Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Local Victories, National Defeats: Why does the Conservative Party fail to capitalise on local success?

 For those of you who have read my archive, you may remember a couple of pieces I wrote entitled "The Second Fronts", about the Conservative performance in Scotland and Wales. The main thrust of my argument, especially in Scotland, is that the blunt fact of Westminster defeat often masks what advances the Conservatives have actually made - in addition to highlighting a depressing disparity between our local and national electoral performances. This post is prompted largely by two things I noticed over the last couple of days: 

1) The Liberal Democrats have consistently come fourth behind the Conservatives in the Scottish elections, yet still managed to return twelve Scottish MPs to our one in the 2010 General election.

2a) Birmingham City Council has a Conservative/Liberal coalition in power yet at the 2010 election Labour managed to retain every seat, including seats like Edgbaston. In some seats the Conservatives held before the Nineties, such as Hall Green and Yardley, they now poll third or fourth (behind Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Respect).


2b) The Conservatives have closed the gap in a lot of seats. A 10.4% swing in Birmingham Erdington, a 6.6% swing in Birmingham Northfield and a 4.8% swing in Birmingham Selly Oak put the Conservatives in close contention in these seats.

 What puzzles me is why the Conservatives can't translate local gains into national gains. In Scotland the answer is perhaps readily apparent, a combination of the SNP sucking up centre-right anti-Labour votes and the fact that Conservative supporters don't believe their party can win a Westminster contest.

 But Birmingham? There isn't another centre-right party to absorb the Conservative vote. Nor is there the phenomenon you get in Manchester of Conservative supporters voting Liberal Democrat because there is practically zero chance of the Conservatives taking the seat. If the phenomenon is limited to Birmingham, it could suggest they simply have a very effective team of councillors who can outperform the national party in the minds of the electorate. The other possibility is that for some reason the national Conservative Party can't persuade people to vote it into Westminster even as they vote its local representatives into City Hall.

 One can't be hyperbolic, of course. It wouldn't have taken a much greater swing for the Conservatives to have taken Edgbaston, Erdington, Northfield and Selly Oak, in which case this article would read 'Why can't the Scottish Conservatives do what Birmingham can?' Nevertheless, I hope the party is making serious enquiries about what happened in Birmingham, because we need to start breaking back into the cities if we hope to see a healthy majority ever again.

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