A Blog About Nothing Much Happening

The local elections were held on Thursday May 5th, 2016. So little happened in Portsmouth that it has taken me nearly a month to summon up the enthusiasm to record the event for posterity. Compare the composition of the City Council before and after:

May 2015 May 2016
Conservative 18 19
Lib Dem 15 15
Labour 4 3
UKIP 4 4
Ind 1 1

Depending how you want to split hairs, either Labour lost a ward in Cosham (which is what the table above reflects) because Aiden Gray stood down, or the Lib Dems did because he re-defected back to them shortly before the election. It was a right fiasco and a disappointing way for Aidan to go, as he had been an excellent Councillor. Either way, Jim Fleming won it for the Conservatives. Labour won a ward in Charles Dickens from the Lib Dems, and we had the bizarre and unseemly spectacle of them demanding recounts just so they all had time to run out of the Guildhall before Stephen Morgan was declared the Labour victor.

A Councillor in Pompey is up for re-election every four years, so this particular cycle threw people who were elected in 2012 back into the mixer. In comparing 2016 and 2012, we are also looking at the last two instances without major national elections confusing things in Pompey. You can’t have forgotten the glorious general election of 2015, or the surprising Euro elections of 2014 when the Lib Dems finished behind the Greens; and in 2013, you all got the year off being leafletted, canvassed, or generally bothered, because there were no elections. This is the total number of votes cast by party in Portsmouth:

Party 2016 2012
Conservative 12016 11892
Lib Dem 12795 13956
Labour 10439 10495
UKIP 6547 0
Green 1817 782
TUSC 30 1083
Ind 0 487
Total 43644 38695

The total number of votes cast is up quite considerably. But when I read blogs and social media posts bemoaning low turnout, I think people are getting carried away. Local election turnouts aren’t great, and Portsmouth’s isn’t the worst. Everyone would like more in the way of participatory democracy, but that means more than just moaning on Facebook with the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists, or signing 38 Degrees.

From a Tory perspective, these figures are very respectable. Since taking control of the Council in 2014, the Conservative group have had to take some very tough decisions. The public seem to understand the importance of getting those right. The Lib Dems have made no progress. Labour I’ll come back to. The arrival of UKIP – who couldn’t put up a single candidate in 2012 – looks more dramatic than it is. Their vote share locally since 2014 is:

UKIP % Vote
2014 24.7
2015 16.7
2016 15.0

The outcome of the referendum may give them a boost again, but the trajectory since 2014 in Pompey suggests they are not ever going to be a major force here. I have never thought they would be.

For all the fuss about the direction of Labour under Corbyn, at face value the Labour vote has held up. But there is likely to be a “conveyor belt” effect. Labour votes are being lost on one end because people are fed up of the barmy antics of the leadership, but they are being replaced on the other end because some new voters or those entering from the hard left minor parties think Corbs is cool and radical. The youthful enthusiasts will fall off other end when they get tired of the casual anti-semitism tolerated by the party machinery, the amateurishness of its front bench spokespeople, and the frustration that the Labour Party generally is incapable of serious work on policy in any area of government. That will leave Labour being run by the SWP/TUSC/Class War mob. A grim future indeed.

There has been a sort of “conveyor belt” effect in the Conservative Party as well. We definitely went through a phase where we lost some votes to UKIP – I’ve had people tell me it on the doorstep in recent years. But under David Cameron we have also taken votes back on the other side, from Labour and the Lib Dems. Old-fashioned liberal Toryism is wildly successful. The party’s vote is holding up even though we are firmly into a period when conventional wisdom tells us we should be more unpopular, and there is a certain amount of disruptive Europe-related strife going on in our party.

The celebrated Professor Cowley is a bit stronger on the “civil war” stuff than I would be, but let’s see what happens after the referendum.

We know there is a leadership election coming before 2020 and nobody who wants to win it is going to talk in the language of civil war. I am firmly of the view that people who have turned the Prime Minister’s “agreement to differ” on the EU into an “opportunity to abuse” should not be rewarded, on the whole. But at some point, we are going to have to move on from this. We all remember the Maastricht fiasco, don’t we, and what happened when we became incapable of thinking about anything else?

While there may not be the coruscating rhetoric of the Thatcher years, the famous long-term economic plan is working, and the government is starting to undermine the attitude that the taxpayer is a client of the state rather than its master. Not even the Thatcher government managed any progress in that area – the state did not shrink under her. David Cameron is doing OK.

This particular piece is done; somehow I have squeezed over 900 words out of a no-change election where nothing much happened. If you have stuck with it this far, I applaud your sense of adventure. The next piece, inevitably, will be about the EU, and that will probably be longer. Go and get some cranberry sauce, because there will be a bit of Turkey as well.

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