4 September 2012
Just three seats changed hands among the 14 by-election contests held during the summer, write Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher.
Labour lost two seats, the most surprising being in the Buttrills ward of the Vale of Glamorgan. The defeat will have little impact on the dynamics of the Labour-led council, but the swing to Plaid Cymru of 16 per cent is surprising given that voters had previously gone to the polls only in May.
However, as we have noted before, the death of a long-serving and respected councillor – as in this case – can lead to the rapid erosion of their personal vote.
A quick return to the polls was also in order for the electors of St Bartholomew's ward in Tendring, Essex. The councillor elected in March resigned after just three months, but that appeared to have little effect on the fortunes of the Holland Residents' Association as it increased its share of the vote compared with both the by-election and the cross-council May 2011 contest.
The most significant result probably came in the Lincoln East division of Lincolnshire. Not only did Labour boost its rather paltry representation from four to five seats out of 77 on the council, but it gave an early indication of what may happen in next year's county council elections.
In 2009, the Conservatives won an overall majority in every county except Cumbria. The 13 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour since 2009 would is unlikely to be sufficient to change the balance in Lincolnshire, but if repeated in similar urban wards across the country in May could see several counties pass from Conservative to Labour control.
Labour's best prospects of outright victories look to be in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. Elsewhere, the key may be what happens to the Liberal Democrat vote.
On the one hand, any collapse in their support may act to shield the Conservatives from the worst effects of a Labour advance. That is what happened in 2011 when Conservative losses to Labour were more than offset by gains from the Liberal Democrats.
On the other hand, if Labour can now take votes from both its rivals – as the Lincoln result suggests – then Conservative overall control in counties like Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire could be threatened.
*Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are the Directors of Plymouth University's Elections Centre
4 September 2012