Should local elections coincide with the nationals?

This chart shows the 2010 local election results for The Lane, the ward I ran for. After a year of really hard work I doubled the top Green vote to 1,265, but as you can see an incredible surge in votes for Labour stole the show.

The Lane election results

The Lane 2010 election results

To get an idea of how much of a difference having the national and local elections on the same day had in London, look at the black lines. I’ve drawn those into to show, roughly, where the votes were in the 2006 local elections. The increased turnout was massive, and it almost all went to Labour/Lib Dem/Conservative candidates. Across Southwark their vote increased between 50-300% whilst the Green vote was up much, much less; we just got left behind.

In The Lane, the Lib Dems didn’t even campaign. Their candidates didn’t attend the hustings, they only really put out general election leaflets in the area, they didn’t door knock, they’re not particularly active in local groups and their 8 year rule of Southwark Council didn’t do much for the area (to say the least). Yet their vote more than tripled to surge past us. We have been active in the area since 2006, campaigned hard on the doorstep and involved ourselves in lots of local campaigns and community groups, but even doubling our vote wasn’t enough to stop paper candidates overtaking us. That sucks.

It raises the old question: should general and local elections be on the same day? With the Brown/Cameron/Clegg show on TV and all the papers, two years of a Tory Mayor, eight years of a Lib Dem/Tory council for Labour activists to be angry at, and so many voters being unaware of the local situation, how could we ever compete?

For my part, it’s back to the local groups and streets to fight on. Next up: GLA elections in 2012!

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21 thoughts on “Should local elections coincide with the nationals?

  1. James says:

    I think the surge in the Lib Dem vote in the local elections in Camberwell and Peckham is the clearest demonstration of the problem of local issues being ignored when local elections and the general election take place on the same day.

    While I’m very sympathetic to the national party, there is no doubt that Southwark Lib Dems have badly neglected areas like Camberwell and Peckham. It is almost inconceivable that voters informed about local politics would have voted for the Lib Dems in such high numbers in these areas. When you could track them down, many of the Lib Dem candidates in Camberwell were ill-informed about local issues and clearly had no expectation of becoming councillors.

    A high turnout in the local election is no compensation for an electorate that seemed largely unaware that the local elections were taking place or are voting on national issues rather than local ones. The number of blank ballot papers was also fairly high suggesting that many people knew little or nothing about their local candidates whose campaigns had been swamped by the 24 hour a day news coverage of the general election.

    • Tom Chance says:

      I think you’re right about the ballot papers – lots of blanks, and lots with a quite surprising spread across local Green/Labour activists and paper Lib Dem/Conservative candidates.

      I do think it’s good that the turnout was higher, but as you say it’s tough when the party brand can so comprehensively trump the policies and track record of the actual candidates, which matter much more in local politics.

  2. blanco says:

    More excuses for not doing well. This country has had a first past the post system for a hundred years. That might change soon, but for more than a year it was known that the general election would be fought on the same day as local elections. The Greens had a chance to prepare for this, but didn’t. How many councillors do you have in London now? 1 in Camden, 1 in Lewisham. Lost the other 2 in Camden, lost 5 in Lewisham, lost your 1 in Southwark, Lambeth, Hackney. What a humiliating wipe-out. I see the party line is you got “squeezed” by the real parties. Boo hoo. If you’re good enough, people will vote for you at a local level. You did poorly in all of your target areas outside of Brighton:

    in Norwich South, your guy came 4th. same with Lewisham Deptford. How can you, in either area, now say to voters in the area with a straight face, that you are in contention to win the seat next time around? at least going into this election, you could make some convincing lies on your leaflets about how Euro elections and London Assembly elections, conducted under PR, proved you could win a general election or even come a close second (which you failed MISERABLY to do). How will you spin this now? Yeah, you got 1 MP. But looking at the results on your website, you failed to retain ANY of your 300+ deposits for parliamentary seats outside of your three targets. This means that it is almost impossible for you to know where your next targets will come from.

    At the next general election, your entire national campaign will once again be marshalled to defend your solitary parliamentary seat. No growth. You’re an evolutionary political dead-end.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Wow, how vicious, and adept at ignoring my point.

      For instance, in preparing for the local elections two parties campaigned hard in the area, knocked on thousands of doors, put forward positive proposals for the local area, attended hustings and have a track record of local activism. Two other parties were basically invisible. It’s pretty sad that you’d suggest we didn’t prepare!

      You and I obviously don’t share the same view about politics. I’m in it to make my local area better, not because I long for the days in the playground when I could be quite so childish and tribal.

      • blanco says:

        “two parties campaigned hard in the area, knocked on thousands of doors, put forward positive proposals for the local area, attended hustings and have a track record of local activism”

        When thousands of council seats are won without all of that, how does it make sense to do any of that to such an extent, when that isn’t generally how seats are won? How is that preparation? Preparation would be getting real, growing up, ditching this vain belief that if you try weally weally hard locally, you will win: when other parties do much better than you ever will, without having to go so local. Be a national party, not a one-constituency-in-Southern-England party or a loose collection of oddball local parties.

      • Tom Chance says:

        What exactly is the point of politics, then? For me and many activists in the Green Party, Socialist Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru etc. it’s about representing and empowering people to make our world better. The fact that the electoral system fails to be representative, and rewards a brand over real local efforts is, to my mind, a major problem.

        In your words, politics seems to be principally about winning seats. Your logic is perfectly clear, but your premise is ridiculous.

  3. James says:

    “or more than a year it was known that the general election would be fought on the same day as local elections”

    Unless you are Gordon Brown that just isn’t true and if you know that little about politics we can ignore the rest of your comment. Its was a possibility, but never a certainty.

    What needs excusing is not the Green Party, but an unjust electoral system that crushes all political parties except those of Labour and the Conservatives who have refused to reform the system out of pure self-interest.

    • blanco says:

      What rot. As soon as he fluffed calling the general election in November 2007, it was only ever going to be in June 2009 to coincide with the Euros or May 2010 to coincide with the many locals. It was clear pretty much from January 2009 that it wasn’t going to be that year.

      It was obvious, you missed it, you fouled up. Stop blaming the system, you’ve been around long enough to change it. You’ve failed.

    • Neil says:

      Hang on – you’re saying that 3000 people voted Labour, 1300 people voted Green, and therefore an election result that declares Labour the winners is indicative of a broken electoral system?

      I also stood in the local council elections this year. I also worked my socks off and got more votes than the winners of the 2006 election, and also lost out to a massive increase in Labour turnout. And you know what? I’m fine with that. More people voted for them than for me, so they win.

      Of course it irks me that a lot of their voters are the sort who don’t actually care about local issues and wouldn’t have turned out if there hadn’t been a general election on the same day. But no electoral system takes into account how strongly people feel about their votes, and you don’t get any prizes for effort.

      • Tom Chance says:

        I wasn’t quite making James’ point in my original post – I just made an observation about voting patterns in local elections in London when they coincide with general elections.

        But for quite different reasons I do think electoral reform is needed!

      • James says:

        I didn’t say that the political system was broken because of the impact of holding local elections and general elections on the same day.

        My response to Tom’s blog and my reply to Blanco’s comment referred to two different issues. I do think that there is a problem with interpreting local election results as verdicts on local politicians or candidates when they are clearly shaped so heavily by the general election and national policies. This is not indicative of a broken political system, but it a problem for understanding election results and for campaigning. There are ways in which the effect could be reduced if, as I do, you consider it undesirable, starting with much better publicity of the fact that local elections and general elections were happening on the same day and the different issues that are controlled by local and national governments.

        Blanco’s comment covered both the local and general elections and seemed to question the legitimacy of parties other than the big two or three given the smaller parties’ low level of electoral success. I, on the other hand, put this down to an electoral system that entrenches the status quo to the benefit of Labour and Conservatives. The system requires changing to allow room for a wider range of political views to be expressed at all levels of politics.

  4. [...] enjoy the national media glare, benefit disproportionately – whatever the local situation. Tom Chance, of Southwark Green Party, suffered directly from this: In The Lane (Southwark council ward), the [...]

  5. [...] local council elections be held on the same day as the General Election? [...]

  6. Derek Mellor says:

    Hi Tom

    Commiserations. We’re feeling quite raw here after experiencing a huge Labour majority. Problem is now Labour having a new leader and in opposition is not going to help us locally

    In Halton (Merseyside/Cheshire) In the ward I was contesting in 2008 130 votes behind Labour.

    We increased our vote by 20% to 622 but Labour was able to turn out a vote of 2121. Probably reflecting the increase in turnout for the general election I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t aware of this phenomenon ie the tendency for strong cultural support in general elections cascading over into the locals. Labour were recoding such high turnouts in the rest of Halton taking three seats from Cons and one from Lib Dems – bucking the national trends. Check out our blog http://www.haltongreens.blogspot.com

    At least Caroline got in.

    Derek

    At least Caroline got in!!!

  7. John says:

    Interesting blogpost Tom. Clearly we saw a national vote sweeping away the local issues and that’s a bit depressing if you’re a party that’s strong locally – but I’d ignore the likes of “Blanco” and his post which manages to combine sourness and gloating in about equal measure. It’s pretty clear he’s a Labour activist and I recognise his position – I’m a Green Party member now but was a Labour Party member and activist for many years (not exactly a hardcore activist, but I delivered leaflets and did telling at elections etc) and it’s pretty clear why the blancos hate us and that’s because we are chiselling away at their vote. Frankly it’s a pleasure chatting with most labour voters if you represent the Green Party in somewhere like London; we are the party they wish the Labour was. Here in Lambeth they practically fall into our arms when we talk a bit of policy with them. I don’t know much about Southwark Labour Party but the Lambeth Labour Party (in the admiring words of T.Blair Esq. “more New Labour than New Labour”) is truly more tory than the torys. I’ve just done an analysis of our split votes and we have almost no overlap with the conservatives, a fair bit with the Lib-Dems but lots and lots with Labour. Next locals could see some very bad results for Nu Labour. Keep working locally and it looks to me as if you’ll ave a much more interesting time in 2014 – although I’d expect a bucketload of smears to come your way at that point, that is pretty much standard Labour tactics when they are in danger of losing one of their cozy little sinecures.

  8. [...] which, as a result, gained seats. In fact, in some wards in London, this led to paper candidates tripling their vote, and shooting past parties who campaigned hard to double [...]

  9. Andrew says:

    Tom,

    First of all, congratulations on getting all of those votes. As a local Labour activist, I have to say I’m glad you didn’t win but as far as I can see you’re a decent, honest chap who wants to make a difference locally, and I don’t think there is any need for the nastiness in blanco’s comments.

    However, I’ve got to take issue with the sentiment of your post, which seems to suggest that high turnouts in local elections that coincide with General Elections are a bad thing because many of the people voting in them aren’t fully informed of the local issues. That’s just the nature of democracy – if people really knew quite how badly the Lib Dem / Tory Council was failing, we (Labour) would probably have wiped them out in practically every ward in the borough!

    More than 3,000 people voted for Labour Councillors in The Lane because they wanted The Lane to be represented by Labour Councillors. True, some of them may well have chosen not to express their preference had there not been a GE on the same day (indeed, some of the Green voters who voted for Jenny Jones in the Parliamentary election also may not have have turned out to vote Green locally), but that doesn’t make their expression of their preference any less valid. To suggest otherwise puts you at the top of very slippery anti-democratic slope.

    Andrew

    • Tom Chance says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for your comment, I think you’re right that it is difficult to say that the elections shouldn’t coincide because they raise the local election turnout.

      Since writing the post the one change I think I’d make is to more clearly say “oh well, that’s life and democracy”! I do think it’s an interesting and important observation for democrats and Green activists alike.

  10. John says:

    @Andrew, the Labour activist; firstly thanks for responding positively, as I said above I’m an ex-Labour member and one of those who would say the Party left me not the other way round, so I see much overlap between the Green and Labour parties and think they ought to be working together where possible.

    But re; this comment of yours –

    “However, I’ve got to take issue with the sentiment of your post, which seems to suggest that high turnouts in local elections that coincide with General Elections are a bad thing because many of the people voting in them aren’t fully informed of the local issues. That’s just the nature of democracy – if people really knew quite how badly the Lib Dem / Tory Council was failing, we (Labour) would probably have wiped them out in practically every ward in the borough!”

    – I have to say almost the exact opposite state existed in Lambeth. The Lambeth Labour Party is de facto the local tory party; it pushes a low-tax, low service philosophy and campaigns on nothing more than the standard anti-state right-wing agenda of fear-of-crime, slagging public provision for being “wasteful”, and meaningless tabloid bullshit like being “tough on drugs” (and actively stifles any debate on the dreadful failure that is drug prohibition). It has also foisted a truly dreadful ALMO – Lambeth Living – on its council tenants (after increasing council rents by 17% while freezing council tax). These things are close to my heart because I live on a Lambeth Living council estate and we have to handle the consequences of dealing and drug use on a daily basis here.

    Lambeth Labour pose as post-ideology “managerial” politicians who make competence their primary claim – yet their major policy initiative – Lambeth Living – is an utter disaster – they are basically now incapable of answering their phones and our local office has been so badly attacked by some poor sod who obviously flipped out and battered the place repeatedly with a club hammer or something that they’ve closed the office! Wonderful.

    If local people voted in numers on local issues Lambeth Labour Party would be lucky to get any votes at all, they are hopeless, and worse, they are principle-less self-serving careerists who clearly do not give a crap about those at the bottom of the pile.

    You should cross your fingers that their grand plans for mergeing Council departments with Southwark never comes to pass.

    At national level I will still vote Labour where that’s the sensible thing to do under FPTP, but I will never ever vote for Lambeth Labour party again.

  11. You have done it once again! Incredible read.

  12. [...] enjoy the national media glare, benefit disproportionately – whatever the local situation. Tom Chance, of Southwark Green Party, suffered directly from this: In The Lane (Southwark council ward), the [...]

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