Lessons from the Local Election results

English Results

Fig.1 Final Local Election Results England (source)

 

The English election results were disastrous for the Tories, loosing 1,334 seats. Expectation management was that they may loose 1000 seats, which was considered the worse case scenario. UKIP also had a terrible night, loosing 145 seats. The main beneficiaries were the Lib Dems gaining 703 seats, the Greens 194 seats and “other”, largely independents on 662 seats.

Labour lost 82 seats in a stage of the election cycle where they should be making massive gains.

Of course in Local Elections people vote on both local and national issues and any analysis is is difficult, as there are many factors. There are three major  narratives, which as ever put a spin on the results depending on your position.

Just Get on With It

The slant spun by the “Leave” media is that the Tories were punished for not delivering on the Referendum Result. There is certainly some truth in this. The Government seems totally incapable of delivering any kind of Brexit. This seems a weak argument as votes largely transferred from the Tories and Labour to the Greens and Lib Dems. The other major gain has been “Others”. These are normally candidates running on local issues.

The loss of UKIP votes does not support this argument. UKIP lost 145 seats. If this thesis were correct UKIP a very much a “just get on with it” party should have gained seats.

The argument is weak, but of course one spun by the Brexit supporting media and largely by the BBC.

Bandwidth Limitation

People are fed up with Westminster. Brexit is soaking up all the parliamentary bandwidth, paralysing any other form of decision making, whilst a myriad of problems, in health, housing, social care, education, infrastructure and many other areas are ignored. This was of course absolutely predictable, by anyone who understood the immense complexity of Brexit, and one of the better arguments used to support “Remain” before the referendum.

There seems to be good evidence that many voted on these lines. They just want the Brexit process to be resolved one way or another. The best outcome for these voters would be for parliament to revoke Article 50.

A Swing Towards Remain

It is unquestionably true that the pro-Brexit parties, the Tories, Labour and UKIP lost votes and the Remain parties gained votes on a scale not seen since John Major’s government. Many former Labour voters are disgusted that Labour is still sitting on the fence and not supporting a Peoples Vote. Twitter has been awash with people cutting up their membership cards and influential figures such as James O’Brien (LBC) and Mike Galsworthy  (scientists for the EU) have advised remainers not to vote Labour.

There is good evidence that a substantial fraction of the electorate did just that. The desire is to force a Peoples Vote.

Summary

Of the three arguments the “just get on with it” one is very weak, but expect it to be spun relentlessly by the Tories, the right-wing press and the BBC.  The other two have substantial merit and the results were probably a mixture of people voting for the latter two reasons.

It is difficult to draw any conclusions regarding the European Parliament elections as two new parties: the Brexit party and TIG-CUK  will be running. The Tories however will be absolutely terrified as the Brexit party will likely attract many of their English Nationalist voters, while TIG-CUK may appeal to some of the more business minded “One Nation”  Tories. Labour should also be worried as the vast majority of their member want a Peoples Vote and may well transfer support  to the Lib Dems, Greens or TIG-CUK. In Scotland and Wales additionally to the  SNP and Plaid Cymru respectively.

The result will increase the desperation of May’s Government to get an agreed deal through with Labour. This will be strategically catastrophic for Labour. If Brexit happens they need to be able to place the blame 100% on the Tories. Given that no parliament can bind a future parliament, any promises made by May could be easily torn up by the next  leader, likely to be a hardline Brexiter such as Raab or Johnson.

 

Northern Ireland

Fig. 2. Final Results Local Elections 2019 Northern Ireland (source).

 

The Northern Ireland parties are generally different to Britain, consisting of Unionist parties, Nationalist parties and Cross-Community parties. Because PR is used in NI elections, apart from the Westminster ones, there is a wider range of parties. UKIP is the only party that stands in both NI and Britain, though the Irish Green party is very closely aligned policy-wise with its British counterparts.

The Unionist parties are: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)  the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and UKIP. They are pro-brexit and anti-backstop.

People before Profit is a Nationalist  pro-backstop party, but is  anti-EU  in the Lexit sense.

The main Nationalist parties, Sinn Féin (SF) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) are Remain and pro-backstop. Aontú is also a remain pro-backstop party (but with very traditional anti-abortion etc. Catholic values). People Before Profit (PBP) is a left wing anti-neoliberal party, with  roots in the Socialist Workers Party and is an all island party, more internationalist than nationalist, but for the purposes of this analysis is considered a Nationalist party.

The cross community parties are Alliance, the Greens and Labour Alternative and are  very pro-remain and pro-backstop. Alliance have policies very similar to the Lib Dems.  Labour Alternative is a Socialist party.

The Unionist parties   lost 32 seats: DUP 8, UUP 13, TUV 7,  PUP 1 and  UKIP 3. They had a bad night (and a very bad night for the UUP and TUV). There was little change in the Nationalist parties, loosing one seat overall  with the SDLP loosing 7 seats but the PBP gaining 5 and Aintú 1. The big winner was the Alliance Party gaining 21 seats and the Greens doubling their seats from 4 to 8.

Again people vote on a range of issues, but the swing was largely from the Unionist parties to Alliance. Alliance is cross community and hence have the ability to mop up votes from both sides. The UUP, which tends to represent more middle class and centrist Unionists had the greatest losses. Similarly the SDLP, the more middle class centrist party on the Nationalist side, lost seats.

The backstop is very popular with the business and agribusiness communities in Northern Ireland, which by its nature has voters from both communities.

The obvious conclusion is that the shift to Alliance is largely from pro-backstop Unionist voters.

Even though the DUP lost seats, its vote was marginally up. This was due to the ability to get voters out in their heartland communities. The hardline anti-backstop stance plays well with many Loyalists as it is seen as a commitment to preserving the Union.

This is good news for Alliance and increases the possibility of them winning the third seat in the European Parliament elections, which currently is held by the UUP. The other contender for the third seat is the SDLP and they had a bad night. Momentum will be on Alliance’s side.

Overall as shown in Fig. 3 the results show that even though the Unionists are the largest block, they no longer form an absolute majority. This is based on seats won rather than the total vote. This has significance for a forthcoming “border poll.” The outcome could well depend on the Cross Community vote.

 

Fig 3 NI Local Election Results.

 

 

Comments

  1. David Kennedy -

    Great article. It’s worth pointing out that irrespective of seats the Nationalist vote roughly held and Unionists shifted to Alliance over the past 5 years. Probably due to backstop favouring Unionists.

    Unionist parties (DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP, UKIP) on 41.6% in 2019

    Unionist parties (DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP, UKIP) on 47.1% in 2014

    Nationalist parties (SF, SDLP, PBP, AONT) on 37.7% in 2019

    Nationalist parties (SF, SDLP, PBP) on 38% in 2014

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Thanks David
      For me it is a very good result. I like many of the Alliance people and fantastic to see their Vote share go up. Great to see Green doubling their seats also. The only disappointment is that the SDLP lost seats. What is the reason? I know that they are not the force they once were.

      1. David Kennedy -

        Maybe their connection with Fianna Fail but just guessing. Colum comes across well too.

  2. Pingback: Northern Ireland’s local election results: a bad night for the Unionists
  3. Sean Danaher -

    David
    it is a possibility. Colum Eastwood is indeed very good but not in the same league as John Hume – then again who in the current generation is. Hume was really world-class in the same league as Nelson Mandela but totally undervalued in Britain.

    Its a real shame that John Hume has severe dementia and could take no part in the GFA 25 year celebration.

    Naomi Long of Alliance is also very good. I think the UUP person may hang onto his MEP seat but either Colum or Naomi would make excellent MEPs.

  4. Paul -

    Poor analysis. Seeking to dismiss the real factors at play. Sinn Fein lost ground. Their share of the vote fell. Clearly some is heading to the DUP and Aontu by social conservative Catholics. A trend that is now building up a small but significant head of steam.

    The UUP vote has been swallowed up by the Alliance and to a lesser extent by the DUP. Each election their conservative and liberal wings are disappearing in that direction. Brexit just helped to probably precipitate that process.

    The SDLP are another joke party. They played the Sinn Fein without the guns routine for 40 years based around sectarian politics. When Sinn Fein gave up the guns, their voting base collapsed.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Paul
      thanks. Useful to have a counter narrative. You are indeed correct that the SF vote share was down slightly and the DUP one up slightly. Just as in England one can interpret results according to political views.

    2. Robin -

      Sinn Fein was the only party of the big four that hung on to all its seats in the midst of the Alliance assault and the Green Gale. Quite an achievement under the circumstances. Another important point is that SF seat losses went to the middle ground and independents and not to the SDLP/FF hybrid. However almost all SDLP losses went to SF.

  5. Sam Johnson -

    Cross-posted from https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2019/05/05/northern-irelands-local-election-results-a-bad-night-for-the-unionists/ where some additional comments on this article may be found:

    Yes, indeed. But more importantly a good outcome for “generation neither”. The DUP and the Tories like to pretend that NI is as British as Finchley. It isn’t and it never will be, and the zero-sum, scorched-earth attitude so clearly expressed by the DUP’s Nelson McCausland, who said he didn’t care what happened as long as NI left the EU, has been exposed as something rather easier for him to live with than his electorate.

    The DUP didn’t even discuss the economic impact on NI before deciding to support Brexit and before colluding in using NI’s secrecy provisions around political donations to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on pro-Brexit propaganda in London. They thought the mighty UK could stick it to the EU and the hated Good Friday Agreement, which they opposed tooth and nail, would be a casualty, and with it any prospect, ever, of Irish unity; that the Irish could be dictated to over the border that David Davis described as an “internal matter for the UK”

    The fly in the ointment was reality, in so many ways:

    The better and more competent response by Ireland to the challenge of Brexit, at every level — diplomatically, politically, logistically, commercially etc

    The ACTUAL complexities to which simple solutions do not exist (see Tony Connelly’s article on the implications of No Deal for the NI border for some insight into a FEW of the realities https://www.rte.ie/news/analysis-and-comment/2019/0330/1039471-brexit-no-deal-tony-connelly/, and this is illustrative, also of the different calibre of reporting by Irish and UK journalists, not comprehensive).

    They completely misread the EU’s interest in standing behind a member state, and also that of the US whose influence was so important in securing the Good Friday Agreement and where Irish influence is very significant, as some of the ERG discovered when they had a bruising encounter with Nancy Pelosi (they were told in no uncertain terms there would be no US trade deal in the event of any kind of hard border in Ireland).

    And most of all they misread their own voters willingness to put their standard of living (already far, far behind that of the rest of Ireland) on a bonfire and sacrifice it for the sake of an identity that is based on hereditary hostility and antipathy to everything Irish, and at a time when growing numbers find the prospect of Irish reunification anything but a threat to their prosperity and European identity.

    They have also misread the English nationalist voter’s attachment to NI (including that of some ERG members who have professed loyalty but have already shown their willingness to sell them out) and the resentment they are storing up at their blocking Brexit.

    In short, they are doing more damage to the “precious union” than the IRA ever did. As political own goals go it must be one of the greatest in history. If they support Brexit it will simply accelerate Irish reunification instead of it being moot, and not just that, the break-up of the UK (which is probably inevitable now; if only one could say the same for peace in NI).

    The good news is the sign of very welcome change in NI, of a move away from the toxic duopoly, a move that may grow if it looks viable, and I think it does. It couldn’t have happened without the DUP’s miscalculations and delusions.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Thanks Samuel, Ive posted a reply on the TRUK blog. I’ve always thought Brexit would be a disaster for the UK – a Greek or Shakespearean Tragedy. But doubly so for NI Unionists.

      Many are very susceptible to the same emotion drumbeats that drives Brexit and support for Farage and can’t help themselves.

  6. Claire Mitchell -

    Great analysis, thanks Sean.

    The overall unionist story is fascinating. The DUP gobbled up the smaller unionist parties (TUV, UKIP, Conservatives, some PUP, some UUP). And at the same time they very deliberately signposted policy changes, fielding (successfully) a gay candidate and Tim Cairns underlining on BBC that the ‘fundamentalist’ wing is ‘a tiny subset’ (his words). It’s very far from the politics of liberation, but significant none the less.

    The UUP’s attempt to do DUP style orange politics backfired, and many went to Alliance. Whether many return to unionism later is hard to say. I get the sense that a lot of what used to be described as ‘soft unionists’ have psychologically moved on.

    The diversification of the nationalist and republican vote was interesting to see. But would disagree with Paul above that SF voters hived off in any great numbers to the conservative Catholic Aontú (or the DUP!). It was clearly parties to the left that benefitted. But SF’s vote still held up decently, with some interesting new candidates.

    The big story being reported here is the rise of the centre. Which is true in a sense, but also complicated. Alliance, who did very well indeed, are Lib-Dem style centrists. The Greens and PBP are more eco-socialists. Some of the independent candidates are very left wing republicans, and there’s at least one anti-mining environmentalist.

    So a big factor at play here I think is a rise of centrist politics, also of green left politics, and a decline in conservative right. No doubt influenced by new voters and the introduction of online registration. Granted, we’re starting from a small base here, but this is the direction of travel.

    This is even more interesting when you consider how republicanism and nationalism are also going in this direction (& many were already there). Whilst I’d personally see myself as a “neither” or “other”, and am delighted to finally see this reflected in voting – I’m also really interested to see what good work can get done with these new progressive coalitions – i.e. republicans/nationalists and the others. Not just on equal marriage etc. but on Irish language, grassroots peace-building, the past.

    Last thing is that any place where the DUP are no longer a majority on Councils, the UUP will vote with the non-DUP bloc on many issues. An example is Ards and North Down last year voted that it’s ok to burn people’s images (effigies, faces on posters) on bonfires. The DUP vote has now slipped back in ANDBC, and I can’t see this being passed next time. Progress.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Claire

      many thanks. I Find your analysis both hopeful and compelling. I know Katy Hayward has done a lot of work showing the NI community is nowhere nearly as polarized as election results might indicate and its great to see this showing in the results.

      There is so much potential in NI and irrespective of the constitutional settlement there is much to be done.

  7. Bill Hughes -

    The English results are certainly encouraging from a Green point of view. Also in N Ireland where it looks like the rigid sectarian divide is softening slightly.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Bill yes I agree. I am a Green party member and delighted. Very pleased also for NI and with Claire’s analysis which I find very hopeful. Overall some very good progressive gains. The change in vote share is even more encouraging: UKIP: -82% Tories: -24% Labour: -4% Lib Dem: +109% Green: +273%

      I hope the European Elections go well, but am fearful of the emotional pull of the Brexit Party and their ultimate objectives. Another post on that in the near future.

  8. Damien Mullan -

    The story of the local election in NI is one of diversification. While this process in GB, RoI, or on continental Europe, is referred to as fragmentation, it’s actually, in the case of NI, more a positive move towards diversification. It’s a breakdown of the crisis move towards hegemony, that has been a mark of politics in NI & the ambition of every dominate party within their respective divide, to own wholesale the narrative. Not only is there no appetite for the narrative to be wholly owed, there’s the marked move towards an alternative narrative in the gains of Alliance, Greens, & PBP.

    Drilling down into the election results from a nationalist perspective. I think it’s one in which we have seen the limits reached of the objective of hegemony. The nationalist electorate as a whole has balked at that prospect. That’s notable in Derry, even though in other places, Sinn Féin did consolidate, the Black Mountain DEA of Belfast being notable in that regard, but more an outlier than in anyway illustrative of the broader story of this election.

    PBP are now clearly a force in DEA’s that were once the domain of the duopoly between Sinn Féin & SDLP. They took two seats in two of the three DEA’s on the city side of Derry. With the veteran civil rights campaigner & socialist Eamonn McCann & Shaun Harkin picking up seats. PBP’s Nuala Crilly put in a very good performance in the Ballyarnett DEA. Looking at the non-SF/non-SDLP first preference votes in that ward, there’s clearly another quota for a non-SF/non-SDLP candidate to add to Aontú’s Anne McCloskey, who took Aontú only seat in the local elections.

    The genie is out of the bottle. It is no longer a requirement that to successfully win elections one needs to be either flying the flag for SF or the SDLP. There is now copious evidence that’s no longer the case. This points to an air of confidence across the board. Tentative signs of a move away from the politics of ‘putting them in to keep themuns out.

    We might therefore begin to assess the most recent elections to the Assembly & Westminster, just as in GB, as more an outlier against the trend towards diversification & the Europeanization of NI & UK politics. This process is already evident in the Republic since the 2011 & 2016 general elections.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Thanks Damien. Great to have a Nationalist perspective. This looks very positive and a good analysis also. I’m sure you have seen Claire’s analysis from a cross-community perspective. Paul’s Unionist analysis is interesting, but is from a different reference frame or worldview to mine and I find it counter-intuitive.

  9. Sean Danaher -

    Here is an analysis from the widely respected Faha buried deep in the comments in https://bangordub.wordpress.com/2019/04/23/district-council-elections-2019-1-lisburn-castlereagh-and-north-down-ards/#comments
    Which is well worth sharing. This includes analysis of independents so changes the overall voting percentages. This indicates that the Nationalist vote was up slightly.

    Here is a summary with changes from 2014

    SF 158,579 +7,321 105 seats (no change)
    SDLP 80,379 -5,224 59 seats (-7)
    Aontu 7,459 +7,459 1 seat (+1)
    PBP 9,478 +7,555 5 seats (+4)
    Ind Nationalist 25,457 +5,617 15 seats (+6)
    Total 281,352 +22,758 185 seats (+4)
    Few extra seats for all those extra votes. The independents were 2 former SDLP and the SDLP vote decline is mainly due to the 8 former SDLP councilors who stood as independents or Aontu. Maybe 2 former SF and perhaps 5 dissident republicans.

    Alliance 77,644 +35,858 53 seats (+21)
    Green 14,284 +7,930 8 seats (+4)
    Great result for Alliance and Green. I estimate that 1/4 of their increase came from NI21, 1/4 from unionist voters (mainly UUP), 1/4 nationalist voters (both SF and SDLP) and 1/4 new voters on the register.

    UUP 94,381 -6,994 75 seats (-13)
    DUP 161,061 +16,175 122 seats (-8)
    TUV 17,586 -10,575 6 seats (-7)
    PUP 5,338 -7,215 3 seats (-1)
    UKIP 2,925 -6,338 0 seats (-3)
    Conservative 1,876 -651 0 seats
    Ind Unionists 17,000 +6,190 8 seats (+3)
    Total 300,167 -9,458 214 seats (-29)
    A decline in the overall unionist vote and a large decrease of 29 seats. One or 2 that I included as Ind unionist may actually be true independents and not unionist since they seem to have received an unusually high number of Alliance and nationalist transfers.

    Percentage vote
    Nationalist 41.6% +0.4%
    Unionist 44.3% -5.0%
    Alliance-Green 14.1% +4.6%
    A very large decline in the unionist percentage. I was expecting this and the total number of unionist seats is what I predicted (212). However, I was way off on the nationalist seats (by 23) and most of the lost unionist seats went to Alliance-Green.
    If this were an Assembly election the nationalist vote would have been a little higher since there were no SDLP candidates in 18 DEA’s and no SF in 14. So probably
    Nationalist 42.3%
    Unionist 44.3%
    Alliance-Green 13.4%
    The unionist nationalist gap is only 2%.

  10. David Jackson -

    I hope that your non – Northern Ireland readers have not yet tuned out through boredom or complexity.

    What is also significant is that the capital ‘U’ unionist parties loss of 32 seats (from 238 to 206 councillors) means that those parties have lost their overall numerical majority across the 462 seats in 11 Councils.

    This replicates what happened in the March 2017 NI Assembly elections when such Unionist parties failed to win a majority of the seats at Stormont for the first time, though they did win 11 of the 18 Westminster constituencies, two months later.

    Finally, I do not classify People before Profit as Nationalists – the 2 PBP MLAs elected to the Assembly in 2016 designated themselves as ‘Others’, specifically eschewing the concept of the Two Communities.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      David

      thanks. I think there are a lot of fora and places where one can discuss the English results. There are many fewer for the NI results so that might explain the interest.

      There is also some good analysis on Slugger O’Toole https://sluggerotoole.com/2019/05/06/centre-parties-have-captured-a-significant-number-of-seats-from-both-nationalists-and-unionists-at-the-local-elections/ with some nice Sankey diagrams.

      Thanks for the info regarding PBP. The more and sooner NI can move away from everything being framed as two communities the better.

  11. Bill Hughes -

    As a non-Northern Irish person I have found this discourse most enlightening and interesting. It is very refreshing the news from there after the the decades of”the troubles”. It is a pity that a larger portion of mainland UK know so little of what is going on in NI.

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