Local Elections: The gift that wasn’t on the Tory wish list

Anthony Arblaster discusses the ups and downs of the local election results, which came as an unwelcome surprise to some

May 8, 2012
3 min read

The right-wing press and the centrist commentariat had their responses to the local elections well prepared. Labour would of course make gains – this is mid-term for the government after all – but not really significant gains. In Scotland they would suffer at the hands of the SNP. Boris would win handsomely in London. The Tories would hold their own in the south of England. Ed Miliband’s leadership would be called in to question yet more strongly.

The central fact about the election results is that none of this happened. Against the predictions, and hopes of most commentators, many of whom have still not forgiven Ed for usurping his brother David’s presumed throne, Labour did everywhere perform better than expected.

In Scotland Labour and the SNP both made gains at the expense of the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, but the SNP did not make the expected headway against Labour, whose control of Glasgow remains strong. Boris did, of course, win the London mayoral contest, but by a slender margin of 3 per cent, and this despite the embarrassment of Livingstone’s tax arrangements and tactless remarks about both Jews and gays. Labour took 20 seats in Birmingham from the Coalition parties, and further south it won control of Plymouth, Exeter, Southampton and Reading, as well as some towns on the fringes of London.

In other words predictions of the impending death, or irreversible decline, of the Labour Party, which occur about every ten years or so, have once again been exposed as political wishful thinking. One obvious reason for this is the terrible damage the Lib Dems have inflicted on themselves by their ardent embrace of the Tories in the coalition government, and of the Tory programme of attacks on the NHS, the welfare state and the public sector as a whole.

In Scotland they, like the Tories, are back on the fringes of politics.  In my own city of Sheffield it is hard to believe that they were the party in power just over two years ago. They now hold 23 seats out of a total of 84 whilst Labour have 59. There are two Green Councillors and no Conservatives.

Until the Coalition was formed, the Lib Dems attracted support from those disillusioned, for a variety of reasons, with the two major parties. Since 2010 the disillusioned have had to look elsewhere.  Rising unemployment and related hardships have enhanced the xenophobic appeal of UKIP, which did almost as well as the Lib Dems in the seats it contested. More encouraging was the success of Respect in Bradford, where they successfully followed up on George Galloway’s stunning by-election victory.

Respect and the Greens show that there is room for radical alternatives to the mainstream parties, but the overall results show that Labour, and especially the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, have been right to attack the Tories economic policy. People are starting to listen to their critique.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant