Local election 2022 – What actually happened
The wait is over, the early results are in, the party spokespeople are spinning hard in every media studio. But it’s a spin free zone for DI’s analysis; here, you’ll just get the cold, hard, analytical truth.
In summary so far, it is a rather mixed result. Not as bad as the Tories feared, pretty much on trend for a governing party’s mid-term underperformance; not as good as Labour had expected and hoped for, although their somewhat robotically repetitive spin line is that ‘it’s a turning point’. And it looks like a typical mid-term protest vote, with the usual suspects – Lib Dems, Greens and Independents – doing well, with apathy a big winner evidenced by a really low turnout, in some places as low as 20%.
Interestingly, on the demographic vote we see yet again the clear realignment of the voting public; the graduate ABs moving towards the Left and the working class CDs moving to the Right. London continues its journey as a Labour stronghold and Labour are doing better in the big metropolitan cities, but the Tories are still winning in towns and more rural areas. In general, Remain voting areas are still going Left, either Labour or Lib Dem, and Leave areas are staying Right.
Concentrate on ‘projected national share’
As polling royalty Sir John Curtice and Stephen Fisher pointed out prior to this local election, to analyse what’s actually happened, you need to look past seats won/lost, councils won/lost, number of votes cast etc, as they are frankly useless to understand the reality. (These bland stats are of course exactly what our simplistic mainstream media focus upon). Why are they poor guides? Because some elections are being held under first-past-the-post, in London under multi member plurality, and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under very differing versions of proportional representation. Parties whose vote falls less than their rivals may gain seats but lose votes. Parties which spread their votes geographically may seem to move forward but actually win fewer seats.
So the best comparator is the projected national share of the vote. And how did they do?
Tories down by 4%, so a poor result but not shocking at this point in the cycle. The surprise is an anaemic 1% rise for Labour overall and the party actually going backwards albeit slightly in the key marginal battlegrounds. With the daily implosions and self-inflicted injuries delivered by the Tories almost every day up until polling day, this is not good enough. Sir John Curtice has been giving Labour a pretty poor report all through the night.
This was always going to be a tricky 12-years in government, mid-term election for them, made worse by all their own endless madness. In reality, some individual results have long been baked in:
Wandsworth – although totemic in its way, the demographics have been moving against the Tories for over 12 years and the Labour vote, in what has always been a slightly more marginal council than the headlines would suggest, has been getting closer to a win in the last three local elections since 2010. In fact, Labour won the largest share of the vote there in 2018 but just couldn’t stack the votes up in the number of wards it needed to win the council
Southampton – the ultimate pendulum authority, back and forth it goes, as regular as clockwork, so its loss is not in the least surprising
Barnet – was expected to switch to Labour last time, in 2018, but due to the unrelenting antisemitism surrounding the then Corbyn Labour leadership, the very large Jewish vote there kept it Tory against what was expected at that time
West Oxfordshire – The ‘blue wall’ crumbling in all its painful glory for them
On the plus side, the Tories have picked up seats in Nuneaton, West Bromwich, Thurrock, Basildon, Amber Valley and Hartlepool.
The more worrying surprise so far is the loss of Westminster. That really was a worst case scenario for them. To misquote Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘To lose one flagship borough, Mr Johnson, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’
As Tory MPs lick their wounds over the weekend, does the very painful loss of Wandsworth and Westminster (and others) tip the potential 50-odd backbench letter writers over the edge? Boris’ USP has always been that he is an election winner. On Sunday morning, over their scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, do they still believe?
Their hype is on overdrive, but actually it’s a pretty poor show for Labour. With the Tories in utter scandal hit chaos 24/7 on every news bulletin for months, this result amounts almost to flatlining, moving no further forward than their 2021 local election performance. Some nice results here and there but this is really thin gruel. The Starmerbot just cannot seem to reach the hearts of the electorate. Some examples:
Nuneaton – a Tory hold in the red wall, exactly the sort of place where Labour needs to be bouncing back
Amber Valley – the Tories actually increased their hold of the council
Hillingdon – a key target for Labour as it contains Boris’ Uxbridge Parliamentary seat, and it was not won as they’d hoped and in fact was not even budged into no overall control
Hartlepool – another key red wall location where Labour has not broken through
Sheffield – Labour did not win here and they need to if they are to move forwards
There are places of course where they’ve done quite well: a surprising win in the new council of Cumberland, arguably more significant than Wandsworth, a win in a place where the Tories have three MPs. They’ve also won seats in Dudley, Derby and Chorley. But in truth, whilst Labour has done better in London, particularly with the two totemic Tory flagship wins, outside London they’re going nowhere rather slowly.
There will be lots of noise, lots of crowing about leaping forwards and the newly slimmed down Ed Davey will have some rather naff photo ops. But the perennial problem for them is that they hoover up the protest vote and thus do well in Parliamentary by-elections and mid-term local elections, but then fall back when it comes to General Elections. Normal service has been resumed for them as the walloping they received after the 2010-15 Coalition era fades into distant memory.
So where does all this leave us? Voters are cheesed off, in many cases not voting or registering a protest vote. Previous Tory voters are not switching to Labour in any significant numbers, mostly just staying at home, irritated. Labour, on this showing, are still way off winning a General Election.
In truth, at this stage on Friday AM, the two big questions from this local election cycle still hang in the air: (1) will the Tory bad but not disastrous election performance with its high profile losses finally signal the end of Boris? And (2) what will the impact of Sinn Fein doing so well in the as yet uncounted Northern Ireland elections mean for Stormont and the Brexit Protocol negotiations. The jury’s still out but things may be clearer by Monday.
[Please note: This commentary here is based on where we are right now, on Friday AM, with only around 50% of English results declared. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be declared until later on today.]