In my last blog I talked about my views on the Liverpool elections and in this one I have a look at the national picture.
It’s very clear to me that politics is working in very different ways in different parts of the Country. At the end of Saturday, the Lib Dems were marginally down on the number of seats which we were defending. 34 net losses which, as ever, revealed a tumult of wins and losses but the direction was clear.
By Sunday night, when all the results were in, the picture have become a small net gain of 7 and 1 council gained. The difference clearly appears to be based on where the votes were being counted. On days one and two most of the council votes were in urban areas in the North. On the second they tended to be countiesand districts in the South.
If we look at our Party’s seat share, we made marginal losses in the North of England although there were places like Liverpool, Durham and Barnsley where we took a small number of seats from Labour and moved slowly forward. These tended to be areas outside the so-called red wall areas where Lib Dem numbers have always been relatively small. The North West, in part, followed this trend with Labour suffering minimal losses in the region and in all the mayoral elections doing well.
In the South of England, however, we did rather well. In fact, by my tally not only did we advance in places like Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire we did so partly by knocking off Tory Council Leaders. In these councils and others like Wiltshire we may well play a role in leadership of these Councils for the first time in 20+ years.
It was particularly nice to see our numbers double on the Greater London Assembly. Where the first Moslem Woman on that authority, Hina Bokhari, was elected alongside our long-standing member Caroline Pidgeon.
So, we fought to a draw but what happened to the other Parties?
The Greens did well but in pockets. With one exception, Bristol, they are nowhere near to running a Council and how well they did depended on local circumstances. Significantly, they did well in no areas where the Lib Dems are clearly the main opposition to Labour. They made only marginal advances in University areas like Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Liverpool which were once thought to be their natural breeding grounds.
The Tories did well but not as well as the Tory media has proclaimed! The tone was set by their stonking win in Hartlepool and on day one with gains in the so-called red wall seats. Overall, they gained just over 200 seats whereas on Saturday night the number was nearer. This was a good figure but how much of this was a Vaccination bounce remains to be seen.
The undoubted losers of the elections were the Labour Party. I am advising our Group on Durham where Labour lost control buy a large margin in a Country which has voted Labour since it was formed more than 100 years ago. In total Labour lost 326 councillors and control of a number of councils. It should not be that way. Main opposition parties are supposed to advance against the Government not lose seats both to it and every other Party.
Already Keir Starmer has responded by a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle and a sacking of the Party Chair. None of this has any resonance with the people outside the political bubble. Perhaps the time is coming when the cracks in Labour are so great that the factions cannot be contained in one Party.
In my Party’s reflections we should consider long and hard that maxim that we have long adopted – where we work, we win. The modest advances that we have made nationally were built on years of hard work and commitment to our communities. That needs an overlay of national messaging. People have no clear national messaging from us which complicates our work in creating strong local messaging.
Lib Dems should not be complacent. I think we did relatively well last Thursday but relatively well isn’t good enough. I think we need to restructure how we target the winnable chances that we have. To often we spend our resources on vainglorious battles without strongly targeting the ‘long march’ candidates and battles which do eventually lead to electoral success.
Now, in good Lib Dem tradition, I am off to write a Thank You Focus. As we always say in our Party, “The election isn’t over until the Thank You Focus is delivered”. In Liverpool we have a lot to thank the electorate for.
One thing we need to remember is that our gains and losses in England are calculated by comparison to our results in 2016 and 2017. They were at a time when party recovery was at best just begun and so 7 gains indicates we are basically back where we were then, when Tim was basically just trying to stop the ship sinking. It could be that the progress made in 2018 and 2019 may have simply gone in the snap general election in December 2019.