Reflections on May 5th Elections

There is no disguising the fact that the overall outcomes were disappointing, but there were significant consolations to be found and some very important lessons learned.

UK wide:
We did exceedingly well considering the Labour surge and to come out with a Green led Council in Brighton is brilliant. We also made other gains across the country proving that Green politics is not just the preserve of Brighton as so many commentators seem to think. We are close to becoming the biggest group on Norwich Council; have strong representation on Lewisham and Lancaster Councils and a total of around 150 councillors in England including some Councillors in new areas. There is only one common denominator in these disparate areas of the country – sheer hard work on the ground. We have shown again that politics based on principle is a viable way forward so long as it is backed up by action that improves people’s lives.

The massive disappointment was Jake Griffiths failing in his bid to get elected in South Wales Central. We thought he needed 7%. As it turned out he would have needed 8%. He achieved 5.2%, representing a modest 1.2% rise on last time. The problem was very simple. The region consisted of 8 constituencies that stretched from Cardiff and the Vale to Rhondda and Pontypridd. In the two constituencies that the Cardiff team have worked consistently for several years, they achieved 9.2% (Cardiff Central) and 8.6% (Cardiff West). In the Valleys it was the same 2%ish that is typical of our baseline support where no work goes in.

Across the whole of Wales, we achieved 3.4%, which on a truly proportional system would give us 2 out of 60 seats in the WAG (with the BNP getting the same, incidentally). This election shows that even with a supposedly more proportional additional member system, the effort required to achieve anything electorally is extraordinary for smaller parties. We ended up with the same 4 parties carving up the 20 regional seats as won all the 40 FPTP constituency seats.

At least we are within striking distance of achieving representation via this system. Chris Simpson achieved the same 5.2% as Jake standing in just one constituency, Ceredigion, at his own expense I believe. I am delighted that he got his deposit back for achieving over 5%, but this still left him a distant 5th out of five, even in a very quirky seat (PC hold, but swing to LD in second and Labour just 1000 votes ahead of the Greens in 4th place).

The appeal to Labour voters to put more thought into their second votes largely fell on deaf ears. There were 72000 labour votes binned in our South Wales West region; over 85000 in the key South Wales Central region (where less than 6000 heeding the call to 2nd Vote Green would have got Jake in); and nationally 350000 votes achieved just 2 top-up seats, even though they already had won 47% of the seats with just 42% of the votes in the constituencies! The nonsense of the system also meant that the Lib Dems got 4 top-up seats for 76000 votes whereas we got nothing for 33000 votes and 6th place (but then neither did UKIP for 44000 votes in 5th place).

South Wales West:
Ranking the 7 constituencies in order of our % vote gives:
Swansea West (4.2); Gower (3.2); Bridgend (2.35); Swansea East (2.1); Neath (1.9); Ogmore (1.9); Aberavon (1.8). Whole region = 2.6%

So well done Keith Ross for some reward for all his hard work in Swansea West over a long period. The Gower surprised me a bit, but I was pleased that Bridgend came next and suggests we have made a bit of difference since getting going last November. But overall, we are behind the national average. Add this to the fact that we fell into 8th place, behind UKIP (5th), Socialist Labour (6th) and, most disturbingly, the BNP (7th); and it is clear we have much work to do.

Socialist Labour are a bit of an enigma. This is the Party backed by Arthur Scargill. They have no real presence on the ground and the general feeling is that they pick up votes intended for the Labour Party (some deluded supporters might still think that Labour is vaguely socialist), and they may even have ‘nicked’ a few of of us as they were listed next to us on the ballot paper with a logo very similar to ours with a casual glance.

It would not appear viable to even contemplate a serious challenge in this region next time around as things stand. 7% would have been enough this time around, but that means roughly trebling our support region-wide. Without active members in every constituency, or enough to work every constituency, we would only be likely to suffer the same fate that befell Jake.

The Bridgend results mirrored those of the Region as a whole. I had hoped that we might be able to glean information from the count to give us some idea of the pattern of our support across the constituency. The local Labour party had a team of a couple of dozen successfully getting sample scores from just about every ballot box. This was all fed into a laptop and gives them a very detailed pattern of their support across the whole constituency. It helps them immensely in targeting campaigning resources. They put all their attention into the Constituency ballot, with the simpler 4 choices on it. They therefore also know the patterns of support for all their 3 main rivals. We had just myself, Delyth and Gareth in attendance with clipboards and pens at the ready, and had to focus on the big, complex A4 ballot papers for the regional vote – with 11 choices on it!!. Many thanks to both of them for being there and doing their best.

We did some sampling on the area-wide postal votes, which was happening before the polling station boxes arrived. This was actually fairly encouraging, giving results that suggested 4-5% may be realistic. However, once the polling station boxes started arriving we were quickly spinning tops! We also did not have the preparation in place to know that where all the polling station names/numbers related to. We ended up with some pretty crude and patchy results which threw up some interesting enough impressions.

We appear to have done better than average (c5%) in a few areas, such as parts of Maesteg (eg Garth) and Oldcastle (Jonathan Spink’s old stomping ground); whereas we seemed to do particularly poorly in a few other areas, such as Morfa (town centre) and Porthcawl. I had hoped that Sustainable Wales’ high profile in Porthcawl might be beneficial – but it appears not. Unfortunately, we were unable to spot ballot boxes from wards that we have talked about as possible targets.

OVERALL – It is clear that we have to clearly target our efforts if we are to achieve any electoral success at all. I think it confirms that the strategy we have talked about for the BCBC elections is the right one. We have to work within the confines of a system that is skewed very heavily against us (see AV below). The experience in other parts of Wales and the UK as a whole underline this. But there are also shining examples that if we are prepared to commit to the long haul, breakthroughs are possible. And furthermore, where we have seen breakthroughs happen, the general experience is that people like our principles and our integrity, and it becomes possible to build relatively quickly on these breakthroughs.

NO to AV
Mixed feelings here; which would have been the case whatever the outcome. Nick Clegg was spot on when he described it as a “grubby little compromise”, but then it was HIS grubby little compromise to get his grubby little hands on a slice of Government. I hope he feels suitably chastened by his kicking at the ballot box to realise that it was a deal never worth doing.

Time will tell what this result really means. If it really is the British public saying that they are happy with the tried and tested way of doing politics, then the British Public really has to stop moaning about our politics – and that includes the 60% who could not be bothered to express any opinion on the matter. Does anyone really believe this?

I prefer to spin this the other way. People are thoroughly disillusioned with our politics and the grubby little compromise offered no real prospect of that changing. People saw through the appalling campaigns of exaggeration and misrepresentation of both sides of the argument. There was not enough in it to merit any enthusiasm at all. Clegg played nicely into the hands of the Tory interests that always have and always will benefit disproportionately from the present system.

Looking forward, I am pleased to see determination on the part of all with a true interest in improving our democracy, to continue the argument and battle on. We have to continue fight for real alternatives and real democracy. It is the end of the beginning – not the beginning of the end that some are portraying it as.

1 thought on “Reflections on May 5th Elections

  1. Keith M Ross

    Thanks for those kind words Andy.
    Our sampling at the count showed that in the Council Ward where we did most of our work (Uplands & Brynmill) we were running at around 7-10%, compared to the 2-4% elsewhere in Swansea West. So two years of hard work are beginning to pay off.
    Onward and upwards. The campaing for next year’s Council elections starts tomorrow!



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