A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Reflections on yesterday's results
05/05/2012 15:03:00

 
 

Shorlty before midnight yesterday, Boris Johnson was re-elected as the Mayor of London with a slightly reduced majority. In five of the fourteen GLA constituencies, there was actually a swing to Boris since 2008.

In a city that voted Labour even at the 2010 General Election and after all the Government's difficulties over the last couple of months, this was a sensational result. How did it happen?

First and foremost, the credit must go to Boris himself. Back in 2008, many people had doubts about whether he was serious about the job. Four years on, he has a record to be proud of - cutting taxes, investing in public transport, cutting crime, striking a fairer balance between central London and the outer boroughs.

But more than that, in a job that has limited formal powers and is all about acting as a figurehead for the city, he is a likeable personality. He gets a reaction from the public normally reserved for celebrities, not politicians. And that popularity converts into political support - for every three votes that Conservative Assembly candidates received, Boris got four. The Conservative Party needs more politicians like him with the ability to sell our values to those who do not think of themselves as Conservatives.

But Boris's record and his likeability don't on their own explain his sensational re-election. The Labour Party committed electoral suicide by selecting Ken Livingstone as their candidate. Had they selected pretty much anyone else, they would have had a good chance of winning last night.

As Atul Hatwal explains on the Labour Uncut website, the decision to select their candidate immediately after the General Election - which effectively handed the candidacy to Livingstone - was taken before Ed Miliband was elected Leader of the Labour Party so he's not to blame for that. But he could have acted when Livingstone broke Labour's rules by supporting Respect candidate Luftur Rahman in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election. Instead, he took the path of least resistance and did nothing. The revelations about Ken's tax avoidance and his deeply divisive campaign - promising to make London a beacon of Islam while saying most Jews were rich so they were never going to vote for him - did the rest.

I've spent some time this morning looking at the results in each of the 14 GLA constituencies to see whether, from a Conservative perspective, the Croydon & Sutton results were better or worse than the London average. What the figures show is that in both the Mayoral and Assembly elections the swing locally was almost exactly the same as the London-wide swing:

Swing from Ken to Boris in each GLA constituency

Merton & Wandsworth 3.7%

South West 3.2%

West Central 2.5%

Barnet & Camden 2.3%

Lambeth & Southwark 0.2%

Bexley & Bromley -0.2%

LONDON -1.3%

Croydon & Sutton -1.3%

Brent & Harrow -1.6%

Ealing & Hillingdon -2.2%

North East -2.7%

Greenwich & Lewisham -3.5%

Havering & Redbridge -3.7%

Enfield & Haringey -4.1%

City & East -6.2%

Swing from Labour to Conservative in each GLA constituency

Bexley & Bromley -4.6%

Merton & Wandsworth -4.6%

West Central -5.9%

South West -6.9%

Lambeth & Southwark -8.2%

Greenwich & Lewisham -9%

Ealing & Hillingdon -9.3%

Croydon & Sutton -9.3%

Brent & Harrow -9.7%

North East -9.9%

Havering & Redbridge -11.7%

Barnet & Camden -12%

Enfield & Haringey -12.3%

City & East -15.6%

There are some clear overall patterns - for example, Conservatives did well in central and south-west London (the Merton & Wandsworth, South West & West Central constituencies) and badly in north-east London (the City & East, Enfield & Haringey, Havering & Redbridge and North East constituencies). There is one constituency - Barnet & Camden - where we did relatively well in the Mayoral election but relatively poorly in the Assembly election - the constituency has a significant Jewish community that may have voted against Ken and our sitting Assembly member, Brian Coleman, is - how can I put this politely - something of a marmite figure.

It is also interesting to look at by how much Boris outperformed our London Assembly candidates in each constituency:

Boris vote as a percentage of Assembly candidate vote

West Central 118.6%

Bexley & Bromley 118.6%

Merton & Wandsworth 118.7%

Ealing & Hillingdon 122.1%

Croydon & Sutton 129.2%

South West 133.3%

Havering & Redbridge 138.1%

Enfield & Haringey 138.9%

Brent & Harrow 144.8%

North East 152.0%

Barnet & Camden 155.2%

Lambeth & Southwark 156.7%

Greenwich & Lewisham 161.3%

City & East 171.3%

Unsurprisingly, with the exception of the aforementioned Mr Coleman, the smallest gaps between our Assembly candidates' votes and Boris's votes were in the constituencies where we had incumbent Assembly members. In the best four constituencies, Boris 'only' got about 20% more votes than the Assembly candidates. In the Croydon & Sutton and South West constituencies, Boris got 30% more than the Assembly candidates and in Havering & Redbridge 40% more. Why? In the latter case, it is probably due to the fact that the Havering Residents Association fielded a candidate in the Assembly elections this time; in the former cases, it may be due to Liberal Democrat supporters voting for Boris but not our Assembly candidates (these two constituencies contain Liberal Democrat-run boroughs), though there may be other explanations. We will need to see the ward-by-ward results, which will be published shortly (and are manna from heaven for a statto like me).

Aside from Boris's victory (and that's a big aside), there is no disguising that these were disappointing results for the Conservative Party. Labour performed much more impressively than a year ago and we were unable to repeat our 2011 miracle of making net gains from an already high base.

Predicting what a given level of net gains or losses means for a party's prospects at the next General Election isn't easy but having been responsible for the Conservative Party's local election campaigns from 1998 to 2006 it's something I know a fair bit about, even if I do say so myself. Labour did well but not outstandingly. They were always going to make significant gains because they did so badly four years ago when these seats were last contested. It is more instructive to look at vote share. To be confident of winning a General Election, an opposition party needs to be getting around 42% or more of the vote in local elections. On Thursday, Labour got 38%, similar to what William Hague and Michael Howard achieved when I was working for them - and much good it did us at the subsequent General Elections.

This wasn't then a mid-term thumping of the sort that John Major's and Gordon Brown's Governments were regularly on the receiving end of. Nevertheless, the electorate have sent us a clear message that the Government's performance in recent weeks hasn't been good enough, that we need to get back to delivering the change people voted for - sorting out the financial mess, ending the something for nothing culture, mending our broken society and fixing our broken politics.

Comment on this blog

 

Readers' Comments

On 05/05/2012 22:19:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:
A number of people have pointed out that I haven't said anything about the Liberal Democrats. Unlike some of my colleagues, I have no desire to revel in the misfortunes of our Coalition colleagues (they lost 44% of the seats we were defending compared to our 29% - some of them may at least take some pleasure that this year we are sharing their pain). Coming on top of last year's losses, some people say that this shows they were wrong to go into coalition with us. I don't agree - the Liberal Democrats believe in coalition government, they would have looked ridiculous if they had refused to join one and we were the only show in town.

The problem they have is that in opposition they courted votes from both sides of the political spectrum. The moment they went into coalition with either of the main parties, they were always going to lose some support. Their mistake was not going into coalition, it was the price they named. Imagine where they would be in the polls if instead of asking for a referendum on AV (something they care about but most of their voters don't), they'd asked for the abolition of tuition fees.

They can at least draw small comfort from the fact that they did better in areas where they have MPs. Their best strategy for this Parliament is to accept their vote share will go down and focus on their incumbency and holding the seats they have.

 
On 06/05/2012 19:16:00 William Blakes Ghost wrote:
"Predicting what a given level of net gains or losses means for a party's prospects at the next General Election isn't easy but having been responsible for the Conservative Party's local election campaigns from 1998 to 2006 it's something I know a fair bit about, even if I do say so myself."

Well I find electoral calculus works rather well (and UKpolling report is a useful comparison)

http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/userpoll.html

"To be confident of winning a General Election, an opposition party needs to be getting around 42% or more of the vote in local elections. On Thursday, Labour got 38%, similar to what William Hague and Michael Howard achieved when I was working for them - and much good it did us at the subsequent General Elections."

It's not possible to make such assertions. Cameron polled 43% in 2008 and failed to win a majority. Labour polled 44% in 1990 and lost. In 1993 Labour got 39% and won in 1997. Better to follow the ongoing polls. Given the idiosyncracies of our electoral system and the way they give Labour an advantage (even after the boundary fiddling) as a rule of thumb if Labour lead by 4 points they will be on course for a small majority, 7 points and Labour will get a solid majority of 50 seats or so and above that we start talking Labour landslide. Unless Tory poll shares improve it will potentially be another 'terrible night for the Tories' as Labour are currently on course for victory.

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp2003/rp03-059.pdf

"This wasn't then a mid-term thumping of the sort that John Major's and Gordon Brown's Governments were regularly on the receiving end of"

Wasn't it? Logically you are now beginning the downside of the local election cycle. Only John Major of previous Conservative leaders since 1979 has performed worse than the general election vote share equivalent prediction provided by the BBC of 31% that Cameron got and that was in 1993 (when Labour also polled 39% coincidentally). It preceded 29% 25% 28% in 1994-1996 and we know what happened in 1997. It was more than a 'clear message' it was a sound thrashing and if this shambles of a Coalition doesn't shape up then I can see Cameron following Major into political ignominy alongside Clegg.

Its this sort of simplistic complacency that will ensure Tory disaster in 2015.

 
On 15/05/2012 10:21:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:
William

Whilst you are right to say that some allowance should be made for the way in which our electoral system - even after the proposed boundary changes - will continue to discriminate against the Conservative Party, I find the rest of your arguments unconvincing.

David Cameron would have won a General Election in 2008 - it was a combination of the TV debates, which boosted the Liberal Democrats and thereby made it harder for us to portray the 2010 Election as a two-party battle, and the Party's (correct even if it damaged our electoral prospects) decision to make it clear in the autumn of 2009 that tough decisions needed to be made on public spending that prevented him from doing so two years later.

Yes Labour got 39% in 1993 but Tony Blair then replaced John Smith as Leader and they recorded thumping victories in 1994, 1995 and 1996, which showed that they were on course to win well in 1997. If John Smith had remained Labour leader, the 1997 Election would have been tighter, though I think Labour would still have won.

Tony Blair experienced far worst local election defeats than we faced on 3rd May and went on to win subsequent General Elections.

 
 

 

 

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