Saturday, May 05, 2012

Local elections - motivation is everything

If you want something enough, then you have to be prepared to fight for it. If you can't even be bothered to vote - and most people don't - then that seems to suggest a level of discontent. I said in a number of blogs leading up to the election that the ability of the local parties to mobilise their voters and to motivate them to vote would be the key to success. The well drilled Liberal Democrat operation in Marple South dropped four leaflets through our door. The posters around the whole ward outnumbered about 10 to 2 to 1 if not more. The whole place had the feel of a Liberal Democrat safe seat, which it is.

The Conservative campaign was low key. They managed just one printed leaflet on a laser jet home printer. A national drop in votes didn't help, but the one LibDem message that chimed with me was that you just don't hear from the other parties through the year. They are invisible. Even with a chance to unseat a weak incumbent they fluffed it.

The turnout was 810 votes lower than it was a year ago. The Liberal Democrat voters bothered, no-one else did. Something similar happened in the neighbouring ward of Bredbury Green and Romiley. There, the Conservatives lost almost 1000 votes from the previous year while the LibDems held up. There was no swing, or change. Just a deepening apathy.

When there is a chance of change, a desire to make a statement, then voters will turn out. Turnout in another neighbouring ward showed this. Stockport Council's LibDem leader Dave Goddard lost his seat despite his party only actually losing 100 votes from the previous year. The difference was that Labour managed to get 140 more of their supporters to vote because they tasted change was possible.  
I anticipated a real meltdown in Liberal Democrat support across the North. It has happened to an extent, look at Manchester where they were wiped out. They lost all their seats and in places like Higher Blackley, where my pal Malcolm Evans stood for the Tories, the LibDems scraped just 100 votes and were beaten by UKIP and the BNP.

The LibDems have always been the masters of being all things to all people and then they get found out. The brief burst of support in Manchester undoubtedly came as a vote AGAINST Labour's national policies. In Stockport, the support actually seems to be FOR Liberal Democrats as a party with a set of values that a core of voters sign up to. Possibly age has something to do with that loyalty too. Marple's average age is high. There's a loyalty there that the older tribal vote believes in.

But the tricolour Britain that Fraser Nelson described recently plays here too. Swathes of Britain are heartlands for the parties - Labour in the North, Tories in the south, with isolated pockets of SNP and Lib Dem support. This has bred a complacency and a cynicism that saw very little change this week, at a time of discontent.

It's impossible to draw firm conclusions about how this week's election will play out at a General Election in three year's time. The economy will improve. Labour has the chance to get better, because at the moment they working out a fresh vision and a defining message for the future. But politics is also about how individuals and teams react to events. A senior figure in public life said something about the Conservative ministers he encounters. This lot, he said, are always one cock-up away from a crisis. That was back in December and how right those words seem now. They may yet be the architects of their own destruction, creators of the chaos that may engulf them further, or they may be able to pull rabbits out of hats as economic conditions improve. But Labour also have to prove they are fit to govern. Until then, apathy reigns.

For the moment though, the two places I have the biggest stakes in - Marple and Manchester - remain one party states.

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