Time for reflection
Like many people, I’ve spent much of today asleep. The day after results night is always a strange one – a day of jubilation, or a day of disappointment. For me, it’s normally a mixture of the two. And so it is this year.
But after we’ve all caught up on sleep, had some proper food, and celebrated our new found freedom or new elected position, it is time to reflect. And this year, as ever, there is much reflecting to be done.
Perhaps most of all, the Lib Dems must look at their position. It was always going to be a bad night for them. But this bad? They will claim that many of the council seats they have lost in England were only seats that they gained 4 years ago – that they are not Liberal Democrat strongholds. But in Scotland, this is not the case at all – they lost all but 2 of their constituencies – Orkney and Shetland. Some of the safest Lib Dem seats in the UK fell to the SNP. And in Wales, they lost Cardiff Central – a seat they held just a year ago with a 13% majority.
But Labour too must look at their position. For it is clear that, outside Wales, they have failed to inspire. They talk in Scotland about the fact that they didn’t lose many votes. They lost because the SNP gained support. But the fact is that the Lib Dem vote collapsed, and that Labour failed to pick up any of this is a terrible result for them. Similarly, they may have won 700 council seats in England, but this is on a baseline of the 2007 results – an election which took place only months before Tony Blair left office, an election that cost them 500 seats. The fact is that they failed to inspire their base, and they failed to significantly take on the Tories. Labour though, do have some pointers: their results in Wales were exceptional – they squeezed not just the Lib Dems, but also Plaid. In Scotland, they ran a fearmongering campaign to the right and were hammered. In Wales, they didn’t shy from the left and they surged. Of course England is a different country, but this does show that where the party has a vision, it can regain significant support.
And it is a night of reflection too for my party. In England, we did very well. There were real fears that we would lose seats in Norwich to a resurgent and hard working Labour. In fact, we made gains last night, and we increased our majorities in each of the wards we held. Where people are given a viable progressive alternative, they jump at it, it seems.
In Brighton, we did very well indeed – we are up by 10 seats. For the first time, a Green Party is the biggest group on any council in the UK. And we made council gains across England. Fears that Labour’s return to opposition would hit us hard haven’t been realised. This year’s Green campaign was unashamedly of the left – opposing cuts, defending the welfare state, supporting investment in creating jobs building a new economy. This message has clearly helped build the support of the party.
But in Scotland, our results were disappointing. We essentially held steady on our poor 2007 vote. In 2007, our vote was heavily squeezed in a very close election between Labour and the SNP. This year, there was no such squeeze. Like Labour, we completely failed to pick up any of the support that was pouring in barrel loads from the Lib Dems. After years of trying to appeal to Lib Dem voters, none of them came our way. That is a big failure. It would be easy to explain this away by saying that the SNP surge is unprescendented. But this is just to say that they ran a good campaign. And they did. And if we are to make gains, then we too will need to run better campaigns. We will need as a party to discuss together what went wrong, and to work out what we can do to fix it. Scottish Council elections are next year, and we’ll need to learn any lessons in time for them.
Overall, it seems to me that there is a clear message from last night. Greens have done well where they have been a viable alternative with a progressive vision. The SNP did well because they were a viable alternative with a (mostly) progressive vision. In Wales, Labour did well because they were the viable alternative with a progressive vision. In the rest of the country, Labour refused to budge from the centre ground. And they haven’t significantly inspired support, and so they haven’t made significant gains. And so, as we all wake up from our post election dozes, we must smell the coffee, and learn the lessons of the successes and failures of last night. And let’s all just forget about the whole AV thing.