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FEATURES - THE PARTY'S OVER

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The elections' mixed results indicate partisan loyalties are wearing thin, usurped by a commitment to local issues...
The elections' mixed results indicate partisan loyalties are wearing thin, usurped by a commitment to local issues and representation

Councillors whose seats become vacant in 2003 should start worrying now. The results from the 2002 elections show voters' traditional partisan loyalties are strained and tolerance with party politics has reached breaking point. Potential first-time candidates should expect a rollercoaster ride that may finish with the football mascot getting the nod from protesting voters.

Forty councils saw a change in political control - almost a quarter of the total. The direction of change, though not exclusive, was often against the incumbent party. So defeated parties should look to their own record rather than blaming their downfall on the national wave of electoral opinion. It is, of course, what many defenders of local democracy have been wanting - voters choosing on the basis of local issues.

For the major parties the glass was both half-full and half-empty. The Conservatives seized control from Labour in Enfield LBC and Welwyn Hatfield DC and from the Liberal Democrats in Richmond upon Thames LBC. A raft of other councils, which had been under no overall control, also came their way. But set against these victories was defeat at the hands of Labour in both Hyndburn BC and Rossendale BC.

Levels of voter support for the Conservatives also fluctuated. In some London boroughs, including Bromley, Havering and Merton LBCs, the party increased its vote share compared to the 1998 elections. Elsewhere, for example, in Brent, Greenwich and Hackney LBCs, the party slipped further. Metropolitan councils like Coventry and Rotherham saw a strengthened Conservative challenge but the anticipated dent to Labour's majority in Birmingham never materialised.

To cap it all, the party's attempt to rebuild its urban base was undermined by the loss of Calderdale MBC, one of only two metropolitan councils it controlled. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle remain Tory no-go areas.

Labour also suffered its triumphs and tragedies but the overall feeling must be that the party got off lightly. As well as those gains from the Conservatives, the party now has a majority in Bexley LBC and Oxford City Council.

In the deficit column there were notable defeats in Kingston upon Hull City Council and Lambeth LBC, resulting from a fresh onslaught from the Liberal Democrats. Had they been allowed to field a full slate of candidates, who can tell what the result might have been in Harrow LBC (LGC, 12 April)?

Strange that those candidates using some variation of the term 'focus team' were able to stand and garner votes in councils such as Bexley, Ealing and Greenwich LBCs and Warrington BC.

The Lib Dems, smiling on the outside, nevertheless have some hard strategic thinking to do. True, the results were good but the script did not run entirely to plan.

Norwich CC was duly captured from Labour, Milton Keynes Council moved under the party's control. But the joy of recapturing Kingston upon Thames LBC was overshadowed by defeat in neighbouring Richmond LBC.

Of much shorter duration has been the party's hold in Oldham MBC and Sheffield City Council. While Liberal Democrats advanced in Lambeth LBC and their grip on Islington LBC was strengthened, there was no surge in support south of the river in Southwark LBC. The party's battle lines are stretched and choices might have to be made - take Labour on in its urban heartland, or concentrate on the Conservative party's soft underbelly

in the English shires.

It was only natural media attention should fall on the British National Party campaign, as the three seats in Burnley are the party's first real success in local elections.

When BNP candidates have stood before, they have rarely reached double figures. But this year a number captured more than a fifth of the vote and the party narrowly missed another success in Oldham MBC.

Green candidates, averaging less than 10% vote share, won seats in Bassetlaw DC, Lewisham LBC and Leeds City Council but lost ground elsewhere, most notably in Oxford City Council. In Elmbridge BC, the Residents' Association gained overall control while in Wyre Forest DC the councillors representing the Kidderminster Hospital & Health Concern group are now in the majority. But it is hard to judge what influence a district council will have on this issue.

Many councillors and officers in councils whose referendum voters rejected the introduction of elected mayors will have heaved a sigh of relief. Those areas which did embrace the principle face an interesting future. In Watford BC and South Tyneside MBC, political tensions will doubtless surface as all sides try to make this untried system work.

In the United States they are used to colourful characters, but a man dressed as a monkey? But Stuart Drummond, having also presented his serious side, was duly praised by New Labour's Peter Mandelson.

In Hounslow LBC, those protesting on behalf of Brentford football club met with some success. The collapse of ITV Digital threatens the future of many football league clubs, whose supporters may be disappointed with the council response.

Other experiments sanctioned by the government concerned efforts to increase voter turnout. These included e-voting and counting, voting by telephone and the internet, as well as all-postal ballots.

As in 2000, postal voting appeared to make a significant difference. But tantalising questions remain unanswered. Is it only council-run campaigns that explain the rise in postal ballot applications in some areas? And was it only the swing against Labour in Essex that explains the difference in its performance in voting-in-person Harlow DC and the all-postal election in Stevenage BC?

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher

Directors, LGC Election Centre, University of Plymouth

Change in Political Control

Gains to be read across; losses down

Con Lab LD Other NOC Total

Con 2 1 - 12 15

Lab 2 - - 2 4

LibDem 3 1 - 2 6

Other - - - 2 2

NOC 1 9 3 - 13

Total 6 12 4 - 18

Councils (Net gains / losses)

Con +9

Lab -8

LD +2

Other +2

NOC -5

Councillors

Con Lab LD Ind/Other Nat

Scotland 111 541 156 206 208

Wales 76 555 100 331 207

London 653 866 309 33

Mets 431 1486 497 64

Counties 1019 709 407 80

Districts 4153 2929 2341 1248

Unitaries 735 1031 559 133

Great Britain 7178 8117 4369 2095 415

Councils

Con Lab LD Ind/Other Nat NOC

Scotland 0 14 0 6 2 10

Wales 0 8 0 3 3 8

London 8 15 3 0 0 6

Mets 1 25 2 0 0 8

Counties 17 7 0 0 0 10

Districts 76 47 19 12 0 84

Unitaries 7 20 3 0 0 16

Britain 109 136 27 21 5 142

Change in Council control

Con gain from Lab

Enfield

Welwyn Hatfield

Con gain from LD

Richmond upon Thames

Con gain from NOC

Adur

Barnet

Hart

Havant

Peterborough

Redbridge

Rochford

Shrewsbury

Stroud

Swale

West Lancashire

Wokingham

Lab gain from Con

Hyndburn

Rossendale

Lab gain from NOC

Bexley

Oxford

LD gain from Con

Cheltenham

Eastbourne

Worthing

LD gain from Lab

Norwich

LD gain from NOC

Kingston upon Thames

Milton Keynes

Other gain from NOC

Elmbridge

Wyre Forest

NOC gain from Con

Calderdale

NOC gain from Lab

Harlow

Harrow

Kingston upon Hull

Lambeth

Newcastle under Lyme

Redditch

Stoke on Trent

Waltham Forest

Waveney

NOC gain from LD

Harrogate

Oldham

Sheffield

Seat ( Net gains / losses)

Conservative+248

Labour-278

Liberal Democrat+49

Others+9

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