When it comes to election results it is usually necessary to look hard at the facts and ignore the spin. What has just taken place is that in England the Conservatives lost 342 council seats and won 1,043. In other words, they lost a third as many seats as they won. In Wales they did even worse.
By comparison the two parties which most strongly supported remaining in the EU had a fantastic night. The Liberal Democrats won 191 new seats to finish with 711 whilst the Greens won 61 new seats to finish up with 114. Labour stood almost still with 29 gains and 2,234 seats against the Conservatives 1,043.
Conservative rejection at the ballot box
Any reasonable person could only describe this as a comprehensive thrashing for the party in power and a sea change in the views of the public about the merits of the smaller parties.
Conservative central office holds a different view. The BBC’s brand new chief reporter on politics, Chris Mason, told us almost uncritically that:
“The mood in government, from the ministers I speak to, is chipper. ‘It’s mid-term, we’ve been in government for 12 years, there’s a war on, there’s been a pandemic, there’s a serious global economic crunch’, one cabinet minister points out, suggesting the local election results could have been a whole lot worse for the Conservatives.”
It is not surprising that Conservatives should make every effort to sell a massive rejection at the ballot box as of no particular concern. It is surprising and very worrying that the newly appointed BBC leading political commentator should be naïve enough to buy the line.
The Conservative Party wants us to believe that things are fine because it is only the metropolitan London elite that doesn’t like Boris Johnson and the red wall in the north is still prepared to forgive and forget. You remember London. That is the place which trusted Johnson with the leadership of our capital city for eight years. They know him and the value of his leadership better than anywhere else in the country. So they rejected him resoundingly.
Assessing the Brexit influence outside London
Outside London the Conservatives also took a pounding in the vast majority of areas. Yet there was a clear split. Areas that voted heavily for Brexit doubled down on their bet and actually swung towards the Conservatives. In Derby, Sunderland and the Black Country the Conservative Party won votes in communities which have seen decades of neglect. A lot of people in those communities are still placing their faith in this government to level them up.
Good luck with that.
Areas that were less sure that Brexit was a great idea are looking at the future with a lot more trepidation about its progress and with a lot more interest in making sure their community and their economy is ahead of the game on the change to new greener technology.
This could be seen particularly clearly in Somerset. Before this election the county had been under Conservative control. The Liberal Democrats won 61 of the 110 seats, the Conservatives 36, the Greens five and Labour five. A huge swing that was disguised by reorganisation.
Local election results in North Yorkshire
In North Yorkshire the same forces could be seen at work. Before this election the Conservatives held 54 of the seats on North Yorkshire County Council and all the other parties put together only had 18 seats. It was virtually a one-party state and few people thought there was the remotest possibility of change. Instead, there was a close-run thing. On the new council there will be 47 Conservatives facing 43 members of other parties.
I am pleased to say that I will be one of those 43. Five years ago, I stood for North Yorkshire Council for the Greens. I got 20 percent of the vote and came third. People told me there was no point in standing because a sheep could get in if it wore a blue rosette. I did manage to take a smaller district council seat off the Conservatives by eight votes though.
This time round I defeated the Conservatives in a bigger seat and got 79 percent of the vote. At first, the council’s reporting system didn’t even have a line that enabled it to record a Green win. The sober assessment of the Yorkshire Bylines advance prediction was that the Greens would be lucky to win two seats. There are now five Green councillors sitting on North Yorkshire County Council. The Liberal Democrats have 12 councillors and Labour the same number with 14 independents or others.
A sea change in North Yorkshire
Knocking on doors I heard three reasons for this sea change. The first is perhaps the most important. People kept telling me that they had actually seen me doing something for them between elections and I hadn’t just turned up and asked for their vote. That pull factor was important and people from all parties who put the work in, tended to get the reward. That said, there is still massive cynicism about all politicians and a serious lack of faith that voting can ever make a difference.
I also heard a lot of people concerned about one local factor. No one I spoked to liked the fact that their district council had been abolished and that the only unit of local government for them was now a giant county where people in the head office at Northallerton were over two hours drive away and likely to be unaware of local issues.
I also heard a great deal of anger over the shoddy behaviour of the current British prime minister. Lifelong Conservative voters crossed the road to tell me that they couldn’t vote for this shambolic liar and were going to switch to voting Green. I knocked on doors of very traditional farmers and was told that they were supporting me.
Clear message from the local elections
My seat of Aire Valley contains a mix of farms, commuter belt, traditional back-to-backs and council houses. It is a fairly good sample of rich and poor mainly rural voters. They are angry and they are worried, and they are not floating back to the Conservatives any time soon.
The old Conservative Party that used to be able to rely on rural voters in the shires has gone. It has been taken over by extremists who have a fanatical faith that Brexit is going to be a wonderful cure all. If there is one clear message from the 5 May elections it is that a very large number of voters don’t share that naïve optimism. A lot of people know that they have been lied to again and again by this government.
It remains to be seen whether the 30 percent of Conservative councillors who lost their seat in England have the strength and the honesty to get rid of the narrow cabal of far-right extremists who have captured their party.
For the sake of this country, I hope that they succeed and that they don’t just replace one fanatic with another. If Johnson’s spin doctors get away with it and he lurches on, then I may just have to take comfort in one simple thought. It is very enjoyable winning an election!