Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

On May 3 local elections were held in most parts of England outside London, as were elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In the run-up to the elections it had been clear that Labour would do poorly across the board, yet Labour's acceptance of this appears to have changed the expectations game, placing the burden on the Conservatives, the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru.

The situation now is not absolutely settled, as there have been problems with weirdly high numbers of spoiled ballots in some Scottish constituencies (possibly due to the complicated ballot paper's needed for Holyrood's mixture of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting). Nevertheless, at present, we can make these deductions:

Scotland

Results (BBC)

The big victors here are obviously the SNP. Although Labour lost ground, their totals went down by only a few percentage points overall in the constituency elections and barely at all in the regional lists. Much of the ground which the SNP made up appears to have been due to the disintegration of the SSP (Scottish Socialist Party) following the libel action which its former leader Tommy Sheridan (now leader of Solidarity) brought against the News of the World last year. Nevertheless, SSP voters might be expected to split fairly evenly between Labour and the SNP and Scotland and Wales are supposed to be Labour strongholds.

Neither the Lib Dems nor the Conservatives performed particularly impressively, although neither expected to as the former is rarely competitive outside the Highlands and Islands and the latter is only a player in the wealthier southern constituencies.

The most likely result here is a coalition government led by the SNP. The Liberal Democrats, who were previously in coalition with Labour, have said that they will not do so now, whilst a Con-Lab coalition is unthinkable both because of the attitudes of their national parties and because Scottish Labour is well to the left of the leaders of British Labour. The Lib Dems and Greens are both in talks with the SNP over a potential coalition, which would give them 65 seats, a majority of one. The sticking point will be the referendum on independence which the SNP promised to hold in 2010, a policy to which the Lib Dems are opposed.

In this atmosphere, independent MP Margo MacDonald is likely to play an important role. A former member of the left wing of the SNP, she claims not to be planning to join any coalitions, yet here support could yet prove crucial for maintaining or sinking governments this parliament.

Whether the SNP gains are indicative of a fundamental restructuring in Scottish politics is unclear. We must wait for the next UK General Election to see how they perform before an assessment of this can be made, but personally I suspect that with Labour out of power north of the border and a first-past-the-post system, they'll overcome their problems with unpopularity and any nationalist gains in seats at the next election will be minimal.

Wales

Results (BBC)

In Wales there appears to have been much less movement than in Scotland. Nevertheless, Labour did not hold a majority prior to the election and their losses mean that they will definitely be looking for a coalition. Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives gained at their expense. Labour still got more votes than any of its rivals, yet this is hardly surprising since South Wales contains some of the safest Labour seats in the country.

The question of what happens next is difficult to answer, as many options remain on the table. The most likely solution is a repeat of the previous Lib-Lab coalition, yet certain members of the party have voiced opposition. Alternatively, Labour could attempt to form a coalition with Plaid Cymru, yet given that party's previous refusal to join a "failing Labour government" this would likely require a number of political concessions on Labour's part. Finally, a rainbow coalition could be formed to keep Labour out of power, but given that Plaid Cymru leans to the left it seems unlikely that a coalition between them and the Conservatives would be anything but fractious and short lived, whilst if Labour were kept in opposition it would present them with the opportunity to castigate the government for any failings on its part.

England

Results (BBC)

Although a couple of councils are yet to declare, the overall picture seems clear. The Conservatives appear to have won around 50.5% of all available English council seats and to have gained 40% of the total votes. Labour appears to have obtained only 27% of the votes and in terms of actual seats to have been beaten by the Lib Dems, although they did beat them both in terms of total votes (if only by a single percentage point) and in terms of councils controlled. The Conservatives appear to have had some success in the north and have gained control of 38 new councils.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives were not successful everywhere, failing, for example, to take Bury. Moreover local council elections would appear to favour them slightly and without any elections in the London area a number of strong Labour areas are excluded. The Conservative performance certainly looks strong enough to deny Labour a majority and most likely to be the largest party in the next parliament, but when one factors in Labour's strengths and Conservative weaknesses in Wales and Scotland (as well as the electoral map's lean towards Labour) a hung parliament seems the most likely outcome at the next General Election.

Depending, of course, on who Labour's next leader is and how the party deals with this. Blair had already stated before the election that he would be stepping down on May 10th. The succession seems almost certain to pass to Gordon Brown, yet that is unlikely to be the end of the story. Later in the week, I'll diary the possible paths Labour's recent history, its internal politics could take over the next few months and what this could mean for its prospects at the next election.

Tags: Britain, Conservative Party, Elections, England, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Scotland, Scottish Nationalist Party, Wales (all tags)

Comments

12 Comments

Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

I am somewhat surprised at this.  Apparently the Iraq debacle and Blair's own problems have not led to the Conservative brand's damage, quite the opposite, it appears.  Germany has seen a similarly alignment with the Conservative party (CDU/CSU) strengthening at the cost of the liberal party (SPD.)  I am just glad that in this country the opposite is currently happening.

by georgep 2007-05-06 08:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

Why would Blair's problems hurt the Conservatives? Blair is the labor leader.

by Quinton 2007-05-06 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

Strange as it sometimes seems to me, Blair is the leader of Labour.

Iraq probably has played a part in his party's unpopularity, but I doubt it's been as influential as it has been upon Bush, as Basra and its environs are significantly less disturbed than Baghdad and the Sunni-majority provinces and Labour was deeply divided about the war. A lot of people left the party because of it, but the ones who did that are those who'd sooner stab themselves in the groin than vote Tory.

Aside from that, Labour's also been hurt by, in no particular order, scandals involving ministers, problems at the Home Office, the first viable Tory party since around 1995, the length of Labour's time in power, over-reliance on swing voters rather than Labour's historic base, the perception that they're all PR and the failure to accomplish anything in the last 5 years that benefitted the country, rather than a narrow group of incompetent consultants and partners in PFI schemes.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-06 10:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

Care to comment on the vote debacle in Scotland.

The Scotsman said that at least 5% of ballots where invalid because voters were confused by the ballots, while in some urban consituencies it was higher than 10%.  They also said that something like 1 in 6 of the constituency seats were won by margins less than the number of spoilt ballots.

by ManfromMiddletown 2007-05-06 08:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

I can't tell you much, as I'm not a Scot. My ballots have always been simple - you mark a cross for the candidate you want to vote for.

As elections to the Scottish parliament sensibly include an element of proportional representation, their method is rather more complicated. It's not something I've ever studied, however, so I can't tell you much of any use.

What I can tell you is that there are legal challenges being prepared in some constituencies, so it's not quite sorted yet.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-06 10:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

This is not good for Labour.

The SNP is fueled by the belief that London lies, and even the apperance of impropiety is going to make them stronger.

It seems that given the large number of irregularities, another election is a distinct possibility. Especially given the problems forming a stable governing coalition.

by ManfromMiddletown 2007-05-06 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

This isn't going to hurt Labour. On the constituency list, the guy who stands to benefit if some of the spoiled ballots get counted was a Labour Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish nationalism and chauvinism are unlikely to be increased by this, particularly since organising these elections was not remotely within the remit of the London government. It's run independently.

In fact as it stands it's the SNP which has it all to lose. Right now the Scots as a whole are not pro-independence and given the cynicism that suffuses Britain as a whole they're going to have to be squeaky-clean and very efficient to avoid all manner of problems.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-06 12:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

I have been wondering this for a bit. It would seem that the unpopularity of the Labour Party would be mostly caused by conservative issues, like the Iraq War. Yet, I mostly see gains (at least in England) by the Conservative Party, which openly supports the war (from the things I have heard Tory MP's say). As well, the Liberal Democrats, who seem to have become more and more left-wing in recent years, don't seem to be taking as much advantage of the Iraq situation either, and don't seem to be making gains (is this just due to the alchohol scandal with the Lib Dem leader?). As a resident of the UK, what do you think are the reasons for these effect?

by JewishJake 2007-05-06 06:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

The war is no longer much of an issue. The country was much more evenly split than America was at the start and it's rather more unpopular than that now, but British troops have got off much more lightly. The core reason for Labour's decline is that the country is tired of New Labour.

As to the Lib Dems, I don't believe they've become more and more left-wing. The reverse, if anything, although given that when they oppose Labour they do it from the left and when their main rivals are Conservative they're very much more to the right, it's hard to tell what they really believe in. For example, they recently shelved their policy of a new rate of tax for very high earners.

Kennedy's alcoholism isn't what's hurting the Lib Dems. They lost some support for the disgraceful way in which they treated a man who had a medical problem, but most of the reason for their stagnation is that Kennedy pissed out of his mind was a better leader than Menzies "Not quite dead although it's sometimes hard to tell" Campbell.

NB. That's not actually Campbell's real nickname.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-07 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

What about New Labour are the people sick of? The more conservative economic policies? If this is the case, why would they like the conservatives who are even more right wing on economics? Or, is it other problems that are making the name itself unpopular, not necessarily their policies specifically, and so ANYTHING running against it would win?

by JewishJake 2007-05-07 08:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

Their economic policies, particularly PFI (seemingly a mix of capitalism and state control designed to take the very worst from both systems), irritate those on the left, but on the right it's claimed that added investment in healthcare and education hasn't worked and should therefore be cut. However, for reasons I'll go into later, Cameron hasn't discussed economic issues (or much at all, really) except insofar as to say that Labour have failed.

Scandals, on the other hand, have hurt the party's credibility. We're a little less accepting of a supposed party of the left being in cahoots with big business and operating a revolving door policy than Americans used to be of 'Third Way' Democratic politicians.

Plus there have been a number of news stories about foul-ups at the Home Office, including the release of immigrants slated for deportation because they had committed crimes and prison overcrowding due to a primal need on the part of the Home Secretary to appear to be tough on crime.

Finally, you have to remember than England, particularly the parts south of the Humber estuary and out of the larger cities, is a naturally conservative country relative to the rest of the United Kingdom. Plenty of people who are naturally Conservatives didn't vote for them in the past because they had so completely obliterated the credibility of their brand since 1990. Cameron's managed to stop people perceiving the Tories as 'nasty', aided by a succession of recent failures on the part of Labour.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-07 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Analysis of the recent elections in Britain
I believe UK is in a delicate position. The whole world is pointing on them and the pressure inside the political environment is not making it any easier. It will take some moths to calm down the "situation", they are smart guys.loft bed
by Loft Bed 2007-05-07 04:04AM | 0 recs

Diaries

Advertise Blogads