Thursday, May 08, 2008

Is tactical voting working against Labour?

The Conservatives have made great claims about their decision to hold their spring conference in Gateshead. It was a sign, they suggested, of their revival at least of interest in the North East. This explanation was trotted out by Conservatives last week on tv whilst commenting on the local elections generally. The equivalent would be Labour claiming a revival in the South every time they hold a conference in Bournemouth.

I don't doubt for a moment that the Conservatives want to do well generally in the North East. And their decision to hold their conference here was welcome. After all, visitors to the region briing money and that means more cash circulating in our local economy. Indeed, Mr Cameron, come here again and keep spending your money.

But the political benefits for the Tories in Gateshead and Newcastle were zilch. The Conservatives made no progress at all on the two local authorities. In many places they struggled to get into third place ahead of the BNP. 1992 was the last time a Conservative topped the poll in any ward in Newcastle or Gateshead. The seats they won in that year can barely see the Conservative now, they are so far behind.

My own ward shows just how far the Conservatives have declined. Twenty five years ago it was very strongly Conservative. Last week, they achieved second place for the first time in 16 years but given we had 68% and a 1500 majority, their success was more a measure of Labour's meltdown (Labour got their worst vote ever in the ward last week). The Conservatives don't have a grassroots organisation that can even get out a leaflet, never mind the vote.

It is not all bad news for the Conservatives in the North East. As I have said previously, had I been in Sunderland or North Tyneside, I would have been pleased last week had I been a Conservative. North Tyneside contains Tynemouth constituency which was Conservative for nearly 40 years until the 1997 election when it went into the Labour fold. Labour's hold on the seat is looking decidedly butter-fingered at the moment.

In the North East outside those two areas, the Conservative story was one of very limited growth whilst it was the Lib Dems who made the surge forward on the big authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle and County Durham. In Northumberland, the Conservatives hold Hexham and once held Berwick (they have aspirations to win back Alan Beith's seat though their performance last week suggests they will need to keep dreaming.) Yet the Tories had a net gain of only three seats and lost their leader to the Lib Dems in the process.

Down in Durham, the Conservatives did grow from 2 to 10, though the figures are inflated as the authority was doubled in size. The Lib Dems had 5 members on the old, smaller authority. We have 27 on the new enlarged one. Clearly we were the beneficiaries.

Yet there may be straws in the wind that could be telling the story about where politics is going in Britain. In Sunderland and North Tyneside, the Tories did well but we were thin on the ground. In Newcastle and Gateshead, the Tories were thin on the ground but we did well. Cross one authority border to the next and the challengers to Labour are different.

Then go to South Tyneside where both Lib Dems and Conservatives are weak. The challengers there are independents.

Back in the 1990s at aconstituency level, the Conservatives were crushed by a huge pincer movement from tactical voting. This boosted Labour's majority to a far higher level than would otherwise be the case. On a constituency by constituency basis, the party seen as most likely to beat the Tories was the one that benefitted disproportionately in that constituency.

Could the same now be happening to Labour? Could it be that the tide that swept Labour into power with such a huge majority over the past decade or so is about to go into reverse? It is probably too early to tell but if it is the case, Labour are in deep, deep trouble.

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Anonymous said...

Lets have a story about Labour in meltdown across Tyne and Wear. Labour now only has 5 more councillors than the rest of the opposition parties put together in the county. Unheard of at one time.
Eddie Thompson, Whickham

Anonymous said...

If you add up the totals for Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear, Labour has 13 councillors less than the opposition parties put together.
Eddie Thompson, Whickham