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.

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

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

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

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope