Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) made startling gains in the English local elections, which their leader Nigel Farage hailed as a “game changer”. The elections occurred in 27 non-metropolitan county councils and eight unitary authorities, including the Isle of Scilly. The Welsh unitary authority on the Isle of Anglesey held their polls, delayed due to electoral reform. The parliamentary by-election in South Shields, instigated by David Miliband’s departure, was also held on May 2nd.
UKIP won 147 contests, when before, they had eight seats on these councils. The Liberal Democrats, whose share of the national equivalent vote dropped from 25% in 2009 to just 14%, lost 124 seats. Labour’s ranks grew by 291 councillors, recovering the same number they lost in the disastrous 2009 local election, seizing two more councils, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Labour now garrison Durham’s council with nearly 75% of its seats. The Green Party, which along with UKIP fielded a record number of candidates, made a net gain of only five councillors.
The Conservatives shed 335 councillors, and relinquished overall control of 10 councils, annihilating their 2009 ascension. This was an erosion of a dominant position, as the party still controls 18 of the elected councils and has 1,116 councillors. Prime Minister David Cameron said his party “would work really hard” to win back voters who had switched support. The Conservatives form the largest party in seven of the 13 hung councils, with a Conservative-UKIP coalition being a numerical possibility in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and East Sussex.
The estimated national equivalent vote share, which calibrates the popular vote according to what “each party would have received had elections been held across the whole of Great Britain”, has never explicitly calculated a party outside of the main trinity. The ‘Other’ vote peaked at 18% in 2009, and has been about 10% since 2004, hitting 13% in 2012. Re-absorbing UKIP, the ‘Other’ vote took 32% of the electorate in 2013.
According to the BBC, UKIP’s national share was 23%, placing them in third behind Labour on 29% and the Conservatives on 25%. It is the first time all three main parties have held below 30%. From the 2012 local elections, Labour’s equivalent national share has dropped by 10 percentage points, with the Conservatives chiselled by 8 points, and the Liberal Democrats are relatively resilient from their reduced crouch, losing 1 point. Accounting for UKIP’s 23% vote share, all parties must have handed partial support to UKIP.
Labour triumphed in the two mayoral elections in Doncaster and North Tyneside, the former by 639 votes on second preferences after eight hours of voting. Emma Lewell-Buck helped Labour retain the South Shields constituency, even with the majority cut by 4.1 points. The Liberal Democrats suffered an indignant seventh place in that by-election – beaten by beaten two Independents and the BNP; smashing the mighty Monster Raving Loony Party by 155 votes.
There is a new party in local politics. It is not a political earthquake, but the tremors will rumble on with political ramifications.