the traditional parties then this influence will be drowned out. If there is a systemic change to four party politics (something that I personally see little evidence of) then we could see all sorts of strangely formed administrations in the council chambers of Essex.

The picture for the nine local authorities in Essex who held elections this year is as follows:

Con UKIP Lab Ind LD Grn Others
Basildon NOC 17 12 10 2 1
Brentwood NOC 18 3 1 11 4
Castle Point NOC 20 5 15
Colchester NOC 23 8 3 25
Epping Forest Con 37 2 1 2 3 1 12
Harlow Lab 11 5 17
Rochford Con 27 3 1 3 2 3
Southend-on-Sea NOC 19 5 9 13 5
Thurrock NOC 18 6 23 2

Castle Point has one vacant seat in Canvey Island East and there is an imminent by-election. Colchester also has one vacant seat, and was NOC prior to this May’s elections.

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