31 May 2012
Cllr Graham Chapman (Labour) is Deputy Leader of Nottingham City Council and Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Resources and Customer Care.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle on the mayoral elections it is worth drawing a few tentative conclusions.
Firstly, the pro-mayoral campaign, led by the Government, blew it. Why? Because no-one knew what the benefits would be. Why else? Because much of the campaign was organised centrally and it looked 'imposed' by a Government which was not popular in large urban areas.
The key to the results was a combination of how well organised the pro campaign was and the level of voter turnout. Generally, the higher the turnout, the more decisive the 'anti' vote. This could be because the Conservative vote in the cities, which is so often put off voting in strong Labour wards as it seems a pointless exercise, saw this as an opportunity for their vote to count to create regime change.
But the Conservative vote is limited in number. So, once the turnout became greater than about 25 per cent, the law of diminishing returns kicked in, and the impact of the Labour vote – which was basically anti-mayor – had a disproportionate impact beyond about 25 per cent. However, in some cases even the Conservative vote was not decisively pro-mayor and this contributed to an even higher anti-mayor response in some cities.
The coincidence of the mayoral vote and the local elections ensured that in most places, despite the weather, the turnout exceeded 25 per cent. The anti vote was also stronger in areas where the Labour Party was not overtly split.
The pro vote was stronger in places where there was a history of Labour incumbency. The mayoral campaign gave the opportunity for groups who had been upset by decisions of the existing regime to vote against out of protest.
Applying some of these observations, the result is that most cities rejected the mayoral option because the Labour vote – which was basically but by no means exclusively anti-mayor – was helped by the additional turnout provided by local elections.
In some cities the anti vote did very well – Leeds, Coventry, Sheffield, Wakefield – and this was where there was a combination of local elections and no well-organised Tory pro vote. Bristol, which had neither an anti-mayor Labour consensus nor local elections was the only place to return a ‘yes' vote. Manchester, which returned the weakest 'no' vote but had both local elections and no apparent Labour split, is a conundrum. It may have suffered from the inevitable problems of incumbency and the momentum provided to the 'yes' vote by the Salford mayoral elections.
The Nottingham 'no' campaign did well despite not being helped by local elections and the Tories organising. The Wakefield 'no' campaign did well also because it showed no loss of support despite incumbency. The Newcastle 'no' campaign seemed to overcome an organised 'yes' campaign by high turnout.
The Birmingham 'no' campaign produced the greatest surprise and is the biggest conundrum of all because the Labour Party was operating on both fronts. There may well have been other local factors, such as an aversion to MPs vacating seats to become mayor, and possibly some resistance from Tory incumbents to something which may have displaced them. It would be interesting to have some local views on this.
Bradford is so idiosyncratic that it needs its own analysis.
Finally, a major caveat; all the above conclusions are deduced from data of the results, with the exception of Nottingham where I have intimate knowledge. There therefore may well be highly local factors which are not taken into account and which undermine the conclusions. Birmingham in particular requires more explanation.
31 July 2012