Friday, May 4, 2012

Exeter Elections, May 2012 - Post hoc analysis

Labour's win in this election was well deserved (results here). They had a strong message of anger about Government cuts, a positive local manifesto, friendly and committed candidates and activists who engaged strongly both online and on the streets, and a well-managed campaign.

Personally, I would rather the council had remained in minority control, but that was never a likely outcome, given that only two seats were needed for Labour to win majority control.

Whether this control will be maintained once the Labour council has to begin cutting services is not clear. However, they will be able to push the message that the cuts are being imposed by the government.

As elsewhere in the country, the Liberal Democrats did badly. On the other hand, their results were much the same as in the last two local elections in Exeter. The seats lost this year were won at the height of Labour's unpopularity in 2008. So a bad result, but not entirely unexpected.

I have made my own criticisms of the LibDems' local election strategy. National Labour strategists were able to offer a strong message for local parties to take forward. National LibDem strategists failed to do so. However, you could argue that the LibDems would have done badly whatever the strategy: the mid-terms of a government engaged in austerity measures are never likely to be pretty.

Locally, it is easy to say that there should have been a LibDem manifesto, more engagement online and in St. David's and Pennsylvania, and a stronger squeeze on the Conservatives and UKIP in Alphington. But the LibDems do not have the resources of Labour or the Conservatives; and many LibDem supporters who might naturally step up to help are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the change from the LibDems' traditional oppositional, protest politics to being on the receiving end of anger against the Government.

A LibDem resurgence and a higher turnout would leave Labour vulnerable in Alphington, St. David's, St. James and St. Thomas, and would leave the Conservatives vulnerable in Pennsylvania. i.e. the wards of the five remaining LibDem councillors. Conversely, unless this resurgence occurs, there's a chance of being wiped out.

Although there was no net change in the number of Conservative councillors, there are danger signs for the Conservatives, whose vote has been declining in recent years. On the other hand, the result in Pennsylvania, winning the seat from the LibDems, shows that active campaigning can yield results. Nevertheless, overall, the vibrant Conservative campaigning shown at the General Election has not been sustained. Their manifesto will have struck a chord with many, but those same people are also likely to be attracted to UKIP, and that is a potentially huge problem in several close wards. In the near future the Conservatives will likely be targeting Cowick, Heavitree, Pennsylvania, Pinhoe and Polsloe.

For all parties, the low turnout is disturbing. Encouraging greater engagement has to be a priority. Admittedly the strong student vote that was much in evidence at the General Election is harder to captivate in local elections; but younger voters more generally also need to be persuaded of the importance of political engagement. More initiatives like that of the Bike Shed Theatre hustings would be very welcome.

The headline though is that Exeter looks to Labour to steer the city through troubled times. There is no doubt they represent the most dynamic local team. The biggest danger will be losing touch with the concerns of ordinary folk. So well done. Good luck. And keep in touch...

Update 10 May 2012

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has a good article in today's Express & Echo with his thoughts on the local election results. He also mentions recent major events for Exeter, including last week's visit by the Queen, the 70th anniversary of the worst night of the Exeter Blitz, and the University joining the elite Russell Group of universities. And he concludes with an excellent point about local democratic accountability.

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