Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
On a warm Thursday, England voted in direct elections in the 32 London boroughs, all 30 metropolitan boroughs, 20 unitary authorities, 74 second-tier district authorities and several mayoral elections. Due to the Local Elections Order 2013, these elections were held on the same day as the EU Parliament elections.
The leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, promised a “political earthquake” in these two sets of elections. After losing 307 councillors, the Liberal Democrats appear to have destabilised. Some Liberal Democrat activists launched an online petition to remove their leader, and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Mr Clegg said their party’s loss was due to a “very strong anti-politics feeling”, and that he would not quit. Other aspects of the party are treating the petition with levity, setting up a ‘Liberal Democrats Friends of Cake’ Twitter page.
Labour improved their strong position in these councils, obtaining control of 6 more councils and gaining a further 338 councillors. This includes the annihilation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Redbridge, where Labour now has a majority of 7, and former NUS President Wes Streeting is the new deputy leader. The Conservatives relinquished overall control of 11 local councils, and eroding their number of councillors by 231.
There has been some criticism of media outlets for focussing on UKIP’s electoral performance, to the detriment of Labour’s success. Strangely, there were even claims that the BBC declared UKIP “the winners of the 2014 Council Elections”.
Before these local elections, Labour had 1763 councillors, compared to 1590 Conservative councillors, and 734 Liberal Democrat councillors. By contrast, there were just two UKIP councillors: now there are 163. It is due to this variation in political affiliation of different types of local councils that the BBC calculates the ‘projected national share’, which seeks to extrapolate from these local elections to a national one. There is a similar measure called the national equivalent share of the vote (NEV), calculated by Craig Raillings and Michael Thrasher.
Until 2013, UKIP had previously not been considered separately in these calculations, and were only listed as ‘Other’. This means that prior calculations of the projected national share are likely to overestimate the proportions taken by the three main parties. This projected national share places the Conservatives on 29%, Labour on 31%, the Liberal Democrats on 13% and UKIP on 17%. Last year, the percentages of the project national share were 25% for the Conservatives, 29% for Labour, 14% for Liberal Democrats, and 22% for UKIP.
This comparison fractures several prevailing narratives. Despite the Deputy Prime Minister’s claim that his party suffered due to “a very strong anti-politics feeling”, the Liberal Democrats lost only 1 point in their estimated national share. Furthermore, Labour – one of Britain’s main parties – gained the most number of councillors, and both Labour and Conservatives swelled their projected proportion. Nigel Farage may believe that his party caused a “political earthquake”, but UKIP’s share was eroded, rather than increased. This is not a political earthquake, but an aftershock.