My word, it’s been a while since I focused on the local authority elections! What with the excitement of the Penarth and Cardiff South by-election, some other election and the census, the poor Conservative and Labour parties must have thought I’d clean forgotten about them. Not at all. It’s about time they benefited from the same level of incisive electoral advice I’ve already given the Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid, Independents and UKIP.
The Conservatives took a beating in the 2012 local authority election. Prior to the election they held 8 of the Penarth/Sully seats, with Labour on the remaining 2. And after the election, the only 2 seats they kept hold of were the 2 Plymouth seats that I’ve previously described thus:
Plymouth will keep its two Conservative councillors forever.
Why did they take such a hammering?
I’ve become convinced that local elections in Wales are as closely related to the abilities and competence of councillors as they are to the fortunes of the Norwegian cheese industry. That is, not related at all. Or at least, that’s the case in authorities (such as the Vale) where the battle is principally between Labour and Conservative.
The fate of members in the Vale is entirely bound up in the relative popularity of those two parties in Westminster.
What’s that you say? You want proof?
- Poll May 2004 – Labour 35%, Conservative 34%. June election Penarth + Sully seats Labour 5 Conservative 5. Vale seats Labour 16 Conservative 20.
- Poll April 2008 – Labour 31%, Conservative 40%. May election Penarth + Sully Labour 2 Conservative 8. Vale Labour 13 Conservative 25.
- Poll April 2012 – Labour 41%, Conservative 32%. May election Penarth + Sully Labour 6 Conservative 2. Vale Labour 22 Conservative 11.
So when the two big parties are evens in the polls, the seats are split evenly. A 9% lead for either party in the UK polls spells catastrophe for their opponents. Incidentally I stand to be proved wrong, but I’m assuming that in the 1996 and 2000 elections the results were 8 seats for Labour both times, with 2 for the Conservatives (if anyone can send me the details that I haven’t been able to find online I’d be very grateful).
Does that make depressing reading? I think so. It means that in Penarth, no matter how hard you try to be a good councillor, the effort is irrelevant. All that counts – at least, for candidates from the Labour and Conservative parties – is how well your party is faring at Westminster. What a fickle bunch we are!
Part of the reason for this is that local elections in Wales are viewed with total irrelevance by the British (read English) media. And since it’s from the British media that most people in Wales derive their news, it’s hardly surprising that turnout in local elections here is so abysmal (39% in 2012). So what does that mean for councillors? The answer to that question depends on whether you’re a ‘good’ councillor or a ‘bad’ one.
If you’re a good councillor (Conservative or Labour) you’ll want your record of hard work and success to be rewarded with electoral victory. But how can you achieve that if your fate is exclusively tied to that of your mother party? The answer lies in where the editorial decisions are taken for the news that most people receive. Currently those decisions are taken in London. But they could be taken in Cardiff, which would presumably mean a much greater focus on local elections in Wales, if broadcasting were devolved. So the sensible strategy would be for good councillors to push within their respective parties for devolution of broadcasting to Wales.
But let’s look at this from the perspective of a bad councillor. You get paid handsomely for doing next to nothing. The last thing you want is to actually be accountable to the electorate. In that case the very best tactic for you is to ensure broadcasting remains the preserve of London. That gives you a 50:50 chance of being elected at any one election, which is surely better than a close to 0% chance if people are better informed as a result of increased press and media scrutiny.
And if you’re a victim of circumstance – or voter, as some people like to call us – then have a good think about which of these two options serves your interests best.
There’s not a tremendous amount I can add to supplement this electoral strategy. The Conservatives were the only party to run a full slate of candidates in Penarth so they can’t do any more on that front. Perhaps they might be well advised to get candidates from within the wards they’re standing – after all this little incident didn’t go down too well last election:
I’ll save my most severe opprobrium for the incumbent Cornerswell councillors. What an unconscionable dereliction of your democratic duty to defend your constituents. I suppose it’s difficult for someone living with the fresh Bristol Channel breeze on their face to empathise with people choking on car fumes.
They certainly need to beef up their number of female candidates.
And while I’m thinking of it, the Conservatives would benefit from ensuring that each and every one of their electoral missives is printed in south Wales, if not the Vale itself. After all, we wouldn’t want any future embarrassing posts like this or this, would we?