Friday, June 11, 2004

Labour Battered in Local Elections

Personally, I think this is wonderful news, absolutely splendid. The only fly in the ointment is the surprisingly strong performance of the Liberal Democrats, who are if anything even loonier than Labour; let's just hope the Lib Dems' electoral strength in local government doesn't translate into a strong showing in the parliamentary elections.

Tony Blair suffered a drubbing today as Labour limped into third place in the local elections, losing control of at least eight councils.

With about half of the results declared, Labour has lost over 200 councillors, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both making significant gains.

Labour leaders have put the bad results down to the Iraq war, which the prime minister claimed last night had cast a "shadow" over the party's campaign.

Tory chairman Liam Fox, however, claimed that the results were the "worst performance by a governing party in electoral history" and that they signalled an urban revival for the Conservatives.

BBC projections show the Conservatives polling 38%, putting them within striking distance of a majority at a general election if the share of the vote was repeated.

The Liberal Democrats were second on 30% while Labour languished on 26%, according to the projection from more than 400,000 votes in the "Super Thursday" poll.

According to results in so far, Labour has lost 211 councillors, with losses including Swansea and Burnley, St Helens, Bassetlaw, and Ipswich.

The Tories took an extra 102 seats and power in seven more authorities, including Trafford, the first major metropolitan council to declare, as well as Tamworth, Harrogate, and Eastbourne.

The Lib Dems were up 66 seats but lost Norwich.
The Labourites would love to blame Iraq and Tony Blair for their problems, but I think the difficulties go deeper. Labour hasn't yet managed to make a total hash of the legacy of economic reforms inherited from Thatcher and John Major, but it also hasn't made any real progress in public-sector reform either, and the public is well aware of this. Mountains of cash are being shoveled into the gigantic maw of the NHS to little avail, taxes continue to creep up at all levels of government, and Blair and his acolytes continue to mouth empty slogans about "deep" or "bold" reforms that invariably amount in the end to nothing more than mild tinkering, and even that is usually watered down to utter meaninglessness by obstreporous, unreformable "Old Labour" dinosaurs on the backbenches. The only domestic arena in which Blair has shown any real appetite for "bold" reforms has been in gutting the few constitutional safeguards that remain against his exercising unchecked dictatorial power.

On a slightly different note, it's good to see that the BNP met with a level of success far below the eve of election hopes its leadership had entertained. Britain isn't about to become France or Austria just yet, and not just because most Britons are more tolerant of ethnic differences than their continental counterparts (they are) - there's a lot to be said for First-Past-the-Post electoral systems.
The BNP humiliatingly failed to live up to its election boast in its stronghold of Burnley, Lancashire, last night when it managed to win - by 28 votes - only one of the eight seats it contested.

It had confidently expected to take four seats, but at the end of the night had to be content with Hapton with Park, where local BNP leader Len Starr already has a seat.

Early today Mr Starr refused to concede that the wheels had come off the BNP bandwagon. The party now has six seats on Burnley council - the same total as before these elections.

"This is not a failure," he said. "You set targets and adjust your sites accordingly. The result is not a disaster. We will be back next year as strong as ever."

But the results made nonsense of claims by BNP national leader Nick Griffin after last year's elections that the party would control Burnley this year or next. Mr Griffin, who is contesting the north-west seat in the Euro elections, was not in Burnley to see the slump in voter appeal.


The BNP has suffered from local turmoil. One of last year's successful candidates, 21-year-old Luke Smith, was booted out of the party after a punch up with one of Griffin's minders. A second, Maureen Stowe, decided she was not and never had been a racist, and became an independent.

Her defection had a considerable impact in the town: so did Michael Howard's visit to Burnley in February, when he denounced the BNP as "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party" - something no other national party leader had done before.
People ought to give Michael Howard more credit; he's certainly not as outrageous a panderer as William Hague or Iain Duncan Smith.