Richard Willis's Blog

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Thoughts on the Election Results

Pretty much all of the election results are now in. Before Thursday’s elections, experts such as Rallings and Thrasher were predicting Conservative Councillor losses of many hundreds of seats, Labour gains of 1,000+, and Lib Dem losses of a few hundred. This was what was stated as the minimum necessary for Labour to show it was making serious progress after the equivalent elections in 2007 delivered huge gains for the Conservatives. Labour were also predicted to do well in Wales and Scotland, areas which for decades had delivered dozens of Labour MPs with substantial majorities.

Here in Reading we always knew we had a tough fight in Park ward against both the Greens and Labour, and the Lib Dems would struggle to hold Katesgrove ward against Labour. We expected Labour efforts to regain Church, Caversham and Kentwood wards which they had held until a few years ago. The circumstances of Conservative/Lib Dem coalition at local and national level would be bound to revitalise Labour’s ability to attack us and motivate their supporters. What we had not (and should have) expected was a Labour campaign based on lies and fabrications. Labour in the Council meetings had been completely ineffective and frankly lazy but they made up for it with the shrillness of their campaigning tactics.

The Reading results were a mixed bag. Labour saw their support rebound from the relative lows of recent years and they comfortably won Katesgrove and Redlands from the Lib Dems, and sadly took Church ward from us. They fell well short of taking their other targets of Kentwood and Caversham (Cons holds) and Park (Green gain) wards. However, their vote turned out quite strongly in wards they had no hope of winning such as Peppard and Thames.

The Conservative campaign was focussed around defending the wards we held and getting our message out in the other wards across the Borough. We successfully defended Kentwood, Caversham, Peppard and Thames. I was delighted to be re-elected with over 2,100 votes and a 58% share of the vote – the best Conservative share in any election since 1992!

We also gained Tilehurst ward from the Lib Dems, where the long serving local campaigner Sandra Vickers took the ward with a majority of around 200. James Anderson was elected in Kentwood to replace retiring Tom Steele. Unfortunately despite a fantastic campaign in Park ward led by Isobel Ballsdon in support of Wazir Hussain, the Greens took the ward with Labour in second place. In Church ward Labour ran a very personal and inaccurate campaign against our candidate who had been the Chairman of Reading’s Chamber of Commerce for 8 years and runs his own business in the town centre. However, Labour decided that rather than tell people about their policies they would just describe Geoff as a “Banker from Beenham”. Our vote held up well in Church but Labour managed to motivate an extra 500 or so voters compared with 2008.

The Greens elected their second Councillor in Park ward on the back of their first winner Rob White but had limited impact anywhere else. The Lib Dems failed to elect a single Councillor this year and were forced into fourth or fifth place in some wards. The so-called “Common Sense” party failed to make much of an impression with a maximum vote of 221 in Church ward where they had the single issue of the traffic lights to campaign on.

Nationally the picture was one of huge disappointment for Labour and the Lib Dems. In Scotland the SNP cruised to an overall majority with big gains from Labour and the Lib Dems. It was Scotland where Labour leader Ed Miliband announced that their “fightback would begin”. In Wales Labour made gains but failed to achieve an overall majority and the Conservatives gained two seats and overtook Plaid Cymru to become the second biggest party in the Assembly.

Across England Labour gained 800 Councillors, well short of the minimum target of 1,000+ gains which experts said were needed to constitute success. They also gained control of 26 Councils to make a total of 57 won on Thursday. The Conservatives, who were predicted to make losses of up to 1,000, based on superb results in 2007, saw net GAINS of 81 Councillors and 4 Councils, to make a total of 157 won on Thursday. This was an exceptional result by any measure. The Lib Dems were the biggest losers with losses of 695 Councillors and 9 Councils, leaving them with just 10 Councils held on Thursday.

The AV referendum was overwhelmingly won by the “No” campaign (68% No; 32% Yes) which is being seen as a major triumph for David Cameron, despite some Conservatives like myself voting “Yes”. I just hope that the Lib Dems are not permitted to tinker with the House of Lords as compensation.

Locally we will have to see what happens regarding control of the Council and the next Mayor. These matters are decided at the annual meeting at the end of May and it will be interesting to see whether Labour seek to do some deal with the Greens in order to run a minority administration. If they do the people of Reading will be on notice that Labour will probably reverse our decision to stop funding Trades Union officials from Council Tax, will give RCRE the grant they so desire and for which they campaigned so hard in Redlands ward alongside Labour. They will also probably stop the review of traffic lights and our proposed cycle hire scheme. Residents can look forward to more money wasted and many of the fees and charges that Labour criticised they will have to implement!

We live in interesting times!


May 8, 2011 - Posted by | Local, National


  1. Internal Labour target for England was 650-700 seats, so we are pretty happy with 800! Tories obviously OK in England, always helped by a LibDem collapse. The old rule that junior coalition partners get rolled over (cf the Free Democrats in Germany, etc) applied in all 3 nations. Again, internally, we were also pleased with the number of seats in the deep south where we have leapfrogged from third, fourth, fifth to second behind the Tories. Next year will see a lot more councils like Reading, Plymouth, Forest of Dean where elections are by thirds fall firmly under Labour control.
    On AV, the campaign was too short, should not have taken place on election day, and too limited in the scope of its question. Changing to a different version of FPTP without looking at the House of Lords, the relationship among the four nations, whether we want single member seats, how many MPs there should be, etc, etc, was always going to be a tough call. Radical left progressives were always going to be split without those larger constitutional questions being put.

    Comment by Jonny | May 8, 2011 | Reply

    • Jonny – the reputable experts all said that Labour needed to gain 1,000-1,500 seats to be “making real progress”. No-one predicted Conservative gains!!

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. Richard, I’ve given my analysis of the election results on my blog, but am most surprised with the result in Church where Labour should have been punished for imposing a damaging and unpopular road scheme which has damaged the Shinfield Road local centre – and gained the seat instead.

    I’m surprised you say you had not expected a nasty and mendacious campaign from Labour. It is their stock in trade. Where I suspect we would agree is that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did very little that was effective to combat it.

    I suspect Labour’s arrogance and tribalism is such that they will try and run the Council without doing any deal with anyone.

    On the House of Lords as with many other things, the Coalition Agreement states: ‘We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.’ I hope that’s what will happen.

    Comment by Gareth Epps | May 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. Wazir Hussain has certainly worked hard and been an excellent councillor for Park ward, and we will miss him locally. However, I am sure that Melanie Eastwood will also do an excellent job as the new Park ward councillor and will do her best to match Wazir’s high standards.

    Labour’s result in Park ward was pretty pathetic – ‘Loser’ McKenzie managed for the second year running to make no progress towards winning a ward that until very recently Labour could regard as a safe seat. Unfortunately, however, it looks like Labour will be in the driving seat of Reading Borough Council again. Still, every cloud has a silver lining – at least it will force them to show exactly how they intend to deal with the spending cuts that they have been so quick to criticize. I predict that they won’t be quite so popular next time round when we see their true colours after they have demonstrated that they have no alternative policies to making budget cuts.

    My Green Party spies tell me that they will be highly unlikely to make any deals with Labour, so it looks like a minority controlled administration again.

    Comment by Newtown lad | May 8, 2011 | Reply

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