On the eve of the Labour Party conference there is a rare fillip for the divided party. Voters turned out in sufficient numbers to elect councillors in the Midlands, North West and Scotland for the party to gain seats.
The night was not promising for Labour -particularly after spectacular defeats in council by-elections in Sheffield and Cardiff.
Nine seats were up for grabs – 7 in England and one each in Scotland and Wales and Labour only held one in their heartland in Gateshead. The Tories held six with the SNP and an independent holding the other seats.
By the end of the night the Tories had lost four of its seats – two to Labour and two to the Liberal Democrats. The SNP lost their seat to Labour and Plaid Cymru took a seat from Independents.
The result in Scotland was particularly interesting as this is Labour’s second gain from the SNP in a month. The North Lanarkshire council gain at Coatbridge was hailed as “a surprise win” by theDaily Record. It followed a Labour gain last month in North Ayrshire where Labour beat Nicola Sturgeon’s dad, Robin, to come from behind to win. In both cases it has to be said that the Labour vote fell and the SNP vote went up compared to results in 2012.
In North Lanarkshire Labour were ahead in first preference votes. In North Ayrshire they were behind the SNP. But in both cases the STV system helped Labour gain the seats. What appears to be happening is that more people voting for opponents of SNP end up switching eventually to Labour ( even Tories in these cases) rather than helping the SNP hold the seat.
In England Labour secured two spectacular gains. In the Lake District they won a seat in Cockermouth with a 5 per cent increase in a solid Tory ward in the town. They were helped by the collapse of the Tory vote and a big 20 per cent rise in support for the Liberal Democrats which pushed the Tories into third place.
In North Warwickshire – a marginal Parliamentary seat which the Tories did particularly well in the General Election – Labour stormed to victory in a straight fight with the Tories.
They won despite a Tory campaign lambasting Labour over local issues. The Tory Party told the electorate.”There will be a clear choice at this by-election; a responsible Conservative councillor who will ensure that the residents of Arley & Whitacre ward get the best deal possible and that their voice is heard, or a Labour councillor who will fail to stand up for local people”
Interestingly UKIP which had done well in this area couldn’t field a candidate and neither did the Liberal Democrats or Greens. Result was a staggering 33.7 per cent increase in Labour share . As @britainelects tweeted:Arley & Whitacre (North Warwickshire) result: LAB: 59.7% (+33.7) CON: 40.3% (+1.7) Greens and UKIP didn’t stand this time round.
The Liberal Democrats did well in Devon with a 28 per cent rise in the share of the vote to take Teignmouth from the Tories. They also won a seat from the Tories in Suffolk with a 12 per cent share of the vote. The Labour share of the vote in this Tory seat also went up by 5.8 per cent. The Lib Dem performance is part of a pattern in many Tory and now some Labour seats which has meant the party has made 17 council seat gains since the General Election.
The Tories held two of their safe seats with an 8.5 per cent vote share increase in Adderbury near Banbury and they easily saw off a lone UKIP challenge in Stony Stratford, South Northants – taking over 77 per cent of the vote.
Whatever is said nationally UKIP continue to do badly. In the Labour heartland of Gateshead where they were a distant challenger they got a mere 1.3 pc more of the vote while Labour declined by 3.7 per cent. Here again the Lib Dems did better. In other places they got derisory share of the vote – for example coming bottom in Coatbridge with just 63 votes compared to over 1350 for the winner.
My prediction is that on present performance in council areas it is the Liberal Democrats rather than UKIP that are re-emerging as the challenger to the Tories in the rural shires and Labour in the cities. And all is not lost for Labour either on this performance provided they unite.