Saturday 24 May 2014

A different look at the 2014 local election results

Some of the mainstream media reactions to the local election results have been quite extraordinary. The same narratives have been repeated in the pages of countless newspapers and on nearly every television station. I'm just going to run through a few of these narratives and expose them for the counter-factual gibberish they are.

Labour did really badly

Labour did not do badly, they made net gains of over 330 council seats to bag more than half of all of the council seats up for election. They made a net gain of five councils, and Labour party gains also resulted in the Tories losing several councils to No Overall Control.

The media has painted these results as a disaster for Labour, but they gained almost three times as many new seats as the UKIP "earthquake" and they took complete control of
Amber Valley, Bradford, Cambridge, Crawley, Croydon, Harrow and Merton.

As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of New Labour, but you don't have to be a fan of theirs to see the astonishing levels of media bias necessary to paint the party that made by far the biggest gains as the losers.

UKIP caused an earthquake

UKIP did not cause an earthquake. In reality they won far fewer seats than even the politically toxic Liberal Democrats managed. They did manage to pick up over 160 new council seats, but they were scattered far and wide across the country, meaning that they gained control of precisely zero councils. The only way any of the UKIP councilors will get any taste of political power is if they form coalitions with the Tories in some of the Tory dominated No Overall Control councils. And even then, they'll be the minor player in any coalition, meaning experienced Tory councilors are likely to use these new UKIP councilors as convenient human shit deflectors just as the Westminster Tories have used the hapless Liberal Democrats for the last four years.

The really clear indicator that this was no UKIP earthquake was the fact that their share of the vote actually declined dramatically from the local council elections last year (from 22% down to 17%), and this decline happened despite the council elections coinciding with the Euro elections, which should have brought out lots of extra UKIP voters.

Only London rejected UKIP

The Guardian used some very crude statistics to print a ludicrous story claiming that the only area of the country that rejected UKIP was London. They compared the pro-UKIP vote in London (7%) with the aggregated average for the entire rest of the country (about 20%), as if the rest of the country is some kind of homogenous blob. The narrative of the story being that London is an enlightened city full of educated, cultured and well-informed people, whilst the rest of the country is inhabited by backwards, uneducated UKIP voting yokels. It's hardly surprising that the London based Guardian would come up with a narrative that is so contemptuous of the rest of the country, but the actual facts paint a very different picture.

A quick look at the results illustrate how UKIP were comprehensively rejected in major towns and cities across parts of the country.

North West
Out of the 243 council seats up for grabs in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, UKIP won Zero.
North East
Out of the 219 council seats up for grabs in Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, UKIP won zero.
Out of the 224 council seats up for grabs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, UKIP won one single seat.
Out of the 242 sets up for grabs in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, UKIP won just four seats (three of them in Sheffield).
Another way that we can demonstrate how the Guardian's crude use of statistics is completely counter-factual is through comparison of UKIP support in some specific London boroughs with UKIP support in some of the aforementioned cities.

There were more UKIP councilors elected in each of three single London boroughs than in the combined cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Leeds (combined population 2.6 million).*

Despite having a population of just 232,000 the London Borough of Bexley elected three UKIP councilors. Bromley (population 310,00) elected two UKIP councilors and Havering (238,000) returned seven UKIP councilors.

As it turns out, there are boroughs of London that are far more keen on UKIP than some of the former industrial cities of the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands, but why would the London centric media let facts get in the way of a good story about the divide between smart and savvy Londoners and the disgusting uneducated yokels in the rest of the country?

UKIP are as much a threat to Labour as they are to the Tories

This narrative is particularly insidious. It is absolutely clear that the UKIP appeal is much stronger in the traditional Tory heartlands than it is in Labour strongholds. The strongest indicator of this is the big decline in UKIP support since the 2013 local elections (almost all Tory councils) and the 2014 elections (about two thirds Labour councils).

If UKIP were equally threatening in Labour councils, one would have expected a sharp rise in the UKIP vote this year because of the draw of the Euro elections, however the UKIP share of the vote actually slumped dramatically.

As mentioned above, UKIP utterly failed to make any inroads at all in big Labour cities, returning absolutely zero councilors in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle or Leeds.

The media have pointed at Rotherham, (where UKIP now have 10 councilors) as their evidence that UKIP are on the rise in Labour areas, but it's the only example they can find.

It would be easy to feel a bit ashamed of my fellow Yorkshiremen for having been duped into voting for the "Thatcherism on steroids" party, especially after all the damage Thatcher and her cronies inflicted on South Yorkshire industry, however Rotherham is a very special case.

What makes Rotherham such a special case is the extraordinary story that hit the national news headlines in late 2012, when someone on the Labour dominated council decided to use the fact that they were UKIP supporters as part of the justification for removing two children from their foster family. This story propelled Rotherham into the national headlines and gave UKIP an enormous profile boost in the town. It's easy to understand how UKIP managed to win a few people over with their "plucky underdog" narratives when everyone in Rotherham knows all about somebody on the Labour council unilaterally declaring UKIP an extremist organisation.

All UKIP candidates had to do in order to win sympathy was to appear reasonably normal and say "Look at me, I'm not an extremist am I? The Labour council are bullies, you should side with the underdog not the bully" and boom, they picked up 16% of the council seats.

The real story in Rotherham isn't UKIP at all. It's actually the question of where the hell are the Tories and Lib-Dems? Rotherham has been controlled by Labour for 80 years and the Labour council has become hopelessly complacent, but the public of Rotherham have overwhelmingly rejected the Tories and Lib Dems in favour of sending the council a clear message of protest by voting for UKIP.

The facts speak for themselves, UKIP have done far more damage to the Tories than they have to Labour, yet the mainstream press seem determined to talk up the UKIP threat to Labour too, as if it's somehow comparable. I imagine they're doing it because they simply want it to be true, because the evidence clearly shows that the Tories are the ones that should be running scared, not Labour.

The Greens are irrelevant

The mainstream press didn't actually present this claim explicitly, but it was clear that they ware saying it by omission. The Greens didn't win as many new seats as UKIP, but they fielded nowhere near as many candidates, and their campaign wasn't funded by a rogues gallery of wealthy former Tory party donors either.

The Green party leads Brighton council already, are they are now the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich and Solihull. They also have the only non-Labour councilor in both Islington and Lewisham.

It's hardly an earth shattering performance, but their gains are surely worthy of some small footnote at least, rather than lumping them in with "other" and completely ignoring them as so many news outlets have done.

Lets not talk about the Tories eh?

In order to spin the narrative that Labour were the big losers (despite gaining well over 300 seats) the press had to talk down the big losses suffered by the Tories.

The Tories lost control of 12 councils, suffered a net loss of over 170 seats, and found themselves edged out of the possibility of re-forming coalitions in several of the No Overall Control councils too.

Swathes of the mainstream media has been far too busy criticising Ed Miliband's poor leadership and Labour's supposed failure to apparently even notice that the Tories did so badly.

The Lib-Dems are toast

The Liberal Democrats' suffered heavy losses, and their days of hoovering up protest votes are clearly over, but they have managed to protect five of the six Lib-Dem councils they were defending.

If gaining an extra 300 seats to take more than half of the total council seats up for election was some kind of disaster for Labour, losing over 300 seats (over 40% of the seats they were defending) is hardly a roaring success for the Lib Dems, but they managed to keep control of their strongholds in Sutton, Cheltnham, Eastleigh, South Lakeland and Watford.

The huge Lib Dem losses were suffered in areas where they were the protest vote and in some of the big northern cities. Liverpool is a particularly shocking example. B
etween 1998 and 2010 the Lib-Dems outright controlled Liverpool council, now they only have three councilors left, meaning the Green party have now become the official opposition to Labour. In Manchester they suffered a complete wipeout, despite having been the official opposition with a decent 34 councilors as recently as 2010.**

The Lib-Dems are never going to be able to con left-wing voters into believing that they are slightly to the left of New Labour again, but they do still maintain a few Lib-Dem strongholds, meaning that the electoral wipeout so many betrayed Lib-Dem voters would love to see in 2015 is never going to happen.


Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers!

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 * I realise that this is an incomplete data set (as pointed out in the comments) but I'd rather be guilty of using a big but incomplete data set to undermine an argument extrapolated from a single crude statistic, than to be guilty of using a blatant assumption to make an accusation of bad faith (as the guy who was complaining did when he called me a Labour supporter). Assumptions make the foundations of very weak arguments - I am not a Labour supporter.

**I had to amend the article slightly because I somehow managed to get the results in Manchester and Liverpool confused by claiming the Lib-Dem wipeout happened in Liverpool by mistake. Maybe as a Yorkshireman, I should avoid writing about Lancashire issues from now on if I've managed to get my Mancs and Scousers all mixed up?

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