Big issues in brief

We need to talk about the reporting of the recent English local elections

Labour’s performance was painted as a failure, despite significant gains and the Tories were reported to have been successful, despite losses, whilst the Greens’ growth and UKIP’s wipeout were barely mentioned

Introduction

UK local elections were held on 3rd May 2018, covering 150 local councils of various types across England (32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 67 district and borough councils & 17 unitary authorities) and six mayoralties (Sheffield City Region [South Yorkshire] and Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets & Watford [London]). In this article, we briefly explore the results and the way in which they were reported by all sections of the mainstream media with huge right-wing bias.


The results

The infographic below shows the overall results of the council elections, and is followed by an explanation and analysis of the results.

The results of the 150 local council elections (32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 67 district and borough councils & 17 unitary authorities) in terms of vote share (only Labour, Conservative & Liberal Democrat shown), council control (white = no overall control) and councillors elected (± compared to the same seats in 2014). Please feel free to share this infographic at no cost. Acknowledgement of www.medium.com/FuturePolitics is mandatory under the licensing rules.

Labour Party

The Labour Party won 35% of the vote share, a significant 8% increase compared to local elections held in different councils in 2017. It lost control of Redditch to the Conservatives and Derby and Nuneaton & Bedworth (to no overall control, NOC) but gained traditional Conservative stronghold Plymouth, as well as Kirklees and Tower Hamlets (from NOC), meaning it made no net gains or losses. It did, however, gain 79 councillors, winning 2,350 — that’s 53.4% of available seats, a staggering 1,018 more than the Conservative Party, which only won 30.2% of the seats. Given that both parties had 35% of the vote share, Labour benefitted hugely from the disproportional electoral system, particularly when it comes to local elections. It also has control of 49.3% of councils, compared to the Tories’ 30.7%. Labour won record majorities in Croydon, Ealing, Redbridge and Waltham Forest and gained control over the entire Greater Manchester region.

Conservative & Unionist Party

The Conservative Party lost 3% of the vote share, dropping to 35%. It gained control of Redditch from Labour and Barnet, Basildon and Peterborough (from NOC), but lost Plymouth to Labour, Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond-upon-Thames and South Cambridgeshire to the Liberal Democrats and Mole Valley and Trafford (to NOC), making a net loss of 2 councils, as well as a net loss of 35 councillors. The Tories are unfairly disadvantaged by the electoral system, but they made losses at all levels — vote share, council control and seats — meaning their gloating over the results was totally unjustifiable.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats suffered a drop in vote share of 2% to 16%, but made a much-needed net gain of control over four councils, in Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond-upon-Thames and South Cambridgeshire (from Conservatives) and Three Rivers (from NOC), and gaining 75 councillors. Despite making these gains in parallel with losing vote share, Lib Dems remain unfairly disadvantaged by the electoral system, having only 12.2% of seats and control over only 6% of councils.

A map showing control of English councils, post 3rd May. Opaque colours highlight the control of the councils that were up for election this year, whilst semi-transparent colours show the control of councils that were elected in 2015–2017. Source: The Guardian.

Green Party of England & Wales

The Green Party became the fourth largest party in England, winning 39 seats, an increase of eight.

UK Independence Party

UKIP suffered a massive, humiliating defeat, losing a staggering 123 seats and leaving it with just three councillors. The party is now facing collapse.

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party is a tiny breakaway faction from the original Liberal Party, formed in opposition to the original party’s merger with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democrats. The party lost one of their two seats.

Others

During the election, 97 independent candidates were elected, as well as 46 residents’ associations.

Mayoral elections

Mayors were also elected in the combined authority of Sheffield City Region and in five local authorities in London (Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford). None of these positions changed hands between parties, with Labour retaining all except Watford, which was retained by Liberal Democrats.

Analysis

One could argue that, after eight years of Tory austerity affecting councils’ ability to run services effectively, Labour should have made huge gains and the Tories should have been decimated. Labour’s gains in terms of both vote share and seats were significant, but in terms of having overall control of councils, they failed to make any net gains. The Lib Dems also began their long road to recovering from the loss of support that resulted from going into coalition with the Tories, gaining control of four councils. Meanwhile, the Conservatives made a net loss of councillors and vote share, and won control over two fewer councils than previously, and 1.6 times fewer councils Labour won. UKIP were almost completely wiped off the map, with most of their vote going to the Tories, and much of the Tories’ vote being passed on to Labour, perhaps some directly and some indirectly through Lib Dems. Greens made significant gains for a small party, becoming England’s fourth largest.

In fact, this election represented Labour’s best result within London since 1971, its best increase in vote share since 2011 and best increase in seats since 2014

Apart from Labour, all parties suffered the negative effects of the disproportional electoral system, winning fewer seats and control of fewer councils than would have been the case under a fair and proportional system. Given that Labour hugely benefits from this, it was unreasonable of the press to be so negative about Labour’s failure to gain control over more councils, because to do so would have been the result of even greater disproportionality. Labour made a significant gain in vote share of 8%, yet still won 18.4% more seats and overall control of 14.3% more councils than they should have.

Despite Labour MPs having been reserved in their outlook, the media determined in advance that Labour should take control over some of the Tories’ London strongholds, such as Kensington & Chelsea and Wandsworth, where its gains weren’t enough to win control, and Barnet, where it lost seats. Apart from a 49-day period running up to the election and an eight-year period between 1994 and 2002, during which the council was under NOC, Barnet has been held by the Tories since its establishment in 1964. Wandsworth has also been Tory since 1978, and both Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea have been since they were established in 1964. Outside London, Labour had been tipped to be set to win Swindon, which has been Conservative since 2004, but failed.

In fact, this election represented Labour’s best result within London since 1971, its best increase in vote share since 2011 and best increase in seats since 2014 — all of which are milestones achieved under Corbyn in relation to pre-Corbyn times. That’s why the following selection of headlines and sub-headlines, taken from a variety of mainstream sources from across the political spectrum (from The Guardian & The Independent through to the Daily Mail & Daily Express) are totally out-of-place, given Labour’s moderate success and the Tories’ notable losses:

  • “Conservatives record biggest gains as results come in across England” — Mail Online
  • “Labour fails to make London breakthrough as Theresa May hails ‘strong night’ for Tories” — Daily Telegraph
  • “Labour antisemitism scandal blamed for Tory win in Barnet” — The Guardian
  • “Boris Johnson claims Tory customs union policy helped deliver electoral success” — The Guardian
  • “Labour failed to dent the Tories, while Lib Dems had a tiny revival and Ukip became irrelevant” — The Guardian
  • “Tories snatch key target Barnet Council from under Labour’s nose” — The Independent
  • “Labour councillors blame Corbyn for losing support of Jewish voters” — The Times
  • “Corbyn never recovered from botched response to Salisbury spy poisoning” — The Times
  • “Labour set themselves a high bar but left empty handed” — The Times
  • “‘This made me chuckle’ Andrew Neil mocks ‘the Owen Jones effect’ at local elections” —Daily Express
  • “‘They threw everything they had and FAILED’ Theresa May taunts Labour after election FLOP” — Daily Express

So take a look at the stats, and think about how reliable the headlines really are!


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