Labour won 2158 seats, Conservatives 1005 and Lib Dems 431. Congratulations to Labour on their success. Thank you to all those outgoing Councillors who have worked hard and who now have been asked to stand down.
SNP and Plaid came fourth and fifth, with the Greens picking up 40 seats in sixth place, or fourth place amongst UK wide parties. The English Democrats lost their 2 Councillors and UKIP made no net gains, staying with 9.
This leaves Labour controlling 75 Councils, the Conservatives 45, the Lib Dems 6 and SNP 2. No other party controls a Council. Turnout was a very low 32%.
All parties and anyone who believes in democracy should be worried that 68% did not think it worthwhile voting. There was plenty of choice on the ballot papers in many places. If people still did not think there was sufficient choice they could have stood themselves. So why was there such a mass abstention?
As readers of this site never tire of explaining, they do not think the current generation of politicians are up to much. Some think it will not make much difference who wins. They fear that a combination of EU and UK bureaucracy leaves little scope for political decision making that can make a positive difference. People on the left think all the main parties are signed up to too much capitalism. People on the right think they are signed up to too much big government. Some think that despite localism, Whitehall still calls a lot of the shots for Councils.
Many people feel squeezed. They associate politicians with taxes and higher public sector charges. Hearing of the debts and deficits, there is a sense of helplessness or a shrug of acceptance that most politicians will end up charging them. This explanation is supported by the resistance in all but Bristol to the introduction of new elected Mayors. The most common reason given to vote “No” was that they would put the costs of government up, leaving us with bigger bills.
Others just say they are not interested in politics. In some areas they do not see that they can have any influence, or they do not want to spend any time finding out if there are any important differences. Some people will say they know nothing about it or are not interested.
Politicians want to believe there is an easy fix for all this. They hope that a change of voting system, or a change of titles and powers, or some other constitutional reform will make a difference. So far the introduction of differing voting systems for European and devolved elections have not boosted voter turnout. The elected Mayor of London has stimulated some interest, but still more than half the voters do not think it worth bothering. Only postal voting has made some difference to how many people vote.
Of course it is up to all the parties to find a way to show people voting does matter, and it can make a difference. Labour were the overall winners on Thursday, but even they did not poll that many votes and found it difficult to get big numbers out to back them.
The Conservatives in Coalition need to wrestle with the main problem that was present on many doorsteps. People feel their living standards have been squeezed too much over the last four years. They want the government to reverse this, to tax them less and take some of the inflationary pressures off their budgets. Labour’s better results in 2012 as they admit do not guarantee them an election victory in 2015. Their gains were no more than other parties made in Opposition prior to losing the next General Election. Nor should the Coalition think that this is automatically just a mid term dip. Economic recovery is what the public rightly want. The next couple of years will determine whether we have a sufficient one. That will have an important impact on how people vote in 2015.