English local elections: gearing up for the Labour leadership coup

Evan Davis: BBC garden gnomes for the Tories tendency
Evan Davis: BBC garden gnomes for the Tories tendency

On BBC’s Newsnight last night Evan Davis said ‘Like the Premier league there’ll be winners and losers in tomorrow’s English elections’. There’s a big difference though. In the local elections we all know in advance who the losers will be. Partly because the BBC has lost no opportunity over the last couple of weeks to tell us.

Labour MPs, unsure whether they’re anti-semites or pro-Zionists, have walked right into the local election trap set for the party. Moreover, the small gang of irreconcilable Labour right-wingers on the backbenches have been vociferously seizing any soundbite going to help them do so.

What’s the trap? The trick is to overstate by a grotesque margin the number of council seats Labour is expected to gain. Then, when they don’t reach some absurdly impossible target, condemn their Leader as a useless vote-loser. Failed leadership candidate Liz Kendall for example has been quoted as saying Labour should gain 400 seats to be credible.

Speculation masquerading as sober analysis in i-news
Speculation masquerading as sober analysis in i-news

The not-quite-Tory press (Guardian and Independent) have jumped gleefully on this. The Guardian editorial pronounced yesterday that ‘Labour needs to be making unambiguous gains in England this week‘, while reporting a forecast that 175 lost seats would be the ‘worst election performance in opposition since 1982’. Friday will inevitably apparently be a ‘day of reckoning’ for the evil leftist Corbyn.

Let’s calm down and look at a few facts. Local elections are normally compared with the last equivalent year in the four year cycle. That’s 2012. As it happens, 2012 was Labour’s best result in some years, when they gained over 500 seats. A loss of 175 would actually be a better result than 2008 or 2004. In those years they lost over 300 and over 400 respectively. The key words in the Guardian’s fatuous claim that Labour is facing its worst result since the Falklands war (is Cameron being subliminally equated with Thatcher??) are ‘in opposition’, although that’s not something either the Guardian or the BBC dwell on.


council gains 04-12

A real ‘disaster’ would be for Labour to do even worse than did in 2004 and 2008 and lose over 400 seats. Losing anything less than 300 seats would be a better performance than either of those years, although lagging well behind 2012, its best year since the 1990s, the last time it was in opposition.

Comparing local election results over time is not so straightforward as it looks, however. The list of authorities with elections changes a little and there are always areas with boundary revisions, which means they face all-out elections rather than the usual retirement of a third of the councillors. To allow for this and provide a consistent comparison, I’ve run a PR simulation that compensates for all-out elections and is based on the d’Hondt method (as used in Spain). Here’s the results.

locals 2012 PR sim,

Labour will do very well indeed to get anywhere close to its 2012 performance. So expect the BBC and the Guardian to be braying for Corbyn’s head on Friday.

You might almost feel sorry for Corbyn. Almost but not quite, as he bizarrely compounded the trap yesterday by stating publicly that Labour would lose no seats at all. Either he’s a very brave man, or someone living in cloud-cuckoo land, or someone who doesn’t understand the psephology.


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