...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Day 1948: Local Elections


Daddy and I have stayed up VERY late to watch my FAVOURITE MP SARAH TEATHER who has been telling us all about the LOCAL ELECTIONS.

She may have had some help from Mr David Dimbledum (NOT his brother Mr Jonathan Dimmbledee), though I think he was more in need of a MARS BAR, after running all the way from the QUESTIONABLE TIME studio. And very annoyingly, someone had let Mr Boy George Osbourne and a VERY CROSS-PATCHY man from the Labour come on and keep interrupting my SARAH! Boo, to them!

Anyway, here is what happened.

All day, huge numbers of people all over ENGLAND (but not SCOTLAND or WALES or NORTHERN IRELAND) were IGNORING the opportunity to go and VOTE.

However, not EVERYBODY took this opportunity to ignore democracy and so there WERE some results.

64% of people voted for nobody
14% of people voted for Mr Balloon and the Conservatories
10% of people voted for Mr the Merciless and the Liberal Democrats
9% of people voted for Lord Blairimort and the Labour
3% of people voted for other parties including the Green Party (NOT Mr Balloon's) and the British Nasty Party (NOT Mr Balloon's)

This compares with the General Election last year when:

39% of people voted for nobody
23% of people voted for Lord Blairimort and the Labour
20% of people voted for Mr Something of the Night and the Conservatories
14% of people voted for Mr CK1 and the Liberal Democrats
4% of people voted for other parties including the Vanitas Party (prop. Mr Robert Dayglow-Orange) and the Respect Party (prop. Mr Gorgeous Pussycat Leotard).

Mr Boy George tells us that this is apparently a MIRACLE of DEMOCRACY and means that Mr Balloon is VERY, VERY popular. "Lashings of GINGER POP all round, what ho!" he added.

Well, much as I hate for the media to lead me by my big fluffy and yet strikingly handsome nose, what cannot be denied is that I AM a bit disappointed that the results for the Liberal Democrats were ONLY okay.

It is NOT that Mr the Merciless did BADLY, in fact of course we pretty much HELD our position with what had been a VERY GOOD result last time. So that SHOULD be another VERY GOOD result. The problem is more that we were all very hopeful that we would do even better. Particularly with the Labour doing their best to hand it to us on a plate. Also, the net gains of 2 councillors figure conceals a number of big swings to us AND a number of big swings against us.

Daddy Alex and Daddy Richard had friends in Lambeth and Greenwich who lost seats and we feel very sorry for them. And where we live on the Isle of Dogs we were a bit horrified to wake up on Saturday with all six Conservatory councillors. (Erm, I mean that the councillors round here are all Conservatories now, not that they crashed my flat for a sleepover!)

The set back in Islington was also very upsetting, even though we made huge advances in next door Camden and made a terrific number of gains to retake Richmond while still holding on to Sutton and Kingston to reinforce our strong position on the liberal flank of south-west London.

So what went wrong?

First problem: being in charge of MORE places means we have MORE places to LOSE!

It certainly LOOKS like there was a bit of a "let's give the council a kicking" feeling going on and that meant that since we now CONTROL more councils, there were more places where that kicking came OUR WAY! Islington and Lambeth both seem to have suffered this way, and to a lesser extent also in Sutton and Kingston.

The Conservatories (and even a bit the Labour) have learned that it is MUCH easier to be in OPPOSITION where you can make gains by blaming the COUNCIL for EVERYTHING! PLUS, their campaign messages of "Conservatory Councils Cost You Less" and "Vote Blue, Go Greed" are both good and, more importantly, positive slogans. Their message is not just "your council is rubbish" but "ours would be better".

We need to LEARN from that – we need to be able to SELL our REAL ACHIEVEMENTS better: Which league tables do our councils top? What services are we best at providing? Where can we show that we have made the most improvements for people?

We should also remember that we are a LIBERAL party in favour of LOCAL solutions. Other parties use that to say we say different things in different places – remember that the answer to that is to say that THEY want to run EVERYTHING from the CENTRE!

Second problem: Mr Balloon

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Balloon is STILL the MEDIA DARLING. The newspapers love a bit of POSH TOTTY and continue to pitch him the easy bowls so long as he is winning. If they asked him any sticky questions he might come off the rails but for the moment he's getting the light as a feather treatment. The young face and the quiff are all too saleable.

Ideal solution: we should INJECT him with MARK OATEN'S genes… for premature BALDING!

It would be nice if we had the option of CUDDLING HIM TO DEATH – the strategy that he was trying to use on Lord Blairimort a bit ago before flip-flopping onto just attacking him. UNFORTUNATELY, it's all very well us welcoming him as a REPENTANT SINNER who has thrown away his old bad habits of AUTHORITARIAN CENTRALISATION and ENVIRONMENTAL NEGLECT, but so long as the media are turning to him first, then we end up just looking "me too!"

No, instead we must keep on challenging him for the POLICIES: "where's the beef, Mr Balloon?" needs to by our refrain. We can follow that up with "…because this is what WE would do: policy a, policy b, policy c; and it will cost this much." We may be conducting a policy review ourselves, but we didn't JETTISON the entire 2005 manifesto and leave ourselves NAKED for the next eighteen months.

And we must be there to keep him honest in all those councils he's just won: he promised to go green if they voted blue – well let's keep a CLOSE EYE on the outcome, let's see some real results.

Remember, the BEST result for ALL OF US is if Mr Balloon ACTUALLY keeps his promise: plus one, better environment, plus two more honest politics. So we should hope for the best. But, as dear old President Raygun used to say all the time: "trust, but verify!"

Having said all that, here are a THREE ways in which these results OVERSTATE Mr Balloon's achievements.

Almost half of the Conservatory gains – 134 of them! – were in LONDON, and London last voted in 2002 when the Labour actually did OKAY. In the 2004 local elections, which did not include London, the Labour took a big hit pretty much everywhere else, so this year's elections were, to an extent, only London "catching up" with the rest of the country. (That said, it still leaves an awful lot of the country BLUE.)

Just like in last year's General Election, far and away most of the Conservatory advance came from the South-East of England. Making only 22 net gains in the whole of the north of England is a sign of SERIOUS WEAKNESS. That is something that Mr Balloon himself must have recognised – and recognised how DAMAGING it is when we are able to say "there are whole areas of the country, major cities with no Tory councillors at all". During the election, he seems to have made a push not to win back the hearts and minds of a city, but to win JUST ONE WARD in those cities in order to counter this claim. This is why, for example, Mr Oily Letwin was handing out flyers at Island Gardens in TOWER HAMLETS when Daddy Richard way trying to catch the tube last week. It is a cunning, but RISKY strategy – it focuses your efforts but at the risk of looking like you don't really mean it. The evidence though is it doesn't seem to have entirely worked.

Scotland and Wales were not voting. The Moray by-election the week before shows that Mr Balloon's message is not cutting much ice with the Scots.

Mr Balloon's party is increasingly not just an English National Party, but a Home Counties National Party. That may be enough to let a lot of them have a good gloat this weekend, but it leaves a LOT of people unrepresented by the Official Opposition.

So VERY FLUFFY HUGS to ALL the Liberal Democrats who stood in elections, win or lose, from ME and the LOVELY SARAH! It's OKAY to be a bit disappointed because we know we're BRILLIANT and should do better!

And we WILL!

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