14 May 2012 7 Comments
Winning elections is hard work and those in the Lib Dems know better than most how hard it is and as a party we are often faced with confusion about why we lost when we should have won. The recent local election results have produced generally very poor results with some exceptions in some areas and while some people put this down to the fact that we have a sitting MP in that area, this is misleading so it is worth looking at this in more detail to learn the lessons for all local parties.
It is true that in some areas where we have sitting MPs we had some good results in the local elections such as in Cheltenham where we picked up an extra councillor where we have Martin Horwood as the Lib Dem MP, or in Eastleigh where we picked up an extra 2 councillors where we have Chris Huhne as the Lib Dem MP. However, we lost 18 councillors in Cardiff where we have Jenny Willott as an MP and we lost 3 councillors in Cambridge where we have Julian Huppert as the MP, so the results are not uniform. So how do we make sense of the results?
The national picture is the same across all areas but how this is interpreted by each individual or community is very different. We see the Lib Dem vote holding up better in areas we were fighting the Tories than in areas we were fighting Labour. A Labour area will interpret the national picture in a much bleaker way than perhaps a Tory area and so we see a more damning result against the Lib Dems in these areas as we are in Government. Whereas in Tory areas the Lib Dems were not punished at the polls in the same way, in fact some areas even rewarded us. So we can start to see that the national picture is filtered by the regional picture.
We also see that in some areas the vote held up better than in other areas in similar regional climates i.e. Lib Dem v Labour areas or Lib Dem v Tory areas. I don’t have any firm stats on this anecdotal evidence but some are saying that where there were more conversations with local people, through conversations on the doorstep or via telephone, the vote held up better than in areas that ran a predominantly paper campaign. The research from the Get Out the Vote would certainly back this up which suggests that paper produces a minimal, or even negligible, improvement in voting while face to face canvassing produces an 8% increase in votes. So we can start to see that the regional picture is also filtered by the local picture.
This results in a way of understanding election results like this:
So we can see that in Cardiff, while we may have a sitting MP and had run the council, the regional and the local influences on the voters had a significant impact on the result than in say Eastleigh. Feeding in the differences in the different levels allows us to see the different influences on the voter. Clearly there will be additional influences such as friends and family in the local dimension or colleagues and local media in the regional dimension, but understanding the results through this will give a more accurate reason as to why some areas will have done well while others have not. It seems that having an MP is a bonus, or at least can be, if the local MP can help influence the regional and local dimensions. Sometimes they can if they are popular, work hard, and have a good team who communicate with the local people. But sometimes they don’t such as Lembit Opik who lost a fairly solid Lib Dem seat in the last election.
It will be better to compare similar regional and local areas than it will be to the compare against the generalisations of the national picture.