Local elections 2014: your quick-and-easy guide to the Lib Dem numbers that matter

Polling station sign. Photo credit: nilexuk on FlickrLib Dems in England will need no reminding that 22nd May isn’t just European election polling day: it’s also local election day across all 32 London boroughs, all 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and five directly-elected mayoral posts.

There are 4,216 seats up for grabs. No party is contesting them all, though as you can see both Labour and Conservatives are fielding candidates in more than 90% of them, while the Lib Dems are contesting 65%. Ukip will be standing in just under 50% of seats and the Greens in 42%.*

local elections 2014 seats

The Lib Dem figure is down markedly on 2010, when these seats were last contested – then the party stood in 500 more seats, around 75%, though that did also coincide with the general election. Here’s a reminder of what happened in the local elections held that day, with the party winning 728 seats, 17% of those it contested.**

local elections 2010 results

What might happen on 22nd May? Well, Mark Pack has pointed out in his latest Newswire that the Lib Dems have lost an average of 40% of seats in previous rounds of local elections during the Coalition. On that basis, the benchmark this time round is that the party will retain around 437 of the seats it’s defending and lose 291.

If that’s the case, then the number of Lib Dem councillors will fall to 2,285 – the lowest number since 1983, when 2,171 councillors were affiliated to the SDP/Liberal Alliance.*** It’s unlikely we’ll see ‘Others’ including Ukip, who currently total 1,991 councillors, overtake the Lib Dems this year. I wouldn’t bet against it next year.

local elections councillors over time

* Figures sourced from the London Evening Standard (28 April 2014).

** Table from Local elections 2010 – Commons Library Research Paper (22 June 2010).

*** Graph from Local Elections 2013 – Commons Library Research Paper (22 May 2013).

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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46 Comments

  • It helpful to have these facts displayed so clearly. In more than 1500 seats there is no candidate for our party.

    The failure to put up candidates, the unwillingness of people to put themselves forward, the decline of the grassroots of the party, are all evidenced by these figures. This is the direct result of seven years of Clegg.

    Whatever is happening in the Westminster Bubble, out there in the real world the party is suffering.

    The results as they come in on the 23 May will bring some good stories, some local achievements, despite everything some people at local level will win. It is a tribute to the local activists that they are plugging away despite having the rug pulled from under their feet by Clegg and co.

    But if the story is already being spun around how many seats we lose in the much reduced number where we have struggled to put up a candidate things really must seem dire even to those at the top of the party who look at the facts rather than look at Clegg’s dreams of another five years in a ministerial limousine.

    These are the hard facts that should wake up Liberal Democrat MPs to their fate next year if they do not take the logical and sensible course of action and get rid of Clegg.

    If the party at grassroots level is so diminished and so demoralised in this way we will not hold on to those decent, hard-working MPs who through no fault of their own are being dragged down by Clegg.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 10:54am

    Caracatus

    however what these figures don’t show up is something rather more important. In how many seats where the Lib Dems are standing are they just “paper candidates” rather than running any sort of campaign?

    Willingness to stand as “paper candidates” is an important sign of general strength for the party.

    This year will be the first time there are local elections where I am living, but I am not standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate since the 1980s. I stood as a Liberal candidate with a full campaign in the 1986 County Council elections, then moved to London and stood in every set of London Borough elections – 1990 in Newham, 1994, 1998 and 2002 in Lewisham, 2006 in Greenwich. In 1990 there was a token campaign (one leaflet), the three Lewisham elections were serious campaigns and I won my seat in each of them. In 2006 it was purely paper, no work done, but I was happy for my name to be put forward so that the party had a full slate in every ward in the borough. This year I was asked to do the same by my borough party, but refused.

    It is as John Tilley put it. I’m not happy with the coalition, but I’ve accepted and defended in public its formation as something we had to do due to the balance in Parliament in 2010. I’ve even accepted and defended in public the weakness of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, the fact that they haven’t been able to achieve much of their stated policy, and have had to support some very unpleasant stuff coming from the Tories which we most definitely would not have supported had we been the lead party in government.

    What I am NOT happy with is the way that Clegg has played this, not just Clegg but others in leading positions in the party, such as Tim Farron, who’ve gone along with Clegg’s determined efforts to use the coalition to push the party way to the right. By going on and on about us being “in government” and using other words which suggests we are so happy with the current situation and in complete support of it, rather than just accepting it as a necessary compromise, these people have caused HUGE damage to our party. Most of our former voters have been led by the likes of Clegg and Farron and the words they have used to believe we are in full support of the extreme right policies of this government, and so have fallen away. These words have totally undermined the defence of the party I’ve been trying to give, and I don’t feel I can even stand as a token candidate where I would have to give that defence, when my own party leader and president and other figures surrounding them are so undermining what I would say. I feel Clegg and Farron etc are kicking down all I have helped build up with all my years activity in the party.

    On the extreme right fringes of the party we can see people like Jeremy Browne taking it even further, and explicitly stating that the formation of the coalition means the party has to make a permanent move to the right, abandoning most of its former supporters in the hope there’s some big bunch of people who want a party which is throughly Thatcherite in its economics, but without the social conservatism which tempered that. Well, that’s not a sort of party I have ANY interest in being involved in. If that’s the sort of party they want, they must face the consequences of people like me dropping out. Let all these armchair theorists who tell me I am “intolerant” for standing up against my party being taken over by neo-Thatcherites take my place and the place of other former hard-workers for the party as candidates.

  • John Tilley, spot on.

  • An alternative explanation for the decline in numbers standing is the demoralisation caused by the noisy Anti-Coalition minority, the corroding effect of their constant negativity.

  • Radical Liberal 29th Apr '14 - 11:37am

    ”An alternative explanation for the decline in numbers standing is the demoralisation caused by the noisy Anti-Coalition minority, the corroding effect of their constant negativity.”
    Unbelievable.

    Clegg must go.

  • Steve Griffiths 29th Apr '14 - 11:41am

    As usual Matthew and John speak with commitment, clarity and also reflect my views very closely. It seems strange after decades not to be either a candidate or election agent in my local wards, but the party is almost unrecognisable in economic and more recently in environmental policy, that I feel I cannot so much as deliver even a leaflet. It was similar economic policy to that which the party currently espouses (and which the likes of Jeremy Browne wishes to take further), that made me join the Liberals and Lib Dems to campaign and fight against. Nor do I wish to join Labour as I have always believed in a society where “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance OR conformity”. Labour is well meaning, but tends to be authoritarian and illiberal. I am congenitally a conviction politician on the libertarian left of British politics, and probably have no party which is now my natural home.

    I suspect I am not alone and like me the others that have ‘down-tooled’ were committed activists. The party is now reaping what it sowed by blindly following the current leadership.

  • Paul in Twickenham 29th Apr '14 - 11:52am

    @Paul Barker – would you care to quantify your view on the relative impact of the “noisy minority” versus the impact of Mr Clegg’s leadership in causing the decline in fortunes of the party? Is it 50-50? Or 20-80?

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '14 - 12:20pm

    I know from personal contacts that the “noisy minority”, who stand up for what this party has believed in during my lifetime, are responsible for many disillusioned colleagues staying in the party. Even with the flood of resignations, withdrawals from activity, and people just doing a lot less, this party has not fundamentally changed. Unfortunately the Prominent Persons who are still trying to engineer a top-down coup in the party get the ear of the media rather more than the legions of disaffected local activists.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '14 - 12:24pm

    On this year’s local elections specifically, the results may look worse than last year because (1) the shire districts are only those (generally more urban) areas which still poll in thirds; (2) it’s the third tranche of the slaughter of the innocents in the major cities in the Mets; (3) it’s the first year of London Borough elections since 2010 where big losses look likely (anything less will be a triumph).

    Tony

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 1:03pm

    Me

    2006 in Greenwich

    Actually, that should be 2010 in Greenwich. I didn’t stand in 2006 because I was an outgoing councillor in Lewisham, and felt for that reason it would not be appropriate to stand as a paper candidate in the neighbouring borough I had moved to. However, in 2006 I played a full part in literature delivery and canvassing in the ward I was stepping down from.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 1:18pm

    paul barker

    An alternative explanation for the decline in numbers standing is the demoralisation caused by the noisy Anti-Coalition minority, the corroding effect of their constant negativity.

    If you mean me, well, as I have said, I have defended the coalition in public.

    It seems to me you are conflating two things – a trick the Cleggies have been using. The two things are acceptance of the formation of the coalition, and belief that Clegg and others in leadership position are using the right strategy in leading the party in that situation. It is quite possible to accept the formation of the coalition, accept that in policy terms the Liberal Democrats are doing what they can in that situation, but think Clegg and co are doing an appallingly bad job at presenting the party’s position and retaining its electoral support.

    The Cleggies conflate these two things, making out that anyone who is critical of the leadership is unrealistic because they have not understood the situation that meant the coalition was a necessary way forward. In that way they can silence opposition to them, or make out it is just unrealistic fantasists. But they are two separate issues. One of the reasons I stay in the party is that I think much of the criticism which assumes we could have somehow manufactured a government which is 100% Liberal Democrat from the May 2010 Parliament is unrealistic, and I do not want to be associated with that. I know very well how weak it is to be a junior coalition partner, which is why I was prepare to give a lot of slack to Clegg and co over it – but they have made a difficult situation much worse by almost everythig they have said and done.

    I have kept my criticisms largely to this forum. I could have made a public announcement in my local press about my dissatisfaction with the Liberal Democrats, and called on people not to support them – how would that have gone down, seeing as how I was Leader of the Opposition in the Borough of Lewisham ten years ago, and led it while the Liberal Democrats moved from third place in votes with just two councillors, to a major opposition across the Borough? I decided not to do that, because I still think they are doing a reasonable job locally, and I do have a personal loyalty to former colleagues.

  • Peter Watson 29th Apr '14 - 2:03pm

    @Matthew Huntbach ” It is quite possible to accept the formation of the coalition, accept that in policy terms the Liberal Democrats are doing what they can in that situation, but think Clegg and co are doing an appallingly bad job at presenting the party’s position and retaining its electoral support.”
    I completely agree with you.
    It seems pointless to support the Lib Dems and to campaign for electoral reform without accepting the need to work with any or all other political parties, and there is a record of Lib Dems doing this successfully at different levels throughout the UK. It was a shame that the leadership in Westminster handled it so badly.

  • “If that’s the case, then the number of Lib Dem councillors will fall to 2,285 – the lowest number since 1983 …”

    Whatever the exact numbers, it seems clear enough that the last three decades of Lib Dem progress in local government will have been wiped out.

  • Nick Collins 29th Apr '14 - 3:38pm

    @Steve Griffiths. Exactly so. This former activist , now with no home in any political party, will, without enthusiasm, vote Labour on 22 May since they are now the least worst alternative to spoiling my ballot paper.

  • paul barker 29th Apr '14 - 5:09pm

    A few points –
    Most of the fall in membership/activity is due to us being in The Coalition at all, I think anyone who thinks a different leader would have made a dramatic difference is fooling themselves. The one exception is the man who was the actual alternative to Clegg, try to imagine what that would have been like.
    Rallings & Thrasher are predicting a Libdem vote share of 14% in The Locals, pretty much the same as we got in 2013, 2012 & 2011. I dont beleive that tells us anything about next year because voters behave very differently at General Elections
    I dont know about other people, I am not an activist. I can only say that I find the constant carping of the Anti-Coaltion/Leadership minority depressing & demoralising..

  • @paul barker

    “I dont know about other people, I am not an activist.”

    is it not the case then that you are not in a position to criticize those who are critical of the leadership and Nick Clegg in particular. These hard working grassroots who have campaigned tirelessly for the party in the past are far more informed of the feelings on the ground and are they are doing the right thing by highlighting the problems that the party faces.
    Maybe you would do well to get out their on the campaign trail yourself rather than spending your time tirelessly criticizing those who have who do not share your views.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '14 - 6:05pm

    Quite so.

    Tony

  • John Roffey 29th Apr '14 - 6:14pm

    @ Nick Collins

    As someone also ‘with no home in any political party’ – I must admit I will be looking for an ‘Independent’ to support.

    In some ways local politics seems more suited to Independents! At least they can do what they believe is right – without concern.

  • Thank you Stephen for posting this information. According to Stephen in 2010 we stood in about 75% of seats and according to Caracatus and the BBC we stood in about 76% of seats last year. John Tilley has stated why he thinks the figure has declined to 65%. Caracatus makes the interesting point that where we have only paper candidates we receive hardly any votes now. However the conclusion may be that we are fielding less paper candidates because people don’t wish to stand year after year to receive less than 100 votes. So I agree with Caracatus it would be interesting to know how many of our candidates are paper candidates.

    The decline in the number of councillors of the governing party is interesting. The Conservatives appear to have had just over 12,000 councillors in 1979 and in four years were reduced to just over 10,000, a loss of less than 16.6%; and had about 8,000 in 1992 and by 1996 they were reduced to about 4,200, a loss of about 47.5%. The Labour Party was reduced from about 7,000 in 2005 to 4,300 in 2009, a loss of about 38.6%. If Mark Pack’s forecast is right then we will have been reduced from 4,200 in 2010 to 2,280, a loss of about 45.7%.

    This year I am again a paper candidate even though I will not be doing any work because I cannot support the party’s defence of the tuition fee increase and its failure to deal with those MPs who broke their personal pledge and the failure of Nick Clegg to veto the worse aspects of the Conservative policies.

    @ Tony Greaves – thank you for your comment. It is vital that those of us who are unhappy with the party leadership post our views and make clear we are still members waiting for a leadership that reflects our views. Hopefully this will encourage others who are thinking of leaving the party to remain in the party.

    @ Robin Wilde – “I wouldn’t be surprised if they end May 23rd’s counting on less than 1,000 seats.” I would be, because even if we lost every seat we are defending this year we would still have 1,994 councillors according to the article.

  • Peter Chegwyn 29th Apr '14 - 7:00pm

    @ John Roffey – “I must admit I will be looking for an ‘Independent’ to support.”

    Well there’s an Independent standing in the Ward where I live but he’s not very ‘Independent’ at all… he was the Conservative candidate in 2012 and tweets that he’s still a committed Conservative.

    Any idea that his standing as an ‘Independent’ is a Tory ‘Dirty Trick’ in a highly marginal Con : Lib. Dem. Ward would, of course, be entirely untrue and unfair… !

  • I was a councillor until 2009. Left the party in 2011 after 39 years because of this god awful coalition. As long as people like Paul Barker bury their heads in the sand the slaughter of the innocents will continue. If, as seems likely, Clegg will lead the party to zero MEPs and a virtual halving of the number of councillors by 2015, how can he survive?

    BTW I’m voting Green in the Euros and voting on a personal basis for my hard working Lib Dem councillor in the locals. She will lose because of Clegg.

  • Paul in Twickenham 29th Apr '14 - 8:05pm

    I too left the party after concluding that Mr. Clegg was taking the Liberal Democrats on a journey to oblivion, marooned somewhere on the shores of classical/authentic liberalism (whatever that might be).

    For reasons that continue to baffle me, I was sent a new membership card that I neither wanted nor expected – but I am now delighted to have it.

    Interacting with the “the awkward squad” on this forum has left me confident that after Mr. Clegg and his ilk are a footnote in history I will still be an active member of this party: campaigning on a progressive agenda that I can be proud to represent on the doorstep. I can only urge others who have left to return and work for the return of this party to its guiding principles in the aftermath of May 22rd.

  • We would probably have got more candidates if we had legislated to get rid of the stupid, daft, pointless, waste of time bureaucratic nonsense that is the collecting of ten signatures.

  • Nick Collins 29th Apr '14 - 8:52pm

    @ John Roffey I was referring to the elections to the EU Parliament. There are no local elections in my area this year.

    The most recent borough council elections in my area were two years ago. The Conservatives in my ward were elected unopposed; indeed, so many wards were uncontested that the Conservatives had an overall majority on the council before a single vote was cast That’s in a constituency which was a LibDem target in 2001 and 2005. Oh ,and by the way, the one individual who stood as an “Independent” (not in my ward) and was elected. now styles herself as “Leader of the UKIP Group”. That’s the problem with Independents; they’re like Forrest Gump’s mother’s box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get”.

    @ Paul in Twickenham; I wish I could share, or perceive any evidence to support, your optimism.

  • Peter Chegwyn 29th Apr '14 - 9:44pm

    As a matter of interest, does anyone know how many local election candidates around the country are using the ballot paper description ‘Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats’?

    Does anyone know ANY Liberal Democrat candidate using that description this year?

  • Adrian Fullam 29th Apr '14 - 10:16pm

    I think what the graph clearly shows is that being in government is usually bad for your local election success, whoever your leader is, whatever your ideology. People tend to come out to protest more than support. Look at the steep drops in the graph for all parties during their respective periods in power. Why anyone thinks we can buck that trend without the backing of press or vested interests is beyond me.

  • Peter – We did this in 2012 as a bit of a joke in a few paper wards, but because it’s the Euro’s we decided we couldn’t take the micky this time.

  • robjacques -‘We would probably have got more candidates if we had legislated to get rid of the stupid, daft, pointless, waste of time bureaucratic nonsense that is the collecting of ten signatures.’

    Absolutely right. Getting 10 signatures proves nothing other than the willingness of 10 people to agree to facilitate a democratic contest. If candidates could simple nominate themselves the result would be exactly the same and those of us who used valuable campaigning and delivery time chasing signatures would have been more usefully employed in the service of democracy. And candidates have been known to get less than 10 votes.!

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 10:47pm

    Adrian Fullam

    I think what the graph clearly shows is that being in government is usually bad for your local election success, whoever your leader is, whatever your ideology.

    But we are not “in government” in the sense in which most people take that phrase as meaning, which is running the government. Perhaps we would not be so badly damaged if out leaders did not go on and on about us being “in government”.

  • Also, like Paul, depressed by the negativity and constant whingeing of the same handful of people on here. I may not think everything is perfect but this party is miles better than the alternatives and I am proud to be out campaigning. And I joined since 2010 because I thought the party had become influential in addition to having the right ideas.

  • David Evans 30th Apr '14 - 8:05am

    Sadly Mark, Those of us who judge things by what is rather than what we would wish it would be, know the leader has bought his short term of influence by sacrificing the party’s right ideas. He has to go.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Apr '14 - 8:05am

    “But we are not “in government” in the sense in which most people take that phrase as meaning, which is running the government.”

    This perhaps illustrates the core of your problem with lib-dem messaging.

    In a Britain that operates an adversarial political system, and has an adversarial electorate, ‘you’ very much are in government.
    Your chosen message might fly a little further if Britain were a consensual democracy with an electorate that accepts power-sharing among minority parties.

  • I agree with Mark Paul and

  • Thanks Matthew you say it like it is for many of us. Clegg has destroyed my enthusiasm. I no longer believe that our Party represents what I came into politics for. I will stay in the party and deliver leaflets out of loyalty to my fellow local activists over many years. That is all.

  • David Evans 30th Apr '14 - 9:56am

    I suggest you also vote in Leadership elections. Don’t get mad, get even.

  • Oh sorry,meant to say, I agree with Mark,Paul, and Adrian.This Govt is better for the LD presence in it and I’m happy to do my bit to support.

  • John Roffey 30th Apr '14 - 1:01pm

    @ David Evans

    ‘I suggest you also vote in Leadership elections.’

    This may have been covered recently – but I missed it.

    Is there a mechanism which activates a leadership election if the existing leader decides they wish to continue – however bad election results are under their leadership?

    From what I have seen of NC’s comments – he appears to intend to continue as leader – regardless of how well or badly the Party has done at the local, EU and general elections.

  • Simon Banks 30th Apr '14 - 7:58pm

    I find it depressing when the comments of people who are struggling to find reasons to stay in the party they’ve loved and worked for are dismissed as constant carping. I can understand and respect people who are happy with the current direction of the party (most people who are still members, it seems) arguing that Nick Clegg and the rest are doing a good job and the right thing. We can then debate this. But most of the criticisms are not “carping”: they’re heartfelt. Tony Greaves has it right. I’ve discussed the situation with a long-time activist who has been close to leaving and I believe I’ve had a little influence in her staying and taking on an officership in the local party. Yet I think Nick Clegg is the wrong leader for several reasons, some to do with his political positions, some with his malleable performance in government and some to do with his evident difficulty in communicating passion or moving beyond a very narrow emotional band. I find some things happening in the party, such as the marginalisation of activists and local party organisations (except in strategic seats) and the dishonesty with which “OMOV” has been promoted for conference, deeply disturbing. The leadership after the general election – and I don’t just mean Nick Clegg – must give priority to preventing our status as a national party with organisation all over the country coming to an end. If it doesn’t, the dedicated work way back to the 1970s, to not only win seats in parliament but also to have a presence in every county, city and constituency, will be discarded.

  • Richard Dawson 30th Apr '14 - 8:27pm

    The graph shows a consistent slide in Councillor numbers since 95 and an acceleration in that trend since 2008 so maybe coalition has less to do with it than we think

  • … and a big acceleration since 2010, so perhaps how badly Nick has managed being in coalition has been a big influence. On the other hand since 2008, it has all been under Nick’s leadership, so perhaps it is just him.

  • @ John Roffey – I think it is 75 constituencies, but someone will know the detail. However, a few senior MPs and lords would do it a lot quicker. The question is do they have the bottle?

  • John Roffey 1st May '14 - 7:26am

    Thanks David, my concern was that, because virtually any other leader would resign if the Party suffered serious setbacks under their leadership – they would resign [ or at least offer to resign] there may never been a need for a mechanism that sparked a leadership contest.

    I suppose senior MPs, particularly those who see themselves as, potentially, the most successful challengers, are likely to want to keep Clegg as leader until after the local/EU elections – not wanting a miserable failure to be the first feature of their leadership.

  • We are putting up more candidates this election than last.

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