A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Those council election results.....

The English council election results are extremely fascinating, and they have a bearing on the relevance of David Cameron's 'Green' posturings as discussed frequently here on 'EnviroSpin'. The Conservatives have gained 11 councils, while Labour has lost 18, some to NOC (No Overall Control). But it is far from all good news for Cameron, and nothing like the disaster that Labour might have expected following the Prescott affair, the Home Office debacle, and the NHS brouhaha. Indeed, it was not impossible that Labour might have been nursing the loss of over 450 councillors, whereas, in reality, they have had only 300 or so amputated.

The detailed story lies in the demographics of the results. Virtually all Cameron's advances have been made in London and in the South East, precisely those areas where his sledding with huskies and the windmill on his roof might be expected to play among the bien pensant, the yuppies, and the well-heeled. In stark contrast, with minor exceptions in the West Midlands, the further you move north, the Cameron factor declines spectacularly, with the Conservatives wiped off the map in the great cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle. The Manchester situation is especially embarrassing because Cameron deliberately held his Party's Spring Conference in the city to reinforce the Conservative come-back, yet not one Conservative councillor has been elected out of 96, and, in some of the satellite towns, like Oldham, they have even lost councillors. Moreover, in Manchester, Labour managed to take four seats from the Liberal Democrats, demonstrating yet further how little 'Green' politics resonate beyond the media-saturated metropolitan South.

Interestingly, aspects of such voter demographics are also hidden within the generality of the London results. The classic case is probably Islington, which is now under NOC. Staggeringly, the Conservatives have no member at all on Islington Council, while Labour took 12 seats from the Liberal Democrats. 'Islington' has often been (lazily) employed as an icon to represent the quintessential bien pensant cafe culture, whereas this is just a small press gang of journalists who are coralled within their Georgian houses by a swath of deprived and poor areas. Islington is actually 'the North' in London, and, accordingly, the huskies didn't play there, as in Manchester. Mind you the ciabatta-munching hacks put it all down to the Lib Dems' illiberal parking ticket scheme. Typical liberals.

If I were Cameron, I should not be smiling too much about these results. Unless the Conservatives can make headway beyond the M25 beltway, they will not return to government, and, given the last two dreadful weeks for Mr. Blair, they should really have been taking 400 to 450 council seats, or more. As The Times put it so well, winning between 200 and 300 seats is only just beyond the "no more husky rides for you, Dave" level.

Perhaps the more significant failure on the night, however, was that of the Liberal Democrats, who, with their statesman-like new leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, in place, and with Labour in such trouble, should have forged ahead. Yet they stood stock still, gaining overall only 2 councillors, and we may have seen the move to three-party politics stopped in its tracks. In this sense, Cameron's tactics may have worked for the Conservatives, in that, in those areas where 'Green' posturings do matter politically, he has seen off some of the natural challenge of the Lib Dems. The two exceptions to this are the university cities of Cambridge and Oxford where the Conservatives do not have a single councillor, having just lost their last Cambridge seat.

But what the demographics of these elections actually demonstrate is that, outside the wealthy South, what counts are crime, civil order, national security, schools, the NHS, and disadvantage. In this sense, Mr. Blair's priorities remain the correct ones - but Labour has to get them right, and very soon, if only to help to stem the local influence and rise of the BNP, which preys on the afflicted and deprived, and which, worryingly, gained 27 seats on the night, including 11 in Barking. The other minor parties did less well, including the Greens who only managed 14 gains, 4 in Norwich, where, I suspect, a planned incinerator may have had a role to play.

Tony is now on borrowed time, and the new rottweillers of his 'morning-of-the-long-knives' have got to perform, for all our sakes.

English - nay British - politics have become extremely nuanced and very interesting. Watch this space.

Philip, as ever fascinated by political demographics. Time for a truly middle-class Earl Grey. "Lemon, darling?"

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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