The unitary elections were not a disaster for any political party other than UKIP. The Liberal Democrats lost one seat to the Conservatives as did Labour and an independent. The Greens lost one seat but gained another.
Although the Conservatives gained 7% more votes and one more seat over 2013, the opposition was far from decimated. Could more seats have been won if the opposition parties had cooperated? I think so. And if we had have done so, we might have created a very different, progressive future for our county.
My inbox is full of emails from supporters of a progressive alliance. The basic idea is that the political parties opposing the Conservatives and far right parties should cooperate. Candidates should stand aside to allow the strongest candidate the best chance of defeating the Conservatives. My analysis suggests that the Greens could have taken Oswestry West and the Liberal Democrats could have won in Burnell if there had been collaboration. Less certainly, either Labour or the Greens might have taken one of the seats in Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn.
Below, I look at how a progressive alliance might have influenced this election. I also consider whether these results could be an indicator of how people will vote in the general election.
In all elections, political parties face a choice between spreading themselves thinly and putting candidates forward for just the seats where they can win or influence the outcome. My experience on the doorstep is that paper candidates – those put forward to fly the party flag and give people an option of voting for that party – are not popular. Voters want real candidates that campaign to show they can do the job if elected. The parties put few resources into paper candidates and the lack of communication can damage the reputation of a party.
Political parties do not declare how many of their candidates are paper candidates. As a rough guide, 33 of the 213 candidates in last week’s Shropshire elections gained less than 10% of the votes. So perhaps 15% of the candidates were paper candidates.
But paper candidates do attract votes and can help boost vote share (see my analysis of vote share). In Ludlow North, which I represent, the Conservative paper candidate – who did not knock a single door or distribute a single leaflet – still got 303 votes. That reflects the influence of the general election announcement, the almost tribal loyalty of many Tory voters and the tendency for more of Conservative supporters to vote than those of other parties. Elsewhere, paper candidates denied some progressive candidates seats.
Could a progressive alliance work in Shropshire?
There has been much talk of forming a progressive alliance to oppose the rightward drifting Conservative party. In Brighton, Green and Lib Dem candidates have stood aside to allow a clear run for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion and Labour in Brighton Kemptown for the general election. It hasn’t been such an easy ride for Labour progressives in Surrey.
The heightening of animosity between parties that occurs in the run up to elections seems to have killed off any hope of a broader progressive alliance ahead of 8 June. Labour chief whip Nick Brown has ruled out a progressive alliance, as it seems has Lib Dem “big beast” Vince Cable.
In this context, and with just a month to go to the election, a collaboration looks very unlikely to happen here in Shropshire ahead of 8 June. But could such an alliance have influenced the results of the unitary elections?
In Burnell on Thursday, the Greens gained only 64 votes. That was enough to ensure that the Conservatives pipped the Lib Dem candidate by 33 votes. Turnout was up 6% to 49%. That’s good for a local election and a tribute to the efforts the candidates made to engage the local electorate.
In Oswestry West, it is clear the Lib Dems denied the Greens a win. The Lib Dems gained only 71 votes. The Green candidate lost by just 9 votes. It was a low turnout, just 33%.
Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn is a two-seat ward. Both seats were won by Conservatives, with a total of 51% of the vote. There were five Labour, Lib Dem and Green candidates, who together gained 49%. That’s close enough to hope that a progressive pact might have denied the Conservatives at least one seat. Particularly if they had driven up the turnout, which was a miserable 30%.
In Whitchurch North, progressive parties gained 30% of votes, more than the 28% received by one of the Conservatives. The turnout was miserably low at just 25%
The situation is less clear for other seats. Nevertheless, my analysis suggests that a progressive alliance could have denied the Conservatives at least three seats.
It will be a while before I finish digging into the data from last week’s elections. But it is already clear to me that a progressive alliance, with concerted and coordinated efforts to drive up turnout, could have transformed this election.That is turn could have transformed our county.
Do these elections predict the general election outcome?
Local political pundits have been pouring over last Thursday’s results looking for clues that might help in the general election campaign. Many newspapers splashed headlines late last week claiming the swing to the Conservatives proved that Theresa May was going to win on 8 June.
Of course, national trends had an influence on the local election results. But looking at the candidates that won in Shropshire, many were elected because they have strong track record as a councillor or local activist. And analysis by pollster YouGov shows that people vote differently in local and national elections. This tendency also makes it difficult to use local election results to predict what might happen if a progressive alliance formed to fight the Tories at the general election. (This is demonstrated by an analysis of the London Mayoral elections.)
I don’t think anyone seriously believes that Theresa May will lose the general election. But there is a question of how many seats she will win by. These local elections are not a good predictor of that.
This is the fourth of my posts on last week’s local election results. Earlier posts reported the Ludlow results and those for the county as a whole. Elections also took place for two Ludlow town council wards.
. To derive this statistic, vote share in two member wards has been multiplied by 2 and three member wards by 3.