Local Elections 2018
Lansons experts analyse the results
Managing expectation management
Michael Stott, Director
Director and Head of Public Affairs, Michael Stott, considers the impact expectation can have on election outcomes.
In a country where the public generally don’t like a show off, it’s striking how often political parties allow hubris to get the better of them. The Conservatives did it during the General Election last year, where an initial massive poll lead led in the end to a loss of seats. And while all results are not yet in, at this year’s local elections Labour appear not to have learned the lesson.
Throughout the campaign, Labour were allowing the message to filter out that they were hoping to win across a range of councils in London and beyond. They hoped to win in Barnet, Westminster, and Wandsworth, but in the end won none. They also lost in the Midlands, a key battleground in any General Election if Jeremy Corbyn is to stand a hope of becoming Prime Minister. By setting the bar so high, even the advances the party has made in places like Plymouth do not add up to a successful night for Labour.
The lesson is surely: don’t get ahead of yourself. Manage the expectation management process well.
Britain likes an underdog; it’s partly why Jeremy Corbyn did so well last year. Hubris encourages your opponents to turn out, and allows your supporters to rest on their laurels.
Recriminations have inevitably flowed from those within Labour never enamoured by Corbyn, with suggestions that his star is perhaps fading. It’s too early to say that, but his inability to grip the antisemitism problem certainly hurt the party in places with high Jewish populations like north London.
When politics play out on twitter....
How did this happen? Politics can be a very London-centric game sometimes, and social media channels like Twitter often amplify a certain left of centre viewpoint. Left-wing pundits crow, and sometimes the national journalists follow that lead because they spend a lot of time on Twitter. It can often lead to a false reading of the nation. But the vast majority of people in the country don’t follow politics so keenly and certainly don’t follow Owen Jones on Twitter, so we often build up the wrong picture.
Where the main parties stand
What does this mean for Labour? Jeremy Corbyn will certainly survive. Labour has a tendency not to rid itself of a leader until after General Election defeat (three times a winner Blair being the obvious anomaly), and sometimes not even then. Labour still stands a very good chance of winning in 2022, and we mustn’t forget that Labour got a drubbing in local elections in 2017, only to go on and win seats at the General a month later.
Theresa May will be content to have avoided yet more bad news. She’s weak and stable and the results today do not change that. With the party picking up seats in Leave areas, there does appear to be a generational shift going on, with the Tories becoming the party of the towns and country, and Labour doing better in the big cities. That does of course point to the country, at least the non-metropolitan country, expecting the Prime Minister to deliver on Brexit. Her Remain-supporting MPs would do well to note that expectation, and if staying in the Customs Union and Single Market are likely to happen, the Conservatives will need to manage their supporters’ expectations, and fast.
As for the Lib Dems, they have seen somewhat of a recovery, taking Richmond from the Tories on a huge swing. It’s a welcome boost for them, but there is little sign that the party is hoovering up votes in the way they hoped their anti-Brexit stance would support. The party remains some way off its zenith and many would question whether it will ever return to that period of strength
A macro or micro election?
Mitchell Cohen, Account Manager
Are constituents voting for the wrong issues, in the wrong elections? Mitchell Cohen, Account Manager, looks at the trend of national messaging, taking over local politics.
Watching PMQs over the past few weeks it has been clear that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have been trying to fight local elections on the national stage, debating council taxes and potholes to create pithy soundbites. However, with other themes coming to the fore in recent months such as Brexit, Windrush and Anti-Semitism, the results today show that this has caused confusion amongst the electorate and changed the battle lines. Campaigners who were campaigning on local issues may have been swept away by national issues and those fighting on national issues may have taken their eyes off local issues.
As the results came in, with Labour hotly tipped to win councils like Barnet, the Tories clung on and increased their control on the Council. Why? This can only be seen as defiance by local constituents against Labour’s reluctance to tackle the anti-Semites engulfing their party. Barnet was Labour’s to win.
Looking at the result in Sunderland, which one of the first to declare for Leave, you would expect the Tories to do well, but it was the Liberal Democrats who managed to double their seat tally - a clear example of local issues trumping national ones (a good dose of traditional northern hostility to the Tories is the usual local issue).
It is interesting to look at the messaging that has been used ahead of the elections. The Conservatives promoted councils that had lower taxes and better bin collections, while Labour pointed to badly run Conservative councils who outsource their services. Liberal democrats ran on an alternative platform, looking to make councils better but also on an anti-Brexit message.
This calls into question what these local elections actually mean. Can we really take a view on what the country would do in a general election, when only a third of the country could vote and there was a relatively low turnout?
"Would the constituents in London who voted Conservative in Wandsworth in order to keep their council tax low, vote for a pro Brexit Tory party in a General Election?"
We must look at these results with caution. It was clearly a disappointing night for the Labour Party and the Tories clearly did better than anticipated, but this may not be the case in a general election, when national messaging is so important and does not so easily get conflated with potholes and bins.
There is no doubt that Barnet remained Conservative because of the macro messaging, but places like Plymouth turned Labour because of local issues. This local election will no doubt go down as a confused one, with no overall victor and a much more segmented electorate.
When local elections aren't local
Michael Stott, Director
Director and Head of Public Affairs, Michael Stott, delves into the statistics to see the breakdown to see what influenced voters in 2018.
It turns out that in local elections, however much parties talk about bins, people are thinking about Brexit. According to Lansons polling conducted in conjunction with Opinium over the weekend, the most important issues people in London were voting on tended to be national ones such as the NHS, Brexit, housing and the economy. Issues over which councils have genuine powers, like refuse collection, road maintenance, and social services, fell way down the list of important issues.
Given that people generally have only the weakest of grasps over what is the responsibility of their councillors, and who those councillors are, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. And in London, where there is a spike in Lib Dem support, there is a larger number of people who say Brexit is an issue which they consider to be most important.
Which issue is the most important for you?
And while much of the focus has been on London, as is our survey, even within London there are important distinctions. The prediction suggested the Tories would see a far greater proportion of their votes from outer London, whereas Labour’s vote would be more easily spread. This is consistent with the Conservatives winning in places like Barnet, but also helps us understand the surge in Lib Dem support in places like Richmond and Kingston, as that party’s support also disproportionately comes from outer London.
Where the main parties votes come from in London
But by far the most important question on everyone’s minds is, which upcoming events will people be most looking forward to watching on TV? So, we asked it, and then cut it by voting intention. Because that’s the sort of insight you get from Lansons.
Which, if any, of the following events are you most looking forward to watching on TV?
Tory voters are much more likely to watch the impending Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle than apathetic Lib Dem supporters, but voters for each party are both much more likely to watch Wimbledon than Labour voters. Labour supporters were disproportionately much more likely to be interested in the World Cup than either Tories or Lib Dems. But by far the most important of the findings (on a tiny sample size) is surely the glee with which UKIP voters are looking forward to the Eurovision Song Contest. Go figure.
A capital error
Joe Greaney, Junior Executive
Labour's confidence may have caused its London downfall, writes Joe Greaney, Junior Executive.
Local elections have historically been an opportunity for the opposition to punish the Government halfway through a parliamentary cycle. John Major’s 1995 local election defeat was a notable example, proving an early indication that 18 years of Conservative Government were coming to an end. In 1997 the Labour leader Tony Blair went on to win 48% of the vote following the Tories’ drubbing in 1995, having lost 2,018 councillors.
Fast forward to the present, and confidence in Labour’s performance was overblown by press coverage before the election, as a London-centric left-wing press became disproportionately excited by the prospect of embarrassing the Government. The party was encouraged by the 2017 General Election’s vote share, which saw the party win Kensington for the first time in its history and gain solid support in urban areas, as well as favourable polling.
Labour gains in Plymouth and Manchester were overshadowed by their ultimate failure to deliver control of councils in Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. In strict electoral terms, this was not a disaster for Labour by any means, but it has been portrayed en masse by the capital’s press as a disappointment. It is perhaps too easy to say so in hindsight, but Labour should never have been so optimistic.
Political crises over the past few months – involving its drawn-out failure to communicate with the Jewish community over anti-Semitism – certainly impacted the party. However, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem can only conclusively be said to have affected its chances in the London ward of Barnet. Moreover, it was arguably never likely that the party would reach a particularly positive story: a UK Government has arguably not suffered a major defeat at the hands of council elections since 2008, when David Cameron recorded 44% of the vote, compared to Gordon Brown’s 24%.
That is partly because in that time, Labour has not provided united or efficient opposition. But the result represents a growing trend that stretches back ten years, when Cameron’s popularity was rising against Gordon Brown ‘s struggling Government. An uncertain political climate has changed the role of local elections.
Labour’s confidence, and willingness to engage in self-aggrandisement have lost it the London spin war. In historical terms, it should have known what to expect.
Emma Henderson, Account Executive
Account Executive, Emma Henderson, takes a lighthearted look at the canine phenomenon taking over elections....
As much of England took to the polls yesterday, they also took to social media to campaign for their party, and share their opinions, #dogsatpollingstations and (the newest trend sweeping social) the Sajid Javid/ Conservative power stance whilst campaigning. Our analysis takes into account Twitter and Instagram conversations from 9am the 3rd May to 1pm the 4th May.
One of the most popular hashtags during any election is #DogsAtPollingStations, and the local elections were no exception. However there was an innovation, with the arrival of pictures of cats at polling stations as a trend. But by far the most interesting/odd of the trends is the ‘Conservative power stance’, with many campaigners and voters during these elections adopting legs wide apart, no doubt in admiration of top politicians who do the same...
As the graph below indicates, the Labour Party had the biggest voice on social media when campaigning, followed by the Conservatives. Labour were also the most discussed party overall, probably because of the demographic of Labour voters, tending to be slightly younger. In addition, the Lib Dems, although holding a smaller voice than Labour and the Conservatives, still had a strong campaigning voice online.
The largest influencer online during these local elections was Nadeem Ahmed, a Labour and Jeremy Corbyn supporter and Disability Activist. Other key influencers were also Labour supporters and these included Socialist Voice, Jezza4_PM and BriefcaseMike.
The below map shows that London remains the most prolific user of social media for political purposes. This is no surprise, but does suggest that reporting (given journalists are semi-attached to their Twitter accounts) might be disproportionately swayed by things they read on there. Elsewhere, Manchester and Leeds had the second biggest voice and despite the surprise results in Leave-supporting Sunderland, where the Lib Dems picked up seats, the online conversations around the local elections in this area were on whole of a neutral sentiment.