The local and mayoral elections – and the significance of that 4-2 scoreline

Chris Game

Local elections present the INLOGOV blog with an annual dilemma. They’re the heartbeat of democratic local government, its lifeblood, or something equally vital. So, they must be covered and key results namechecked. But INLOGOV’s not a news service, and, with so many Friday counts nowadays and results instantly available on social media, you have somehow to strike a balance.

The first part of this blog, therefore, will give the headlines, from a strictly local government perspective. That means, first, changes in council control; second, changes in councillor numbers; and third, excluding one minor indulgence, no conjecturing whatever about implications for that other election.

Conservatives, of course, were the big winners, almost everywhere. So, to be perverse, we’ll start with a titbit of consolatory Labour news, from the seven unitary polls. Durham it still controls, and Northumberland – thanks to the Conservative candidate in the potentially decisive ward literally picking the short straw – stays technically hung, though no longer under Labour minority control. After mass gains from particularly Independents, Conservatives are the largest party in Cornwall and back in control in the Isle of Wight.

Of the 27 non-metropolitan counties, even before last Thursday Labour had majority control in only Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and shared minority control in Cumbria and Lancashire. Conservatives are now in control of the first and last of these and are easily the largest party in the other two. Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Warwickshire all swung from minority to majority Conservative control.

As was widely, and even gleefully, reported, UKIP too lost heavily, its single gain in Lancashire being rather more than counterbalanced by at least double-figure losses in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and West Sussex.

Turning to overall councillor numbers, the Conservatives gained what for a party in national government was an almost mind-boggling 563 seats: 319 in England, 164 in Scotland, far more than doubling their previous representation, and 80 in Wales – the latter, according to more knowledgeable commentators than I, putting the party on course (in that election I’m not mentioning) for its first nationwide Welsh victory since the Earl of Derby managed it in 1859.

Labour’s car crash involved losing net 382 councillors – bringing to 15 years the period since, in terms of councillor numbers, it was the largest party in GB local government – UKIP 145, and the Liberal Democrats what must have been a deeply dispiriting 42.

And so to what, for the immediate future of at least England’s sub-national government, were surely last week’s most important elections, and collectively way up there amongst the most mind-boggling: those of our first(?) six metro mayors. I can hardly imagine the odds you could have got, even a week ago, on four of the six being Conservative. However, it’s there in my table, in blue and pink. And, whatever one’s reservations about elected mayors and the whole limited, top-down, Treasury-driven, fiscally minimal devolution model, I’d suggest that nothing over the past 11 months has given it a greater boost.

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The first several months of May’s premiership she spent almost visibly dithering over what to do about the severed agenda of devo deals and elected mayors she’d inherited from the axed George Osborne and shuffled ex-Communities Secretary, Greg Clark. Then – I simplify enormously – two things happened.

First, Andy Street decided he’d stop being MD of the John Lewis Partnership and run as a Conservative for the biggest and politically most attractive metro mayoralty of all, the West Mids – in time to be adopted, and then paraded with May at the party’s October Birmingham conference.

At the same time, something else helped change her view that one big reason why metro mayors were a bad idea was that most, if not all, would be Labour. Several of Clark’s nine envisaged metro-mayoral city regions, during the May-created devo vacuum, started for various reasons to lose interest or patience and drop out – West Yorkshire, Sheffield City Region, the North East – and the political arithmetic began to alter. To the extent that I suggested she could realistically conceive of the first set of mayoral elections producing three Conservative and three Labour mayors. Even for the sake of an eye-catching headline, though, I’d never have contemplated 4-2.

And, as the table shows, three of the four results, after the two counts involved in the Supplementary Vote (SV) electoral system, were extremely close. Street’s majority was exceptionally so – 0.71979% of over half a million votes cast, to be precise. This in itself would weaken any victor’s mandate, particularly when achieved in what, by the standards of anything other than Police and Crime Commissioner ballots, were very low-turnout elections.

The SV system was adopted for mayoral elections almost by accident, and many consider that the more familiar Alternative Vote – that we rejected for parliamentary elections in the 2011 referendum – would be fitter for this particular purpose. Its defenders, though, claim it has worked well in London, is voter-friendly, produces clear winners, and is accepted by all concerned.

My table would suggest otherwise, at least on its first showing. In the West Midlands, in a hugely significant election decided by well under 4,000 votes, over 40,000 votes that might have contributed to the result didn’t do so. They were either not used at all, or were cast for candidates who, highly predictably in this instance, had already been eliminated after the first count.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that large numbers even of the small minority who turned out didn’t fully comprehend the system they were voting in – for which the Electoral Commission must be held chiefly responsible. As also for the huge disparities in candidate expenditure permitted before the ‘regulated’ campaign period, which again in such a closely run race can and will be alleged to have been decisive. In short, the Commission, as well as the mayors themselves, have plenty of work to do in what is only a three-year term to 2020.

Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

The metro mayoral dilemma: how to big-up without overselling

Chris Game

Well, that was fun – the Daily Mail’s high-speed impression of the Grand Old Duke of York. In Monday’s first edition we were marched to the top of the hill, to glimpse a vista of a snap May 4th General Election, a Prime Ministerial Brexit mandate, and a three-figure Conservative Commons majority stretching way into the distance. And by the lunchtime edition we’d been marched down again, accompanied by much harrumphing about unfounded rumour-mongering.

With not calling an early election being among the few subjects on which Theresa May has been utterly consistent, the surprise would have been if she had. And my sole reason for raising it here is that, whatever its macro-political effects, a synchronous General Election would have significantly increased the likely turnout in the six metro mayoral elections, and consequently enhanced the profile, legitimacy and general political clout of both the new office and its first incumbents – all currently at a premium.

In the metropolitan West Midlands, then, we’re not going to see on May 4th the probably 60-65% turnout that was the 2015 General Election figure. That would have enabled the new mayor, in his or her meetings with ministers, to claim to be representing not only nearly 2 million electors, but perhaps 1 million who had actually participated in their election. Which in turn would make it that smidgen harder for the centre to cut local funding and resist further devolution, rationalising that few vote for and therefore care about their local government.

But now that’s off, what can we expect? A former student asked me recently – more or less a true story! – what the average turnout had been in all mayoral elections since Ken Livingstone’s first election as London Mayor in 2000. 38.7%, I told him, or thereabouts. He was surprised – and less by the confirmation that I was indeed one of those seriously sad people who know such things than by the figure itself. And of course he was right to be.

He fancied putting a bet (in the low-20s) on the percentage turnout on May 4th, when in the four metropolitan and unitary Combined Authorities (CAs) – West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and Tees Valley – there are no other significant elections taking place. This year in the electoral cycle is shire county year, which should boost the mayoral turnout a bit in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and West of England, but won’t help the others.

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If only I’d had my table with me, I could have shown my ex-student how that overall 38.7% masked the relatively respectable turnouts when mayoral polls had coincided with other elections, and particularly a so-called ‘first-order’ national (General) election, when voters reckon considerably more is at stake.

But when ‘only’ a mayoralty has been the prize – merely the elected political leadership of one’s city, town or borough – turnouts have been almost unexceptionally feeble. And those have been in established local authorities, familiar to electors, rather than new, huge, amorphous, unelected bodies that most voters have barely heard of.

And the situation gets worse. Most voters with at least some awareness of metro mayors fondly imagine these new politicians foisted upon us will have powers to do the things that we think are most urgent and would like them to do. Tough!

In last May’s Centre for Cities/ComRes poll – still the most comprehensive on metro mayors – of the five issues West Midlands respondents felt should be the priorities for politicians in their city, only one, housing, was something that would be among the responsibilities devolved either to a West Midlands metro mayor or even the Combined Authority.

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Aspects of health and social care, education, and emergency services may possibly be devolved in the future. But on May 5th most of the mayor’s attention will go to business support and inward investment, transport, and colleges and adult skills that only about one in 20 possible voters have as their priorities.

It’s a big disjunction and on the face of it a recipe for yet further voter disillusionment. And a major dilemma for those who genuinely believe that elected mayors represent the best chance we’re likely to have of decentralising serious power to England’s localities and regions: how to ‘big-up’ the potential of metro mayors without misrepresenting and overselling them.

I have neither the answer nor much space, but I was struck this week by the Institute for Government’s latest ‘Local Leadership event’ – ‘How will new mayors work with Whitehall to improve their city-regions?’, and particularly the encapsulation of the IfG’s mayoral case by its Director of Development, Dr Jo Casebourne.

Emphasise, she suggested, these mayors’ difference from either existing or previously rejected mayors; that they’re leaders of place – of functional economic areas, not councils; able to provide visible, legitimate and accountable leadership and wield ‘soft power’, with better access to ministers and to other public sector bodies across their regions; and outward-looking and future-focused, able to attract inward investment and, working with other mayors, to secure, as in London, more devolved powers, both functional and financial, in the future.

 

Chris Game - pic

 

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

The forgotten local elections – Conservatives defied predictions here too

Chris Game

You’d not have known it from the national media, either before Election Day or since, but the 650 parliamentary contests weren’t the only ones taking place in the UK last Thursday. It was the year in local government’s four-year election cycle that almost all English district and unitary councils – 279 of 293 – had elections, and there were votes too for six mayors, for many parish and town councils, plus the odd local referendum.

There were no council elections in London, Scotland or Wales, but English voters – many doubtless to their surprise – were confronted by up to five ballot papers. Those in Bedford, for example, had votes for an MP, a mayor, two borough councillors, up to 11 parish councillors, and a referendum on their Police and Crime Commissioner’s proposal to increase Council Tax – the first ever of its kind. The proposal – specifically for a 15.8% increase in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s portion of council tax – was rejected by nearly 70% to 30%: Yes 91,086; No 207,551.

These multiple ballots offered electors the obvious opportunity for split-voting: one for their MP or national government, and another more personal, local or protest vote. Minor parties and independents in the council elections could be expected to be chief beneficiaries, but, as shown in the nearly complete results table, that was another ‘expert’ prediction largely confounded.

Blog 11th May

9,500 local elections are even trickier to predict than 650 parliamentary ones, and few are daft or brave enough to try. Those who do will start from the baseline of four years ago – 2011 here – when these actual seats were last fought, compare that year’s results with current national opinion polls, and hope.

2011 was surprisingly good for the Conservatives, a year into their far from popular Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. They gained votes from disaffected Lib Dems, and the coinciding electoral reform referendum galvanised their own supporters. This time, though, the national election effect was expected to boost the turnout of Labour and Lib Dem voters.

The poll standings of both main parties had dropped significantly since 2011. But, with the Conservatives the more damaged by UKIP’s dramatic rise, and defending twice as many seats as Labour, the latter was predicted to make most net gains, with the Lib Dems not suffering “too badly” in losing perhaps “around 50 seats”.

If these predictions echoed those for the General Election, then so did the outcome. The Conservatives were unambiguous winners of these local elections, Labour not just net, but absolute, losers, and the Lib Dems suffered as painfully as they did nationally.  UKIP made progress, but less than it hoped, and the Greens flatlined.

For the Conservatives, their more than 30 gains – mostly, it should be noted, councils previously under arithmetically No Overall Control – will take the local headlines. Two particularly satisfying results, though, will be the retained control in their only two metropolitan boroughs – Solihull and Trafford – both with additional seats. Solihull Greens lost a seat, but, with the Lib Dems losing two, they are still the official opposition.

Conservative unitary council gains include Basingstoke & Deane, Poole, and Bath & North East Somerset, where there are now two Greens, but 14 fewer Lib Dems and a first-time Conservative majority. Districts won include traditionally Independent Babergh, Suffolk, also for the first time in its 41-year history; Amber Valley, Gravesham and North Warwickshire straight from Labour; Hinckley & Bosworth from the Lib Dems; Gloucester, St Albans, Scarborough, Winchester, and Worcester.

Further Labour losses to No Overall Control included Walsall metropolitan borough and the unitaries, Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent. There was a little compensation perhaps in hanging on to a knife-edge majority in Bradford, thanks to Independents, UKIP and Respect all losing seats, and gaining majorities in unitary Stockton-on-Tees, and, after a suspended recount and overnight rest, Cheshire West & Chester.

Labour is also now largest party on Brighton & Hove council, since 2011 the UK’s first to be run by the Greens. As in the General Election, the Greens’ recent membership surge didn’t really translate into hard results, though they will be encouraged by seven gains in Labour-dominated Bristol, bringing them within touching distance of official opposition.

This time UKIP was the history maker. UKIP leader Nigel Farage had failed to become Thanet South’s MP, but his party reduced Thanet district’s Labour councillors from 24 to 4 and, with 33 of its own, won overall control of its first principal council.

Good Lib Dem news was at a premium all weekend, but enough of Bedford’s conscientious voters gave their mayoral ballot paper X to Lib Dem Dave Hodgson to re-elect him comfortably for a third term as the borough’s mayor.

In other mayoral votes, Peter Soulsby was re-elected for Labour in Leicester, Gordon Oliver for the Conservatives in Torbay, and Mansfield’s three-term Independent Tony Egginton was succeeded by his Mansfield Independent Forum colleague, Kate Allsop.

Another Independent, Mike Starkie, was elected as the first mayor of Copeland in Cumbria, while in Middlesbrough three-term Independent Ray Mallon has retired and is replaced by Labour’s Dave Budd – though only after a second preference count and the rejection of large numbers of spoilt ballots, presumably from the many Labour members who, despite the result, want the mayoral system abolished.

In these mayoral elections at least, then, there’s something for almost everyone: Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, and Independent.

Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

Buying local votes? Campaign spending effects in Belgian local elections

Gert-Jan Put, Bart Maddens and Jef Smulders

In democratic countries worldwide, elections are being organized on an increasingly larger scale. This makes it more challenging for political parties and candidates to communicate with voters and reach their target groups. Alternatively, they resort to mass media and costly electoral campaigns, for which parties and candidates are often prepared to spend exorbitant amounts of money.

Research on campaign spending in general elections has shown that these investments do matter, especially for political challengers: by raising personal expenses, challengers are able to close the gap with incumbent candidates. The latter group enjoys the obvious advantage of their office, which provides them with more (campaign) visibility and organizational capacity. As a result, spending is significantly less effective for them than for challengers, who need to compensate their lower visibility with more expensive campaigns. This incumbency effect is confirmed in majoritarian electoral systems such as the US, UK, Sweden and Canada, but also in some proportional systems such as Ireland and Belgium.

But local elections are of course a different story compared to general elections. In these smaller-scale electoral contests, voters are more familiar with candidates because of their closer geographical proximity. This changes the nature of the electoral competition and campaigning: voters will be more inclined to cast personal votes, candidates use different campaign techniques and the media plays a more limited role.

Does this imply that campaign spending effects will also be different in these elections? Is it worthwhile to invest a huge amount of personal resources in local campaigns? Does it increase the number of preference votes a candidate receives, and more importantly, does it raise one’s odds of getting elected? In our recent article in Local Government Studies, we address these questions and examine the effect of individual campaign spending on the results of local election candidates.

The article focuses on the case of the Belgian municipal elections of 2012, for which we collected data on 30 municipalities in the district of Leuven (in the Flemish region). We registered the declared campaign expenses for all the 172 lists and 3.632 candidates in these 30 municipalities. However, many of these candidates cannot be considered ‘serious contenders’: their candidature is merely symbolical to support the party, they are not interested in holding local office and will arguably invest little in their campaign. Therefore, we only included candidates who already held office in the municipality or at a higher political level, as well as candidates with some level of media attention during the campaign. This group of 1.006 serious contenders (28.4% of all candidates) were included in our analysis.

The results show that the personal investment in the campaign does have an effect on the electoral result. Candidates who spend more in absolute terms or outspend their rivals (at the list and the municipality level) obtain a better result, even though the effect is small. We even found some traces of an effect of personal spending on the odds of obtaining a seat in the municipal council. This finding points at an intriguing difference with national elections in Belgium, where such an effect was not found. Winning a seat is obviously what matters most to a candidate. If a candidate can increase the number of preferential votes, but not to such an extent that he or she can capture a seat, the investment is useless. In this way, investing in the campaign can be considered as more effective for local than for national elections. At the same time, this result should not be overstated. The chances of obtaining a seat in Belgian municipal elections are still overwhelmingly determined by other parameters, such as the position on the list and the incumbency status of the candidate.

Indeed, holding any type of local or higher office increases the number of preferential votes. There are also indications that spending is less effective for candidates holding an executive office in the municipality (as mayor or alderman). Interestingly, holding higher office (i.e. regional and national MP, MEP, minister) has a smaller effect than important local offices such as mayor or alderman. These findings confirm that the result of local elections (at least with regard to preferential votes) is still largely determined by local dynamics, as it should be.

This post is based on the authors’ full length article, ‘Buying local votes: the effect of individual campaign spending under a semi-open PR system in the Belgian local elections‘, published in Local Government Studies.

gert-jan

Gert-Jan Put is a researcher at the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) affiliated to the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute, Belgium. His research interests include candidate selection, legislative turnover and campaign spending.

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Bart Maddens is professor of political science at the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute, Belgium. His research focuses on political party finance and elections.

jef

Jef Smulders is a researcher at the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) affiliated to the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute, Belgium. His research interests mainly include party and campaign finance and political party organization.

Why do we need a new model of public services?

Catherine Staite

Public services, including those commissioned and delivered by local government, have changed substantially in the past ten years. There have been changes in service delivery mechanisms, in relationships between users and services, in organisational structures and in partnership arrangements. It appears likely that the next ten years will bring at least as much change, if not more. One thing is clear: the old model of public services – people expect and services provide – is no longer tenable.  The growing gap between demand and resources has been described in terms of ‘the jaws of doom’.  That is one way of looking at the future.  Another way is to see the opportunities which we have to renegotiate ‘the deal’ between people and public services.

INLOGOV is working with a wide range of local authorities and other bodies to test a new model of public services. The model draws together many of the themes in current debates about the ways in which the public sector is likely  to have to change, in particular, how public services can manage demand, build capacity and achieve better mutual understanding, through the development of stronger relationships with communities as well as through co-production and behaviour change.  The purpose of this model is to support public service leaders – both political and managerial – to make better sense of a complex world.

INLOGOV’s model brings together the disparate cultural, structural, political and financial challenges facing local government and wider public services into an integrated framework, which takes account not only of individual drivers of change but also of the inter-relationship between changes in public services and the wider political and social context in which those changes are taking place. If we have a coherent model which reflects current and future realities it will be easier for us to explore possible solutions together.

We have concentrated on the challenges and opportunities for local government, in partnership with other local and national institutions.  That is not because we think local government is the most important player on the public service stage, it is because we think it plays a unique role as a convenor and mediator between conflicting interests within complex networks of players.  It is in this role that it can provide the creativity and connectivity to help shape solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of rising demand and falling resources.

The key drivers for a new model are: building stronger relationships with and between individuals and communities, increasing co-production of better outcomes by focusing on capacity, as well as need, and changing expectations and behaviours.  Before we can deliver these benefits we will need to change the way we think, plan and act.  There are many good, small scale examples of innovation which are delivering real change but now we need to scale up change to have a real impact – reducing dependency, building confidence and improving outcomes.  These are not quick fixes, so the sooner we start and the more energy we invest the sooner we’ll be able to achieve a sustainable relationship between public services and the communities they serve.

 

This blog post summarises some of the key messages in:

Why do we need a new model for public services? By Catherine Staite

Ch. 1 in Staite, C. (ed.)(2013). Making sense of the future: can we develop a new model for public services? (Birmingham: University of Birmingham/INLOGOV).

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.

Why don’t people vote?

David Craven

In an event that could be completely predicted, last week’s local elections have seen an average turnout of between 30% and 35%, almost unchanged from last year’s. The now-traditional question of why people do not vote in local elections will be asked once again.

There is a stunning lack of knowledge about local politics. Almost nobody knows to which party their councillors belong, never mind their names. I asked a few people here in Birmingham, all of whom regularly vote in local elections, and most weren’t sure how often elections take place, how many candidates per ward there are, or even which party is in control of the city council. (The trick question was when I asked whether they planned to vote in this year’s election: there are no elections in Birmingham this year, but nobody knew this). This admittedly unscientific straw poll reinforces what is a common belief, that local elections simply aren’t important in most people’s minds, at least important enough for people to know things about them.

There are other posited explanations: a more mobile workforce means that people are less likely to take an interest in local politics; the fact that local politics is more widely considered to be corrupt or more wasteful than national politics; the safe-seat situation depressing the belief that a person’s vote actually counts for anything. Everyone has their own reasoning, and there have been many things written both in academia and in the media.

One way we can try to see whether these reasons are factors is by-elections. If people voted based on perceived importance of the elections then by-elections should see similar numbers of people turn out to vote: the reality is very different. It is rare for more people to vote in by-elections than in the previous general election, with only fourteen British by-elections having increased turnouts since 1945, compared with the same number of British by-elections taking place in the current parliament alone. In those latest elections, turnout was down by about 20% on the general election, bringing it to an average of 37.2%, a typical local election turnout in recent times. In case one thinks this is a fluke, turnout during the previous parliament in by-elections was down by 15% on the previous general election.

My personal theory is that it is media coverage, or rather the lack thereof, that influences whether people vote. Before a general election there is near-blanket coverage, ensuring that everyone knows about the election, knows when it is, and has some idea of what the main parties claim to want to do should they be elected. Before a local or European election, however, there is very little in the way of media coverage from the national television networks, the source of most of the nation’s news, and believed by people to be the most trustworthy. The local newspaper industry is dying quicker than the national newspaper industry, and local television is consistently unwanted (although that isn’t stopping the government from trying again, so there is no real help from these quarters. The national media are neither interested nor really able to focus on local issues, and these issues become marginalized. Faced with a dearth of information and a lack of interest from others, we stop considering local elections, European elections, by-elections, and so on, and they do not even register in our minds. This third of the population that votes in general elections but not local elections suffer from a kind of local disenfranchisement, where they do realize that they should vote, but the reasons seem to get lost when they need to vote for something that doesn’t appear in the headlines on TV.

I’ll finish with one more possible reason: what if the general election fills many people with a spirit of camaraderie, that the country is going out to choose a government? If that’s the reason that some people vote only in general elections, then it will be very difficult to convince them otherwise.

craven-david

David Craven is a Royal Society Research Fellow and Birmingham Fellow in the School of Mathematics at the University of Birmingham. His interests are primarily in mathematics, although branch out into chemistry and social choice theory.