Richard Willis's Blog

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Reflections on the Elections

Polling StationThe elections on Thursday were the subject of much speculation in advance and the post-result analysis has not been any less comprehensive. I set out my thoughts and predictions here. So how did each of the parties do?

Overall it is UKIP which grabbed the headlines with its gain of around 140 seats, well ahead of what most pundits (including me) predicted. The average expectation was for gains of 40-50 seats, but the gains in three authorities alone busted through this number. UKIP did especially well in four Councils in Eastern England: Lincolnshire (16), Cambridgeshire (12), Norfolk (15) and Kent (17). They also did well in Hampshire (10) and West Sussex (10), Suffolk (9), and Essex (9) but failed to gain a single seat in Bristol, Cumbia, Derbyshire, Durham, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, and Warwickshire. They put in a very creditable performance in the South Shields  by-election, coming in second place with 24%, but failing to match the 28% they achieved in Eastleigh.

English_local_elections_2013_results_svgThe Lib Dems did about as badly as expected, losing around 130 seats. They managed to hold on reasonably well in some of their stronger areas such as Cornwall but were badly depleted in Bristol (-10), Cambridgeshire (-9), Northumberland (-15), West Sussex (-13) and Durham (-18). They had no outright control of any of the Councils up for election and ended the count with none. Of more significance in the longer term is that they have lost their largest party status in Bristol and Northumberland, and their position as the official opposition party to UKIP in Buckinghamshire, Kent, Norfolk, and West Sussex. In the Parliamentary by-election in South Shields the Lib Dems were pushed into a humiliating SEVENTH place, behind the BNP and some Independents.

Labour made modest gains, with a net increase of just 291 seats. This was fewer than even the most pessimistic forecasts suggested. The independent local government analysts Professors Ralling and Thrasher suggested around 350 gains would be the minimum Labour needed to suggest that they were making decent progress from their 2009 nadir. I expected around 400 gains, and others predicted 500-600 gains. Labour was expected to at least regain the four Councils they lost in 2009, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire, with Cumbria being a possible bonus. In the event they only managed to gain Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, the latter with the narrowest possible margin. Cumbria remained No Overall Control, Lancashire went to No Overall Control, and, most surprising of all, Staffordshire remained Conservative with a decent majority. The only authority where they swept the board was Durham where they already had a majority. Labour made small advances in most Councils but still ended the count with fewer than 10 Councillors in most southern authorities. Labour won the South Shields by-election with a reduced majority and also won the two Mayoral elections in Doncaster (Gain from Ind) and North Tyneside (Gain from Cons).

The Conservatives were expecting a kicking in these elections from both Labour and UKIP. Rallings and Thrasher predicted losses of 024around 310 seats, I expected losses of around 400, and others predicted losses of over 600 seats and all but 2 authorities. In the end the net seat losses were constrained to just 335 and the Conservatives retained most of the Councils they were defending. In those they lost to No Overall Control most have the Conservatives as the largest party and will therefore likely retain control as a minority administration or as part of a coalition. There were a number of surprises in all respects: the Conservatives kept control of Somerset and Staffordshire against all expectations but lost Lincolnshire and Norfolk to No Overall Control as a result of the UKIP surge. They even managed to increase their Councillor numbers in Surrey and Northumberland! The Daily Mail produced the swingometer (right) which suggested that losses of around 300-350 would be mildly dangerous for Cameron but well below the level which would be considered a catastrophe. The black spot for the Conservatives was the loss of the North Tyneside Mayoralty where Linda Arkley had done an excellent job and was a useful example of a Conservative winning in a northern urban area.

At the end of the counting process the Conservatives won over 1,100 Councillors (-335) and 18 Councils (-10), Labour won 538 Councillors (+291) and 3 Councils (+2), Lib Dems won 352 Councillors (-124), Independents won 165 Councillors (+24), UKIP won 147 Councillors (+139), and the Greens won just 22 Councillors (+5). The BNP were wiped out with zero Councillors elected. Conservatives control County Councils in all parts of England, North, South, East and West, while Labour has just two in the northern Midlands and one in the North.

Undoubtedly UKIP did very well on a turnout of just over 30%, but is it a “breakthrough”? We have seen similar surges before which have turned to dust. We only have to think of the SDP in the 1980’s, the Greens in 1989, the BNP in the last 10 years, and previous UKIP gains in Euro elections. Almost certainly UKIP will come first or second in next year’s Euro elections but to make a real impact on British politics UKIP will need to gain control of a number of higher tier Councils (town and parish councils don’t count!) and/or several MPs. It is therefore premature to talk of a “four-party system” or Nigel Farage taking part in a series of Parliamentary Leaders debates in a General Election.

Of more interest is the debate over how the major parties should respond to UKIP’s success. I profoundly disagree with friends like Dan Hannan and Nirj Deva who argue for some sort of electoral pact. Even if that were possible what could UKIP bring to the party? They have no MPs and are not likely to win any in 2015. Such a pact would mean the end of the current coalition and would alienate some Conservative members and supporters without delivering any tangible benefit.

The best thing that David Cameron can do is to stake out clear and consistent policy positions which unite the Parliamentary Party and the wider membership and stop pursuing policies which alienate our natural supporters. There are signs that this is the path which will be followed in the run up to the General Election with tougher stances on immigration, law and order, and welfare benefits. He could do more on making an EU Membership referendum a guarantee rathen than an aspiration, and he must stop allowing the Chancellor to cut Defence spending while wasting it on Overseas Aid. He must also swiftly ensure that Equal Marriage proposals get onto the Statute Book and avoid picking any more fights with his own side. It is also time to say thankyou and goodbye to Kenneth Clarke who has long outlived his usefulness. If he combined this with a Cabinet reshuffle which reduced the number of people attending the weekly Cabinet meetings he might lead a more focussed and coherent government.

Overall I am optimistic following last week’s local elections. Labour has failed to make any meaningful recovery from the dark days of Gordon Brown’s administration and the Lib Dems are greatly weakened. UKIP will prove to be an irrelevance come the General Election when the turnout will be much higher than last Thursday. A revitalised and emboldened Conservative Party can therefore win the next General Election with a working majority provided that the leadership leads and the Parliamentary Party unites and stops bickering in public. There is everything to play for!

UPDATE: There is a really sensible and reflective piece by Martha Andreasen here.


May 5, 2013 - Posted by | National


  1. Who writes the CCHQ briefing notes? Enid Blyton? Only Dr Goebbels with the movie Kolberg and Emperor Hirohito with “The war has not been developing in Japan’s favour” surpass it as an exercise in denial.

    Yes you didn’t get the whipping you deserved but still it was a bad night for Camerclown and his performing chimps. The Lib Dems got ther backsides kicked and yes Labour didn’t do as well as expected, due to its lacklustre Leader Ed the ineffectual and his failure to make any committment to repeal some of the hated Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal Welfare and Benefits policies. However the night was UKIP’s and no amount of wishful thinking or going lalala with your fingers in your ears will change that.

    As to them not getting any MPs in 2015, in your dreams! They DO now have a significant upper tier Local Government presence and are the Opposition as you have yourself said above in some County Councils and not merely on Trumpton Town and Parish Councils and will now have a say in big money key matters such as Education. No longer can UKIP be written off as a single issue pressure group and I doubt that the EU fugured significantly in the reasons voters deserted the Three Centrist Stooges and voted for a change. No matter how much it stings FOUR party politics are here to stay. You make comparison to the SDP, Greens and BNP. I too am glad to see the end of the last of these but the Greens run a city,Brighton, and have an MP there and some hold that the SDP lives on, its Right wing in the Lib-Dems, its Left as the Blairites in the (New) Labour Party. I prefer to make comparison with the then Liberals written of in 1970 with only 6 MPs but who over the years have grown to have 57 MPs and are keeping your lot in power, no doubt to their own cost in 2015, as part of your Condem coalition.

    You mention Cameron picking fights with his own supporters. I’d same Same-sex so-called “marriage” is one of those as is alienating Pensioners, once a sure fire group of Tory supporters by grudging them their pensions and benefits such as the Winter Fuel payment, free TV licences for those over 75 and free bus passes.

    In one matter I will agree with you, there must be no pact from UKIP with the Cameron Conservatives. If UKIP win a number of MPs in 2015 as I feel confident that they will, then they must stay aloof and totally refuse to form a pact should there again be a Hung Parliament, and give their support or opposition issue by issue, Bill by Bill. If they save Cameron’s bacon they will have betrayed those who gave them such great support on May 2nd, and like the Lib-Dems in 2010 sold there souls for a few Rt Hons and red despatch boxes.

    I will I hope be observing the 2015 General Election on TV from another country and not living nor paying tax in the UK will not be voting in any more British Elections. I will raise my glass of vin ordinaire for each seat UKIP gains and especially when Cameron concedes defeat and is driven to the Palace to resign. Happy days indeed to come.

    Finally mon ami, Vive la France!

    Comment by steve foley | May 5, 2013 | Reply

  2. Sorry, Richard, you seem to be saying “Hold steady, all we need is more of the same” to DC. I have no doubt that UKIP will do very well in the EU elections, and that ought to give it a big boost in 2015. More of the same, with less Tory bickering, will NOT save Cameron. A radical and genuine change in policies will – try some Conservative ones !

    Alan Douglas

    Comment by Alan Douglas | May 6, 2013 | Reply

    • Alan – what could be more Conservative than what the Government is doing on Welfare, Education and Immigration? This has been a reforming government which has tackled areas from which Margaret Thatcher shrank. However, I do despair sometimes when they ring-fence foreign aid and health while cutting defence. There have also been too many annnouncements which are not followed through or are followed by a U-turn!

      There are many very Conservative policies being implemented now but there is not always the impression of a grip on events or on the presentation. That needs a stronger central team in No 10. So, yes, hold steady but ensure that what is announced is thought through and credible.

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 6, 2013 | Reply

      • “,,, from which Margaret Thatcher shrank”. REALLY? I remember Margaret Thatcher well and she had more political accumen under her fingernails than the spoilt brat Upper Class twit we have as PM and his crew of Osborne and Duncan Smith have in there entire bodies. She would never have alienated so many ordinary people across the Political spectrum as Cameron has and is doing. Yes she controlled the Unions where Labour had failed and did privatise industries that the State should not have run, BP, BT,BA, BAA come to mind though Water, Gas and Electricity should have stayed Nationalised IMO.

        MT would never have inflicted such brutal Welfare and Benefits cuts as IDS nor would she would have enraged People of Faith by such an act as instituting same-sex “marriage” indeed she brought in Section 28.

        I had a lump in my throat as I watched Maggies’ Ceremonial Funeral and condemned those who mocked it. When Cameron dies I, if I am still around, will be dancing in the street. Cameron IMO is the worst PM we have had since Baldwin and I look forward to him being slung out of office in 2015. This is the worst Government in my 60 years.

        Comment by steve foley | May 6, 2013

  3. Have to say I think the direction of this blog is all wrong. To many of our colleagues are putting out these kind of ‘PR’ blogs making out it was terrible for Labour and that we did not do that badly. If we are to have a Conservative government in 2015 we must accept that we took a bad beating and we need to re-think our approach. Attempting to make out Labour did badly is hyperbole at best – they gained over 300 seats and they lost not a single one of their seats to UKIP.

    We must have a serious discussion in our Party about how we will tackle UKIP as well as regain the trust of voters who are naturally conservative.

    Comment by James Collins | May 6, 2013 | Reply

    • James – you are entitled to your opinion just as I am to mine. The facts speak for themselves. Labour failed to achieve even their lowest realistic target of seat gains – the gained 291 net which is is FEWER than 300! They also failed to regain even the four Councils they lost in 2009 when Gordon Brown was desperately unpopular.

      I would agree with you that it is important to re-engage with voters who have deserted us in recent years but the reality is that more stayed at home last Thursday than voted for UKIP. That is why the turnout dropped by 10%. Lets have a discussion but base it on facts not panicked knee-jerk responses!

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 6, 2013 | Reply

  4. You will still be burying your head in the sand right up to May 2015. If you were to think things through logically you would realise you haven’t a hope of forming a majority government at the next election.

    A few reasons:
    1) There is no time for the economy to turnaround sufficiently even if the coalition were in control of it’s own destiny in this area.
    2) History. You have not had a majority since 1992.
    3) The rise of UKIP which is NOT going away and will decimate your vote.
    4) No boundary changes.
    5) Gay marriage.
    6) An increasingly untrustworthy and inept Leader.
    7) A lacklustre cabinet without any charismatic personalities.
    8) Your best (and probably last) chance was in 2010 when you were up against a hugely unpopular Labour government led by the universally disliked Gordon Brown and even in those very favourable circumstances you failed to cross the line.
    9) Can’t shake off the nasty tag.
    10) The demise of the Lib Dems whose supporters will defect en masse to labour.
    And this is before the infighting really starts not the mention the next round of austerity cuts. May I suggest you take a more conciliatory and realistic view of the hopelessness of the situation on your blog before you become the victim of ridicule.

    Comment by Phil the Greek | May 7, 2013 | Reply

    • I totally agree Phil and for the same reasons. The current Cameron Government has defiled the once proud and worthy Conservative name, the once noble Party of Churchill, Macmillan, Home and Thatcher with brutal cuts in benefits to the most vulnerable in Society and a vicious regimen in the administration thereof and policies such as the Bedroom Tax which forces people out of what they have known as home for years even decades and which will disrupt communities,so much for “The Big Society” , and have performed an act of National Apostasy by introducing same-sex “Marriage”. It is no use them whingeing that Labour have no Plan B as it is Osborne who is Chancellor not Balls and Plan A is NOT working.

      However I hope that Cameron’s pride will stop him from changing tack and he and his party will suffer a defeat which will make 1945 and 1997 look like a damned close run thing and that they will be out of office for the next 20 years.

      Cameron and his party are unworthy of the British People and I hope they suffer a salutary punishment at the Polls in 2015.

      Comment by steve foley | May 8, 2013 | Reply

      • Steve – you really have lost the plot! Cameron is continuing in the same vein as Margaret Thatcher and John Major and is delivering the change this country needs after the disastrous Labour years. The rubbish you have spouted in the last few days as you flit between supporting Labour and UKIP just shows up how little credibility your comments have.

        With regard to Equal Marriage it is greatly to David Cameron’s credit that he has championed this reform over the objections of bigots and homophobes, and to call it a “national apostasy” is frankly risible. I am sure that some people said the same in 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised, something which Margaret Thatcher supported against the majority of her party!

        Meanwhile the Conservative party will get on with cleaning up Labour’s mess and reforming the welfare system to make it fair to those who have to pay the large burden of tax which it costs. There will be no changing of tack and we will see the economy recovering strongly and the country back on track in time for the 2015 General Election.

        You should focus your attention on the disastrouss French Socialist government which Ed Miliband and his accolytes seem so intent on emulating!

        Bon chance!

        Comment by Richard Willis | May 8, 2013

      • People laugh at the North Korean newscasters but your latest offering Richard is as indoctrinated a cheerleading exercise for Kim ill Cameron as any brainwashed DRNK journalist could broadcast. Move outside of the Pale Blue Tent in the Political Village or even Peppard Ward of RBC and listen to ordinary people not fellow party members about such vicious policies as the bedroom tax, the adverse changes to Benefits towards which many claimants paid when working, the harsh way that jobcentre staff are alleged by many to treat the unemployed in the hope they will cease to claim and thus improve the figures even if they have no other source of income. Maggie, a great PM although she too had her faults, the Poll Tax being her worst and her downfall, never introduced such socio-economically divisive policies as Cameron and Co and being Middle Class she would have the better understood ordinary working-class people no doubt having served such folk in her father’s grocery shop than one could expect Cameron, an Old Etonian beneficiary of inherited wealth to ever comprehend. As for Major a cypher who only became PM because he wasn’t Heseltine and Hurd split the vote. Even Major, perhaps again owing to his background, did not attempt to introduce policies as inherently nasty as Cameron. It is obvious to those not brainwashed that Cameron is undoing the gains made by the Working Class since the Attlee Government in 1945 and respected and preserved for the most part by Conservative PMs including Thatcher and Major until Cameron and Co took office in May 2010.

        I am in France and for the most part am happy to support President Hollande on all save one of his policies. Indeed although I cannot vote for him until I can take out French Citizenship I will probably help his party at whatever elections occur next in my area.

        Yes I can in some matters support UKIP e.g. Education, Defence, Family Values, Law and Order where the Cameroons have failed, but support Labour broadly on Economics, Employment Protection and safeguarding the NHS “free at point of need to all” but then again I have always thought for myself and do not parrot a Party Line. If other parties have an idea I agree with they have in the past got my support, e.g. I voted in favour of the Reading Rock Festival when the Party Line was against.

        So Richard, enjoy the next 103 weeks or so of Cameron’s Kingdom as even with an insipid Leader such as Miliband, Labour ought to win with a small overall majority in 2015. If against all reasonable expectations the British electorate return Cameron, especially with an overall majority then they are far less smart than I believe them to be and will fully deserve the further harshness which will be their reward for such stupidity. I shall watch here from the South of France. Bon chance a vous aussi .
        Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

        Comment by Steve Foley | May 8, 2013

      • Steve – I fear you really have lost all touch with reality!! But as I have said to others, you are entitled to your opinion, as am I! You talk as though you knew Maggie Thatcher, I would be fascinated to know how many times you met her etc or whether you are doing what so many do and laying your prejudices on her memory. I met her, spoke to her, and attended Party Conferences in the 1980s when she spoke to people without the media etc being present.

        With your inverted snobbery you also seem to think that because Cameron went to Eton he should not be Prime Minister. A person’s background, privileged or otherwise, should not matter in this day and age. Have you forgotten that Churchill was from a privileged aristocratic background, with inherited wealth? Do stay in France and support Hollande, thus ensuring that French industry and entrepreneurs migrate across the Channel to the UK which will continue to enjoy Cameron as PM after the next election!

        Comment by Richard Willis | May 8, 2013

  5. I can’t say I knew Mrs Thatcher personally, I did attend a few meetings at which she spoke, usually at Conferences. I can only judge her on her actions when in office and I stand on what I observed and lived through and on what I heard and read of her philosophy.

    As for Cameron to compare him to Churchill is to defame that great man who in his long life was a soldier, escaping capitivity furing the Boer War, was a Minister in both the Tory and Liberal Governments, a journalist, author and painter, and when the time came was the greatest Leader the Nation ever had in its darkest hours. Although from the family of the Dukes of Marlborough and an Old Harrovian. Churchill could understand the trials and pains of the ordinary man and woman. In this he was similar in some ways to Harold Macmillan, again from a Public School and of an Upper Class background. Indeed, being educated in a Public School is no bar to high office, was not Attlee a Public School pupil? It is the use to which a person puts their education be it Public, Grammar or Comprehensive that counts but Cameron certain exemplifies to many people such as myself the adverse aspects of his background.

    I will be delighted to stay in France under President Hollande, thinking for myself. As for Cameron winning a second term, we can all dream. I think you have as much chance of winning the National Lottery. Cameron and Co have hurt and alienated too many voters to get a second chance.

    Comment by steve foley | May 8, 2013 | Reply

  6. It’s clear Labour aren’t making progress they’d like – on current declared councils it looks like they’re having difficulty even making up their 2009 losses in many areas. And their 2005 results were poor. Conservatives remain by far largest party despite some good local councillors being lost – but losses have been quite variable. Lib Dems are losing seats in almost all areas. UKIP gaining seats, but very variable and area dependent.

    Comment by Emanuel Medina | May 18, 2013 | Reply

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