Election results: Current state of play

While there have been some bright spots, it’s not been the greatest set of local election results for us. It’s not been the worst, either. Maybe it was the best we could have hoped for given the circumstances.

The year ahead of any set of elections is crucial. You want to be building your campaign from at least a year out. Being locked down for most of that year under a stay at home order in the middle of a pandemic is not conducive to doing that.

A set of elections held as the country opens up again and people are getting their vaccinations and many are having their wages paid by the government is going to benefit the people who are organising the vaccine rollout and paying those wages.

I thought it might be useful to look at the current state of play.

London

We now have two assembly members. Hina Bokhari, one of the first three Muslim women to be elected to the London Assembly, joins Caroline Pidgeon, who has been an Assembly member since 2008.

Our brilliant mayoral candidate, Luisa Porritt, came fourth behind the Greens Sian Berry.

Wales

After a nail-biting few hours after we lost our sole constituency seat, Jane Dodds was elected to the Senedd on the Mid and West Wales list. It would have been an absolute disaster if we had no parliamentary representation in either Senedd or Westminster.

England

We went into this defending 580 Council seats. There are still some important councils like St Albans and Oxfordshire to count today, so our current total of 524, a net loss of 8, is set to rise. It looks overall as if we will gain slightly, but nothing like the heady days of 2019 when we gained 700 seats.

There are many bright spots within this. In Guildford, for example, we doubled our County Council representation in the parliamentary constituency once held by Sue Doughty.

I was particularly excited to see us gain two County Council seats in my old campaigning ground of Chesterfield. It reminds me of the 90s when we kicked the Tories out of the town completely and eventually took control of the Borough Council.  Ed Fordham will be familiar to LDV readers and I’m thrilled to say that he overturned a 600 Labour majority to win his county seat.

In a climate of Tory gains across the rest of Derbyshire, we gained the seat lost to the Conservatives in 2017 so Chesterfield is once again a Tory free zone.

To go from no representation at all to gaining control of Amersham Town Council bodes well for the coming by-election.

Our own Andy Boddington was re-elected in Ludlow. While we lost one seat, we gained two, including ousting the Council leader by more than 500 votes. He’ll have more on that later today.

Ed Davey has just been on Sophy Ridge to say that the Liberal Democrats were chipping at the Tory blue wall in the South of England and were doing well in places where we could ultimately win parliamentary seats from the Conservatives at the next General Election.

 

While ridding the country of the Tories is an extremely important objective, we do need to be make sure that we appeal beyond the south east of England. We also need to be mindful that we need to take Labour voters with us as well as soft Tories so we need to make sure that we have things to say to appeal across the board.

Scotland

This was a result of highs and lows. The intense highs of Friday, with Liam McArthur getting not far off two thirds of the vote, and Willie Rennie and Alex Cole-Hamilton winning two of the four highest ever number of votes of any MSPs ever. With Beatrice Wishart making up the team, we went in to Saturday with 4 MSPs.

Sadly, we lost the North East regional list seat held by Mike Rumbles. We nearly lost that list seat in 2016, but we were on the unlucky side of the coin toss this time.

So we’ve ended up with virtually the same result as in 2016 but with one fewer MSP. It’s heartbreaking. Willie Rennie has said that we will work across the Parliament to put recovery first:

I congratulate all those, from all parties, who have been elected to our new parliament.

“I look forward to working across the new chamber to put recovery first.

“Liberal Democrats have had some astonishing constituency results.

“Almost half the vote in Shetland, and more in Orkney and North East Fife.

“In Edinburgh Western we got the highest vote for any constituency since the formation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 with nearly 26,000 votes.

“Our message clearly got through and had a big appeal on the doorsteps in our strongest areas.

“It is frustrating that we weren’t able to move the dial in other constituencies and on the regional lists. Some were up, others down.

“We will take the four seats that we have been given into the next parliament.

“The issues we highlighted will be important in the next five years.

“Those are mental health, early years education, an industrial strategy for recovery, and action on the climate emergency.

“So, as our MSPs look at the five years ahead we will pursue those issues.

“And we will try to persuade more people to switch their MSP to a Lib Dem next time. People can see the quality of the service they get from Liberal Democrats which results in big re-election wins and big majorities in those seats.”

Asked by Sophy Ridge whether we would block a second independence referendum if the Scottish Parliament voted to have one, Ed Davey said that we would not undermine the anti-referendum mandate on which our MSPs were elected, but made the point that this was the Prime Minister’s decision to make. We will, of course, need to make the argument that there is actually another choice to add to the status quo and independence – our federal approach. Now that Labour is embracing it too, it’s time to make that relevant to people’s lives.

Overall, the results across the country are not bad, but, apart from a few bright spots, not spectacular either.

We now move on to the Chesham and Amersham by-election. I was thrilled to bits to see the amazing Sarah Green selected as our candidate. I’ve worked with her on many things from stopping Brexit to being on the Federal People Development Committee with her. She is a brilliant team builder and campaigner and will do a fantastic job.

You can help her campaign here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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26 Comments

  • Good results in SE England and some other urban areas but poor in most other places{Wales Cornwall}.LD Green Party and Mebyon Kernow fighting each other in Cornwall cost us seats. We must not let this happen again.

  • Reporting in from South Yorkshire, we have 3 gains in Sheffield to take the group to 29 and the council to NOC. 3 gains in Barnsley to take the group to 7 and official opposition. And 3 gains in Rotherham.

    In the “red wall” constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge, straddling Sheffield and Barnsley, which elected a Conservative in 2019, the 6 ward results are 1 Con hold, 1 Con gain and 4 Lib Dem Gains.

    PCC count is tomorrow.

  • The figures for Cheltenham on Gloucestershire CC seem to re-inforce my comments above

  • Terry Weldon 9th May '21 - 10:18am

    “The year ahead of any set of elections is crucial. You want to be building your campaign from at least a year out.”

    Agreed – but I would go further. In my own target ward for Waverley BC, I will be starting right now, two years out, in part to build a team behind me. Then, next year there will be a strong base for an intensive campaign.

  • To be honest these are not bad results overall. I was expecting worse given the national situation in regard to successful vaccination programme. There is no doubt that having a year off campaigning and doing what we are best at would have hit us hard. Very difficult to promote the idea of working all year round and you don’t just see us at election times when you can’t get out to campaign. One good thing is that it is the Labour Party that is getting the flak in the media and their subsequent infighting can only help us. I am sure that we will get stronger.

  • Brian Ellis 9th May '21 - 11:23am

    I am looking at the Three Rivers District Council results coming in as I read this thread. So far we have held 4 of the 7 seats we are defending so our number has already risen. I am in deepest Dorset and have the various council pages open to glean the results. My time in the party goes back to early 1970s. We had many black holes then and it is time we all pulled together. Stop the doom and gloom . We are having a good set of results in a very difficult year. The party at a National level needs to be more positive, and local parties must return to the roots of Community Campaigning.

  • John Marriott 9th May '21 - 11:41am

    I know it’s dangerous to extrapolate following the elections we just had. However, some pundits are giving the Lib Dems around 17% of the popular vote. Most ‘liberal’ parties in Europe would die for that level of support. I realise that much of it was based on turnouts of around 30%. However, did the party end up with 17% of the seats contested? So I tend to agree with Brian Ellis.

    These elections, certainly in England and certainly at local level, can be viewed as ‘Thank you Boris’ elections, although I think he’s got there under false pretences. In Wales and Scotland they are largely a judgement on the ‘COVID’ performances of Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon respectively. For the Lib Dems they have surely been a vindication of the old ALDC mantra; ‘Where we work we win’ and the reverse.

  • John Marriott. We have worked our socks off in Cornwall but still we suffered. I am sure Brecon was the same. The best news locally was Andrew George winning the Ludgvan seat.

  • Important to remember that the last time these elections were fought that UKIP were still a force. The majority of ex-UKIP voters now vote Tory boosting their vote in many places (including Brecon & Cornwall and where I live in Somerset).

  • John Marriott 9th May '21 - 12:36pm

    @tim Rogers
    It must be very disheartening. All I can say is that it would appear that these local elections have, in many instances, turned out to be a verdict on how the respective Leaders and therefore by extension, the parties they represent have handled COVID. Of the three, Johnson would be the one to count himself lucky. In my years of activity, while feeling satisfied that my efforts and those of my Lib Dem colleagues, bore fruit locally, I knew from experience on the doorstep that this success was never reflected to a massive extent in votes at General Elections. In England and, to a certain extent in Wales, the local elections this time weren’t really about recycling, street lights and bad roads; but more a ‘thank you’ for the vaccine shots and, whether some of us like it or not, getting Brexit done.

  • @tim rogers

    It’s tough when you swim hard locally against national tides that are sweeping you in the other direction.

    And it looks like we suffered in Cornwall in the same way that Labour suffered in the North. And my thoughts are with you and I am sure those of all on LDV.

    But…

    It’s absolutely crucial that as local activists we treat election results – good or bad as complete and utter fiction.

    If we are not elected, its crucial that we act as if we are and campaign for our wards and if, John Marriott will allow me, throw stones (metaphorical ones – well OK may be occasionally real ones) at the terrible Labservative councils.

    As that’s why we stood for election (or were part of a campaign team) (what do mean it was for the allowance and because you like the sound of your voice in meetings) – and it’s actually easier to do that and act as “proper councillor” or campaigning Focus Team if you are NOT elected.

    Perhaps even more crucially it is important to view elections as fiction if you win and we are doing well nationally.

    I remember the first election I was active in was the year of the poll tax fiasco – and I almost won a ward that I hadn’t even gone into in except to collect 10 nomination signatures.

    Many Lib Dem councillors elected then were “one term wonders” and indeed there were Tories who lost that year, kept at working their wards and came back.

    So if you win, ban yourself from going into the council offices (well OK once every 6 months). Council officers are much better at running the council.

    No political change was ever achieved by speaking in council or in parliament.

    Political change is only achieved by us organising “riots” in the street (and yes – again (mostly) metaphorical ones) and if you organise those “riots” – people will remember you and elect you – even if only when the “national” circumstances are more benign.

    99.9999% of time in council offices is wasted.

    And while I may be proud that my scrutiny as a councillor of Best Value Performance Indicator 1123 was 100% successful – as it was for litter seen from bridleways in an urban council that didn’t have any bridleways – I do sometimes have this slight sneaking suspicion that it made not one jot of difference!

  • Paul Barker 9th May '21 - 1:26pm

    I dont get the gloom about how We did, we were expecting to make significant losses but in fact we held on.
    It was very dissapointing to come 4th in London, behind The Greens but their campaign was led by their second best known figure & ours by someone that no-one had heard of. In future our Mayoral Candidate should be an MP.

  • Ruth Bright 9th May '21 - 1:27pm

    The amazing Caroline Pidgeon no longer “all by herself” on the GLA! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • My views (for what it’s worth!)

    Part one – The good

    Strengthening in good areas: Our first task must be to be a “regional” party (even it it’s doted around the country) and do well in our best seats.

    To that end things look quite promising if you look at seats that we held in 2010.

    For example, we won the vote and got over two-thirds of the councillors in Portsmouth South (our 273rd most winnable seat based on 2019!), we won all the seats bar one in Eastleigh, we retained control of Winchester which we only regained control of in ’19.

    We got 4/7 of the seats in Guildford on Surrey County. We did well in Cambridgeshire – especially it seems South Cambridgeshire.

    A 10% swing to us from the Tories in the SW seat on the London Assembly & came within a smidgen of our vote in 2000 and 2004. Significantly the Tories got their worst vote in the seat since the inception of theAssembly.

    In Cheltenham we won 14 of the 20 seats up for election with 43% of the vote to the Tories 5 seats & 36%,

    And I am no expert on Scottish politics but we have increased our vote in the FPTP seats we hold.

    Now, of course, a good local election performance in a seat doesn’t mean that you’ll win the parliamentary seat but local elections were the race that was held & you prob at very least need to be winning the locals

    This does indicate that we might (on a good night) win many of the Conservative facing seats we held in 2010 (outside of the SW & Scotland), some additional seats over 2019 in Scotland and may be some additional seats in areas such as in Surrey, SW London and Cambridgeshire which could add up to over 20 or even 30.

    We’re also regaining our ability to sock it to Labour in their Northern (often badly run) cities such as Liverpool, Sunderland and from @Joe Otten’s reports Sheffied, Barnsley and Rotherham. Whereas during the coalition years we were unable to pick up local council seats (or far far fewer) from Labour in their heartlands.

    Maintaining our share of the vote OK – fractionally down on 2019 – from 19% to 17% but that was the time when our bandwagon on Remain was beginning to roll and our best national elections followed a few weeks later in the Euros. In general we’re getting the high teens against the low to mid teens in the coalition years but against the mid twenties in the 2000s before the coalition.

    And yes, @David Raw et al, part 2 – the bad will follow (hopefully)….

  • @ Paul – We’ve had some excellent results in some council areas and disappointing ones (but following an ongoing trend) in a few others. Overall it’s a decent result and there’s a lot we can build on, but personally, I didn’t find that to be unexpected. I don’t recall many saying we should expect ‘significant losses’ in any regard.

    However;

    We came 4th behind the Greens by some margin in London – not just on the mayoral ballot but on the All-Assembly ballot where voters are simply voting for a party. Our choice of Mayoral candidate, for the first time in a long while, wasn’t actually a negative to the campaign. So whilst there are some positives from London – an extra AM, coming so close in one constituency, and an overall more energetic campaign, we should still be concerned.

    In Scotland, we comfortably held all four constituencies and came very close in another. So that’s good. But we failed to gain any more seats and actually lost one. In the vast majority of areas in Scotland we’re now a non-entity – to an extent that’s because of the independence vs unionist tactical voting dynamic, but we should still be concerned – because we’re simply not breaking through.

    Wales was a catastrophe. A completely predictable one, but still awful. We’ve only avoided being wiped out by pure luck.

    So that’s where the gloom is.

  • tim rogers 9th May ’21 – 9:59am:
    Good results in SE England and some other urban areas but poor in most other places {Wales Cornwall}.

    Which is what I would expect given that 30% of Liberal Democrat voters in the 2015 General Election went on to vote Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum*. Those LibDem Leave voters are likely to reside disproportionately in traditional Liberal areas such as the West country, Wales, rural Scotland, North Norfolk, etc.. Many, if not most, of those and potential ‘Lookalike’ voters, have likely been lost to the party. To some extent, they have been replaced by pro-EU supporters in largely urban and suburban constituencies. In competing with Labour for “Metropolitan Woke Rejoiner” votes, the party may be dragged further to the left, alienating even rejoiner voters in formerly winnable rural seats. Of course, in local elections other issues overlay the party’s position on the EU and local results will vary greatly depending on the opposition, split votes, historic local strength, campaigning, incumbency effect, etc..

    * Lord Ashcroft Polls Survey – How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why (June 2016).

    John Marriott 9th May ’21 – 12:36pm:
    …it would appear that these local elections have, in many instances, turned out to be a verdict on how the respective Leaders and therefore by extension, the parties they represent have handled COVID.

    While that may be a factor, it doesn’t explain the difference in results between (mostly) rural areas and the suburban South-East, as highlighted by Tim Rogers. The party has lost representation in many former Liberal strongholds while retaining and in some cases gaining seats in more urban areas.

  • Brian Ellis 9th May '21 - 6:37pm

    We need to take a good look at the results in Oxfordshire Lib Dem go from 13 to 21 Councillors. Conservative down to 22. Greens on 3 and Lab on 15. Great result for our party. Lessons to be learnt on how to win in difficult times

  • A few more things to add to the “good” tally

    And very good. As reported on other LDV threads we gained control of St Albans – for the 1st time since 2010 & had an excellent result on Oxfordshire – according to Layla Moran our biggest group *ever*

    We end +7 – obv. not a lot but net gains nevertheless – according to Mark Pack the 1st time that we have had 3 years of gains on the trot since Kennedy & Campbell were leaders.

    It compares well with pre-election predictions. An opinion poll (specifically for the local elections – not Westminster voting intention) & MRP analysis had us -97. Michael Thrasher on politicalbetting.com had us making between -250 & +70 (& if we made 70 gains, he estimated Labour would as well!)

    https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/blogs/ec_districtpoll_20210504.html

    https://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2021/05/05/looking-forward-to-tomorrows-locals-from-michael-thrasher/

    Sky News has reported on their analysis of 2,000 wards that we would move to 22 MPs but they do point out (as did I) that we tend to do better in locals than in the general in the same seat. But it is a necessary requirement if not a sufficient one – and I think Sky may be being a bit stingy to us – the haven’t revealed the details.

    https://uk.news.yahoo.com/election-results-tories-majority-cut-150800719.html

    There is also an interesting article by Richard Kemp on how difficult it is taking Labour on in their northern cities – a true David and Goliath fight with Labour through their MPs’ offices etc. effectively having a lot of paid staff to work on their campaigns.

    https://richardkemp.wordpress.com/2021/05/08/2021-we-did-well-but-hoped-to-do-better/

    Our MPs are saying – I think accurately – that we are chipping away at the Tory “blue wall” in the South (East). Trends can take some time to come to the surface and it *may* well we will identify ’19 & ’21 as the start of a crumbling of the blue wall in the Home Counties near to London.

    It has been obscured. In 2019 by our bungling campaign – and even so the bricks got a good shake even if the wall still stood. And then by covid postponing elections. And this year by the Tories’ successes (and Labour’s woes) in the North. But it *may* be happening and at least some of those bricks may be dislodged.

    https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/tory-blue-wall-in-south-starting-to-crumble-claim-liberal-democrats/ar-BB1gxwLp

  • It’s all going to take too long under our present FPTP system of voting for me. This round of elections shows we need to work with others to change it to a more proportional voting system while delivering other benefits. Otherwise we face an uphill struggle to free this country from the Conservatives.

  • Anyone from Hull on here? How do the Lib Dems manage to do so well in the locals only to be annihilated at GEs?

  • Denis Loretto 10th May '21 - 3:46pm

    @Peter Hirst. I quite agree about the need for PR but the dilemma is that the only way to achieve this is to first elect a parliament under FPTP which will vote to introduce PR. Only some sort of alliance of progressive parties could possibly do this.

  • I’m afraid Michael 1 you are once again looking at the glass full to some extent side of the equation and not looking at the empty side at all.

    The simple fact is that it’s much, much harder than that and our results overall are very poor. What we need is a real strategy – not the one passed at conference saying we will do the same sort of stuff that all the other parties do.

    In Scotland we again went backwards

    We lost another MSP, losing our one top up seat, and failing to win in Jamie’s seat. This loss is critical as it means the Lib Dems no longer qualify for financial assistance from the Scottish Parliament, as only parties with five or more MSPs qualify. In addition, we lose an allowance for staff costs and the MSP salary. All in all, about £120,000 less each year for the Liberal Democrats in Scotland. To give an idea of scale, this is slightly more than the Scottish Lib Dems national party received in donations in 2019, a General Election Year.

    Secondly, although our MSPs were all returned with a good share of the vote, in every, we got much less votes in the Regional party list. This means one of two things
    1) All our MSPs have a phenomenal personal vote. In which case when they go, so will their vote. Or
    2) We get votes in the constituencies from Labour and Conservatives to keep out the Nats. In which case if we slip up once, there is no way back.

    In Wales we lost our last constituency and all those of us who trecked there for two by elections in B&R have seen our efforts ultimately wasted. I fear Jane’s top up seat in Mid and West Wales will be lost in three years’ time, unless there is a massive change in our approach.

    England is little better, but the word limit approaches.

  • David Evans 11th May '21 - 1:16pm

    Finally, just to finish off and sort out a couple of typos

    In England we have to realise that our gains and losses are by comparison with 2016 and 2017. This was when we were just starting to rebuild after coalition – we gained just 45 seats in 2016 and lost 42 in 2017 – so to come out just 7 seats up on two of our lowest ever sets of results, clearly shows that the progress the party made in 2018 has all gone.

    In London we have fallen still further behind the Greens where our vote share fell while the Green’s rose by 2.4%. Even in the assembly, where our vote rose by 1% to 7.3%, the Greens rose by 3.8% to 11.8%.

    We celebrate St Albans, but lost much more in Cornwall. For every gain in the South East, there is a loss in the West country and the North.

    All in all the results imply we are back to the voting levels of coalition once again and the progress made due to our fight against Brexit has evaporated.

    As a result, there is a great danger that once again (for the tenth time in ten years) that many in the party, and especially those at the top, will persuade themselves that things really are OK and we just need to get the activists to work that bit harder and the Lib Dems will thrive once again.

    The trend continues that we are increasingly becoming a party of the affluent South East for those with a bit of a Social conscience. Talk of breaching some mythical Blue Wall in the South East, just demeans those of the rest of the Lib Dem family who are really struggling.

    I used to think that the left behind were people that the Lib Dems were actually there to help. Now it seems that the term applies to all those Lib Dems living outside the Metroland.

  • Nigel Jones 11th May '21 - 5:53pm

    In areas where we have done poorly for a long while we need to notice the rise in the greens. In Staffordshire, our vote share fell to 2.6% while greens rose to 6.4%. Greens have now been given a boost and in our area within a couple of days of the results they are showing already they are keen to fight even harder.
    I share Peter Hirst’s comment which points to a need for a progressive alliance of some kind.

  • Alex Macfie 11th May '21 - 8:31pm

    David Evans “we are back to the voting levels of coalition” not really, because we weren’t winning even in what we are now calling the “Blue Wall” at that time. We even lost Kingston & Surbiton and Twickenham to the Tories in 2015. These seats (along with Richmond Park, already lost in 2010) were among the first crop of seats in the south of England which we had never won before but won in 1997. Further afield we have Winchester and Newbury (won earlier in a by-election). All of our progress in the Blue Wall was rolled back in 2015. What’s noteworthy is that we are now making a comeback in traditionally safe Tory seats that we were starting to gain ground in earlier, before Clegg messed it all up. It’s definitely not a case of winning in the South East OR winning in the West Country. in 1997-2010 we won in both; in 2015 neither (the seats we held onto showing no particular pattern other than perhaps personal votes). We’re doing better now in one particular area than some others, but that’s much better than doing well nowhere as in 2015.

  • Alex Macfie 11th May '21 - 8:35pm

    And please, it’s a gross generalisation to refer to the south east of England as “wealthy”. We have Council estates here as well, and where we have won in these parts it’s mainly by courting the working and lower-middle class who make up the bulk of the electorate, whereas the more privileged people are more likely to stick with the Tories.

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