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What Can Previous Election Results Tell us?

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Looking at election results since 1992 raises some interesting points for consideration. Points which those members who are concerned that we are currently unelectable, may wish to take into account.

Labour Party Election Performance 1992-2015

General Elections

Year Seats Won Votes Percentage Maj (Lab/Con)
1992 271 11,560,484 34.4 -65
1997 418 13,518,167  43.2 263
2001 412 10,724,953 40.7 246
2005 365 9,567,589 35.2 167
2010 258 8,606,518 29.0 -48
2015 232 9,437,326 30.4 -99
This shows that between 1997 when he was elected as Prime Minister and when he went to the electorate for the last time in 2005 Labour’s vote under Tony Blair had fallen by nearly 4 million. If we extend the period to 2010 to include Gordon Brown’s brief reign the Labour vote falls even further by nearly 5 million.
There is  no doubt that our share of the vote increased between 1992 and 1997 and, superficially, this would appear to be an endorsement of New Labour. However, those of us who were unfortunate enough to live through the devastating Thatcher era and the inept five years of a Major government that was paralysed by internal divisions, will remember that the Raving Monster Loony Party would probably have won in 1997 if it had been the only opposition to the Tories. It is also interesting to note that, at the 2015 election, despite the media demonisation of 'Red Ed', the somewhat timid shift away from the 'New Labour' legacy added almost 800,000 to the numbers voting for us.

Parliamentary by-elections

Between 1997-2001

There were 17 by elections. Nine of those were in Labour held constituencies and all were retained by Labour. Labour did not win any seats from other parties during this period.

2001-2005

There were 6 by elections in Labour held seats. Labour held 4 of those but lost 2 to the Liberal Democrats. In all these by-elections the Labour vote plummeted.

In Hartlepool in a by election resulting from Peter Mandelson’s move to the Lords there was an 18.5 swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and the vote fell by 18.5%.

In Birmingham Hodge Hill there was a 26.8% swing to Liberal Democrats and the Labour vote fell by 29.6%.

The Leicester South seat was lost by Labour to the Liberal Democrats with a swing of 21.4%. The Labour vote fell by 25%.

In Brent East Labour lost the seat to Liberal Democrats on a 29% swing. The Labour vote fell by 29.5%.

In Ogmore Labour held the seat though with a swing to the Welsh Nationalists, and a 10% fall in the Labour vote.

In Ipswich Labour retained the seat with a swing to Liberal Democrats and an 8% fall in the Labour vote.

2005-10

There were 9 by elections involving Labour seats.

In 2005 Labour lost the Crewe and Nantwich seat to the Conservatives with a 17.6% swing to the Tories and an 18.8% fall in the Labour vote.

That same year Labour held Livingstone but with a 10% swing to the SNP and a 9.3% fall in the Labour vote.

In 2006 Labour lost Dunfermline and West Fife to the Liberal Democrats with a 16.2% swing and a 17.4% fall in the Labour vote.

In 2007 Labour held Ealing Southall but with a 5.2% swing to Liberal Democrats and a 7.3% fall in the Labour vote.

In 2007 there was a by election in Sedgefield due to the resignation of Tony Blair. Labour held the seat though with a swing of 11% to the Liberal Democrats and a 14% reduction in the Labour vote.

In 2008 Labour lost Glasgow East to the SNP with a 22.5% swing and a 19% reduction in the Labour vote.

In 2009 Labour lost Norwich North to the Conservatives with a 16.5% swing. The Labour vote fell by nearly 27%. That same year Labour retained Glasgow North East and Glenrothes though in both cases there were swings to the SNP.

Labour’s record in parliamentary by elections held up well up to 2001. Indeed in this period the Blair government became the first in recent history not to lose any by elections. However,  it did not gain any seats in by elections. After that Labour’s performance deteriorates badly with a number of losses, frequently with huge swings to opposition parties and similar swings against Labour even in seats it retained. That picture holds right up to 2007 when a by election was held in Sedgefield following Blair’s resignation from Parliament. The situation under Brown was little better with two losses with quite dramatic swings and two seats held also with heavily reduced votes.

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Party, there have been four by-elections, all of them unfortunately in Labour held seats.  The conventional wisdom, shared by all the mainstream media, was that the electorate would respond negatively to the party, as the electorate would not want to vote Labour with Corbyn as leader.

In the Oldham and Royton by-election, Labour held the seat, increasing our share of the vote from 54.8 tp 62.1%;

In the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough by-election, Labour held the seat, increasing our share of the vote from 56.6 to 62.4%;

In the Ogmore by-election, Labour held the seat although there was a slight decline in our share of the vote from 52.9 to 52.2%

In the Tooting by-election, Labour held the seat, increasing our share of the vote from 47.2 to 55.9%.

 

Local Government results

Just to complete the picture we must also consider the Labour Party performance in local government election. It is not always easy to talk about gains and losses over the years from 1997 since district councils and several county councils were subject to the changes which ushered in unitary authorities. 

1997

In the County Council elections that year Labour retained control of six counties and gained one (Cumbria). In the elections in the new unitary authorities Labour won 12 which they nominally controlled previously The Party also won two other unitary authorities where a third of the seats were up for re-election. However, it did not gain control of any councils.

1998

In that year Labour gained control of two councils but overall the Party lost 88 seats to opposition candidates. In the London Borough election Labour won 18 of the 32 boroughs, gaining three from no overall control. But it did lose one seat (Islington) to no overall control.

In the 36 Metropolitan Boroughs with elections that year Labour retained all the councils they had previously controlled with the exception of Liverpool which was lost to the Liberal Democrats. Labour retained control of the 9 unitary authorities contested that year and won 35 of the 88 District Councils contested that year. This included the gain of Huntingdon from the Liberal Democrats and the loss of Cambridge to no overall control.

1999

In this year Labour lost control of 35 councils, gaining only 3. The Party also lost 1,239 council seats, gaining only 89. In the Metropolitan Borough elections Labour lost Sheffield to the Liberal Democrats who also retained Liverpool which they had won from Labour in the previous year. In the District Council election Labour gained control of Newark and Sherwood and Wellingborough councils but lost many other authorities to opposition parties or no overall control.

In the Scottish elections held that year Labour gained Renfrewshire but lost Dundee and Falkirk councils to no overall control. In the Welsh elections Labour lost 4 councils to no overall control and two to the Welsh Nationalists.

2000

Overall Labour gained 1 council but lost 17 (out of 57). Ten council seats were gained but 584 were lost.

There were 35 elections that year in Metropolitan Boroughs, of which Labour retained 25 but lost 3 to no overall control and one to the Liberal Democrats. In the 27 Unitary Authorities with whole or partial elections, Labour retained 12 but lost 1 to Conservatives and 4 to no overall control.

In the 89 District Councils with whole or partial elections Labour retained 21 but lost 3 to the Conservatives and five to no overall control.

In London Ken Livingstone won the Mayoral election for Labour.

2001

That year Labour lost 2 more councils, but managed to gain 7 council seats.

2002

Labour had a net loss of 7 councils and 334 council seats. In the London Borough elections Labour retained 14 and gained 1 from no overall control, but also lost 1 to Conservatives and 3 to no overall control. In the Metropolitan Borough election Labour retained 25. In the 18 Unitary Authority elections Labour held 8 but lost 3 to no overall control.  In the District Council elections Labour held 12, gaining 3 but also losing 1 to the Conservatives, 1 to Liberal Democrats, and 3 to no overall control.

2003

Local elections were limited to the Scottish Parliament where Labour lost 6 seats.

2004

Labour had a net loss of 8 councils and 464 councillors. In the Metropolitan Borough elections Labour held 18 councils, but lost Doncaster, Leeds and St Helens to no overall control and Newcastle on Tyne to the Liberal Democrats. In the Unitary authority elections Labour held 5 councils, gaining Hartlepool and Stoke from no overall control but losing Slough to no overall control. In the District council elections Labour retained control of four councils, gaining Redditch and Newcastle under Lyme from no overall control but losing Hastings, Oxford, Bassetlaw, Burnley and Ipswich to no overall control and Tamworth to the Conservatives.

In London Labour and Ken Livingstone held on to the Mayoralty. In the Welsh elections Labour retained 5 councils, gained 2 from Plaid and 1 from no overall control. However, it lost 3 councils, including Cardii and Swansea to no overall control.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said that,

"Iraq was a cloud, or indeed a shadow, over these elections. I am not saying we haven't had a kicking. It's not a great day for Labour".

2005

In local government elections this year Labour had a net loss of 1 council and 114 councillors. Whilst there was only a 2% swing against Labour the polls showed Lasbour to be on 28 per cent only 3 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats and 12 ponts behind the Conservatives under the new leader Michael Howard.

In the Country Council elections Labour held 6 councils but lost Northamptonshire to the Conservatives. In just three Unitary Authority elections that year Labour lost Stockton on Tees to no overall control. Labour held one of the mayoralty elections, but gained 2 from independents.

 

2006

Another bad year for Labour in local elections. A 2% swing to the opposition parties cost the party a net loss of 17 councils and 319 councillors. Its vote fell to 26% of the votes cast, only 1 percent above the Liberal Democrats and 13 % behind the Conservatives.

The London Borough results were particularly bad with Labour retaining only 6 of the councils it had previously controlled and losing 5 councils to the Conservatives and 5 to no overall control. The only compensation was winning Lambeth back from no overall control.

In the Metropolitan Borough elections the party did a little better holding 14 councils but losing Bury to no overall control. The results in the Unitary Authority elections were even worse. Labour held only 4 councils and lost 5 to no overall control.

88 District Councils were up for partial or total re-election that year. The impact of bad results over recent year told in that Labour held only 4 of those councils. Fortunately it retained those but failed to win back any of the badly councils it had recently surrendered.

 

2007

These were the final elections to be overseen by Labour leader and prime minister Tony Blair, who resigned the following month after a decade as prime minister to be succeeded by chancellor Gordon Brown. Labour finished in second place with only a 1 per cent lead over the Liberal Democrats. it was a strong showing for the Conservatives under David Cameron. The results confirmed that the Conservatives were well on their way to winning the next general election, making a very substantial 911 gains, the largest gains made by the party in over 20 years. Labour was left with a net loss of 8 councils.

36 Metropolitan Boroughs were up for re-election that year. Labour held 13 of those but lost Sheffield and Oldham to no overall control. Of the 45 Unitary Authorities up for partial or total re-election only 8 were councils Labour was seeking to retain, though it held only 6 of those losing one council to the Conservatives and 1 to no overall control. However, it did gain two councils from the Conservatives. Labour’s decline in local government representation was even more noticeable in the District Council elections that year where 231 councils were being contested. Of those Labour held only 18, and after the elections it had retained only 12 losing 4 to the Conservatives and 2 to no overall control. By comparison the Conservative Party now had control of 98 district councils and 17 Unitary authorities. Labour controlled councils were now restricted largely to the metropolitan areas.

 

2008

For Labour the disastrous showing in local government elections continued under Gordon Brown. A 3% swing away from Labour gave it only 24 per cent of the vote, 1 per cent less than the Liberal Democrats. Labour had a net loss of 9 councils and 331 councillors.

Of the 12 Labour-controlled Metropolitan Borough 2 more were lost to no over control. In the 23 Unitary elections Labour held control of 2 but lost 1 to no overall control and gained 1 from no overall control.. In the 78 District Councils up for election Labour held control of only 2, and 1 of them it lost to the Conservatives. There were disastrous results in London where the Conservatives gained the mayoralty, and in Wales where Labour managed to win only two of the 22 districts up for election and lost 6 to no overall control.

 

2009

The elections produced a political landscape on the map of England that was a sea of Conservative blue. The party snatched Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Lancashire from Labour, as well as Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats did however win a majority in Bristol. Despite the optimism for the Conservatives in seat and council gains, their share of the vote at 38% was 6% down on 2008. That said, they had a clear 10% lead over the Liberal Democrats who achieved a respectable second place on 28%. Labour lost all of its councils, with some authorities being swept clear of any Labour councillors  at all. Its showing in the same day's European elections was similarly dismal. Labour had a net loss of 4 councils and 291 councillors.

2010

The local elections were held on Thursday 6 May 2010, when the General Election also took place. The results provided some comfort to the Labour Party, losing the general election on the same day, as it was the first time Conservative councillor numbers declined since 1996. The Labour vote was still only 27 per cent of the poll, only 1 per cent more than the Liberal Democrats. But the 4 per cent swing to Labour gave Labour a net gain of 17 councils and 417 councillors. It was the first time in years that the Labour Party could claim to have made a good showing in local council elections.

In London Labour held all seven of the councils it was defending and gained 10 more. In the metropolitan boroughs Labour held 11 councils and gained 4 more. Labour also held the 2 unitary authorities the party was defending, and gained one council from no overall control. In the 76 District Council elections held, Labour was defending control of only one council which it retained. However, it did manage to win two further councils from no overall control.

But by 2010 the real damage had already been done. Since 1997 the Party’s performance in local government elections had been dire. The number of councils the Party controlled diminished significantly, firstly in middle England, but then increasingly in its own heartlands of Scotland, Wales and the metropolitan area of England. It is therefore naïve and dishonest for Blairites, even those in the Brown camp, to suggest that the erosion of the Labour heartlands has occurred under Milliband and now, under Jeremy Corbyn.
Those heartlands withered away under the very leaders the current crop of Labour MPs are lauding as electable. Whilst Blair especially did get elected, the performance of the Party was getting steadily worse until he resigned in 2007, and only began to recover under Ed Miliband, another leader who has been scapegoated by the right-wing of the Party and a significant number of Labour MPs. Maybe this analysis will encourage a rethink within the Labour Party.

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commented 2016-07-06 17:13:53 +0100
Rob, the ‘Raving Monster Loony’ statement is there to emphasise the point; it is not one that anyone is meant to take literally. You mention the election results from 79 to 92 (in both of which Labour polled approximately 11.5 million votes) but without looking at the reasons behind the figures. The first Thatcher government was initially very unpopular, and Labour would probably have won in 1983 had it not been for two events: the first was the defection of four leading MPs on the right of the party, creating a damaging split in much the same way as has happened over the last ten days, the second was the Falklands war. Whether or not we agree with the motives of those who led the resignations from the Shadow Cabinet – and I suspect that we have different opinions on this – I’m sure we can agree that, while the right-wing media sees disagreements in the Tory Party as healthy debate they relish the opportunity to portray disagreements in the Labour Party as a sign that we are not capable of governing. I’m not sure if you can remember the jingoistic atmosphere in the country at the time of the Falklands War, but I remember it well. Even without the defection of the Gang of Four, winning the war would probably have won the election for Thatcher. From there, it was along climb back, but one and a half million votes were added in ’87 and another million and a half in ’92.
commented 2016-07-05 16:47:42 +0100
The promise of a thorough statistical analysis is weakened by the far from objective statement – “the Raving Monster Loony Party would probably have won in 1997 if it had been the only opposition to the Tories”. That does not really offer an adequate explanation of Labour Party polling in the general elections between 1979 and 1992.
Surely the whole of the article can be distilled down into two columns in the first table that provide a stark impact report on party leadership – General Election YEAR and SEATS WON. Picture it as a line graph….

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