There must be something about crushing defeat which has inspired me to blog again. A weekend has passed since the disastrous (if not totally unexpected) results of Thursday night, and it’s probably as good a time as any to reflect.
In case you just can’t get enough of those numbers, here they are again;
CON 157 (+19) 5109 (+86)
LAB 57 (+27) 2459 (+857)
LD 10 (-9) 1098 (-748)
OTH 55 (-21) 793 (-209)
Nothing good at all to say about us. Pretty positive for the Conservatives to pick up seats, given that they’ve already been making gains in local elections essentially since Brown took over. It’s difficult to argue that it wasn’t positive for Labour, and indeed they’ll be delighted at the way they’ve decimated us, particularly in the cities. However, coupled with their performance in Scotland, there will be a certain amount of disappointment in Labour circles that they didn’t pick up more seats than they did, after a year of telling the country that everything this government has done is wrong.
So, the real question is: ‘is there anything we could have done that would have given us a different result on Thursday?’
For me, the answer is ‘no’. Of course, some would say the answer is ‘not gone into coalition with the Conservatives’ but lets discount that one. We are where we are.
At my count on Thursday night, there was surprise at just how badly we were faring as the phone calls, texts and tweets came through from friends in other areas. Yet, there was also a sense of inevitability about it.
Of course there will have been some of our councillors who deserved to lose their seats – in every party there are some councillors who don’t pull their weight and do the job they were elected to do. However, in the main, a lot of committed and hard-working councillors lost their seats through no fault of their own. Nowhere is this more true than in the City of Manchester.
Labour ran an especially negative campaign (and the less said about the behaviour of some of their activists on polling day, the better) throughout Manchester. Very little discussion of what they’ve done locally, or what they would do, just cuts cuts cuts. In contrast we fought a local campaign. I fully believe this was the right way to go, not least because we’d have had even less chance if we’d have fought a campaign about national issues.
Councillors like Simon Ashley, the former group leader in Manchester, have worked tirelessly for their local area over many years, and deserve better than to have been thrown out of office thanks to the kind of campaign we saw from Labour.
However politics, like life, isn’t fair and the electorate have spoken. The question for us now is what do we do next. Nick Clegg wouldn’t want to admit it, but the likelihood is that we are going to take a hit again this time next year. Labour will continue to run with the cuts offensive, and it is going to hurt us for a while longer.
Things will turn though. After Thursday, in Manchester, all that has happened is that Labour have further tightened their already vice-like grip on the city council (75 of 96 seats, up from 62). All of their new councillors have stood pretty much exclusively on an anti-cuts platform, with vague promises of ‘protecting local services’.
Our job now is to hold them to these pledges. We must put the pressure on them to justify exactly how they’re going to do what they claim. The message must be “Ok, you’ve taken our seats – now show us what you’re going to do with them”. At a local level, I believe the answer to that is going to be “very little”.
One thing that was clear on the doorstep last week was that people respected the record of local action of many of our councillors. In areas where we are fighting Labour, the terrain is not yet right for us to be able to win a debate on national issues. We won’t be able to turn the debate overnight, but we must hold Labour to account over local issues. The electorate may be pleased that they’ve given us a kicking as punishment for the coalition for now, but if/when (and in many cases, I truly believe it will be a case of when) their new councillors fail to live up to the standards of their Lib Dem predecesors, we should be there at every opportunity to remind them that we really are the party who will fight for local residents.
We’ll be back. It might not be next year, but we’ll be back.