Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Aren't Tories Doing Better in Council By-Elections?

Jonathan Isaby has posted last night's local election results on ConservativeHome and described them as "disappointing". Indeed. Ok, you might think, what do a the results of a few council by-elections matter? And in some ways you'd be right. But these results are not isolated. There have been many similar results over the last few weeks. Invariably, Conservative vote shares are down and the party seems to be losing more seats in by-elections than it gains. Clearly, there can be peculiar local circumstances at play, but in seats like Wyre Forest, Tavistock and Weymouth & Portland (all parliamentary marginals), the Conservative should be gaining seats not losing them.

Anyone got any light to shed?


Rebel Saint said...

2 words: Lisbon Treaty

Anonymous said...

Most likely is a move away from the 3 main parties to independents and others - it is a backlash against the corruption of the 646.

Anonymous said...

Put it this way..I vote conservative, but there is no way I'm voting for our self serving useless prats around my way, I'll probably vote local residents association instead.

Mark Senior said...

The Conservatives do nothing but run down this country's economy and currency and have no positive policies to put forward except lining the shadow cabinet's own pockets with a big IHT cut .
No surprise then to see the Conservative vote share well done in every byelection yesterday .
Note the Conservative vote in the Westminster Queens Park result was their worst result in that ward since 1903 !!!!!

rupert said...

I have been worrying about this for some time. I think it is a general anti-politician mood as general fall out from the expenses scandal. I don't think the Tories helped themselves among core voters that turn out for local by-elections with their new EU policy.

The question is whether these sorts of protest votes (or more likely protest stay-at-homes) will continue at the General Election. I think it will slacken, but not by much. I predict that the smaller parties will do well in terms of vote share, though in actual seats.

Dave H said...

Ian, the title of your post is an incredibly narrow piece of understatement.

Why, as Britain continues to endure this utterly wretched, disastrous & discredited government, with a PM who is not merely a lame duck but also a flightless and non water-resistant one, are the Conservatives not enjoying a massive lead in the national polls?

It's really scary.

Anonymous said...

Any chance that the public are starting to almost see us as the governing party? The strongest party nationally often struggles locally.

Unsworth said...

@ Mark Senior

"The Conservatives do nothing but run down this country's economy"

Oh? So who's been 'running' the economy for the past decade? Or have you been on the planet Zog for that entire time?

It's probably escaped your notice but the Labour Party is in government.

Steve Jolly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Crap associations. Other parties have more volunteers available to them.

Curbishlyauto said...

When most councils have the "Cabinet" system, where one member and 8/9 poodles are running the council often to the benefit of the officers and not the public. Then you can expect results like this.

Bring back the committee system. It may be cumbersome but at least it is democratic.

Ewan said...

Public reversion to common sense?

Sorry, sniping aside, in our area the conservatives got in and started making cuts. Cutting dial-a-ride and care homes doesn't really fit in with Cameron's caring conservative's image, does it?

Depiste Labour's unpopularity, I don't think there is popular support for the kind of policies that grass roots tories want to see in place, and are putting in place once they get control of the councils.

Oxbridge said...

The Tories are almost indistinguishable from NuLabour these days. It's not just the Lisbon Treaty, though that's a large part of it; it's the fact that Cameron is scarily similar to Blair on almost every issue you can think of.

You may just get a bit of enthusiasm at a general election, driven by getting rid of the ghastly Brown, but asking any more of the electorate is madness given how little you are offering.

Sinbad the sailor said...

Suggest you do a case study on Stratford Upon Avon local elections over the last couple of years..It will give you all the answers to your questions...

Anonymous said...

The question should be "why do unsuccessful Tory by-elections surprise Tories" - and the answer to that would be because you have managed to conflate diminsihing support for the incumbent (of three terms) with support for the opposition. Whoops.

Anonymous said...

Senior - what a laugh you are. deficit 190 billon national debt heading for 1.5 trillion ...!

if anyone is running (ruining) the country down - its not the Tories.

I think the byelections are quite variable. Some have been lost but some held and with increased share. But turnout is very variable as well.
Remember people are not voting for a govt.

Mark Senior said...

The final result from last night ( count was this morning ) is another LibDem gain from Conservative in Bearsden South East Dunbartonshire Council which had been run by a Lab/Con coalition . Clearly vote blue get Brown not a successful strategy there .

Unsworth said...

@ Curbishleyauto

Yes, more democratic (although not perfect by any means). But most committees were/are badly run so stagnation sets in. That said I detest the Cabinet system which allows individuals to make decisions which (inevitably) they do not have to account for - as they'll have moved on.

Have we not seen that in Downing Street?

Unsworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Osama the Nazarene said...

Agree with @Rebel Saint partially. Dave KNEW that the "treaty" would eventually be signed so his protestations that they were fighting all out to defeat the treaty mere mendacious.

Agree with @vervet about the backlash against all troughing MPs.

However my view is that ditherer Brown and his spinmeisters are busy spinning a web of lies to fool the gullible. Their mantra that it is necessary to maintain spending at present to prevent us slipping further into recession is a downright lie. It is there for the purposes of the election only. They know that should by some mischance they retain the levers of power after the next election they will have to introduce an emergency budget more akin to the recent Irish budget. Really squeezing all spending, with public sector pay cuts to maintain the country's credit rating.


We should be aware that Dave is not ruling out all sorts of draconian steps following his election, but who can blame him when he is dealing with this bunch of inveterate liars.

Mark Senior said...


It is ridiculous posts like yours that epitomise what is wrong with the Conservative message. You overhype what are I agree are serious problems which face this country into scare statistics which bear no relation to reality .
Hysterical noises of we are going to lose our AAA status , the £ will collapse etc etc are simply trying to scare people into voting Conservative and when they are patently untrue drive people away from the Conservatives .
The byelections in the last few weeks have not been variable at all . They have been quite consistent in all of them showing a consistent substantial fall in the Conservative vote share .

Osama the Nazarene said...

@Mark Senior - Any Tories who were stupid enough to keep any variety of Labour in power deserve all they get!

J said...

Partially the position is so strong that losses are effectively inevitable, and partially activists setting priorities - these by-elections are irrelevant compared with the big one next year.

Cjjones27 said...

Because Labour may not have done well recently, but they're still better than a limp opposition dependent on spin to cover up for the lack of thought-through policies, and the fact that the few they have spelt out seem to be for the benefit of the few at the cost of the many.

The expenses scandal doesn't help either. I know the majority of MPs, across all parties are guilty, but the claims that stick in the mind, such as duck houses and moats, seem to have all come from Tory MPs. These may come from a minority of Tory old boys, yearning for the return of Thatcher, but DC is showing with the Lisbon Treaty and the environment that he doesn't have that much influence over them.

Scary Biscuits said...

Mark Senior, What do you want us to do? Put our hands over our ears and pretend we can't hear anything when the ratings agencies put us on a 'negative watch' (as one did this week)?

I agree with Rebel Saint; Lisbon has demoralised the Tory core. Every time the convince themselves that Dave's ok really, he goes and does something else to upset them. Presumable he does this because he thinks there are more votes elsewhere but these results are suggesting that that might not be true. Perhaps after years of New Labour the public can spot dissembing politicians much more easily now.

Likewise, Dave's climbing on the climate bandwagon is becoming increasingly embarrassing. I suspect he'll eventually be forced to climb off it but far too late, just like with Osborne's too-clever-by-half "sharing the proceeds of growth".

WPATW said...

As per Sinbad the sailors post. As a Stratford-upon-Avon resident, I can tell you that it comes down to arrogance. The Con concillors think they know best, ride roughshod over local concerns and don't bother to get out to canvas. I have always voted Blue but last month. The Yellow man came to my door - made the effort and lsitened. The Blue woman never bothered to ring the bell.

Glad the Yellow man got in.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

It is not sufficient to suppose no-one sane wants to vote for New Labour - the Conservatives have to show that there are positive reasons to vote for them. This has not yet happened - so the voter response will be weak.

The Conservatives has a huge opportunity - lose the general election and see New Labour's final, everlasting destruction (along with the country too of course! lol).

Rik said...

Just because Nu-Labour were incompetent and insidious in delivering on their promises doesn't mean people don't want what was promised. The problem the conservatives have is TRUST! Tony Blair made promises in-order to gain power, those who were slow to realise this, realise it now. They are not going to be so easily persuaded by the new caring conservative mantra and they shouldn't be!!

NeilMc said...

Rebel Saint got it right, but CCHQ won't believe it. They live in the Westminster bubble and are completely unaware of the feelings of disgust the reneging on the referendum has caused.

'Cast Iron Dave' will haunt him for life, because he's lost all credibility.

cassandra said...

Newlabour droids aside, the really scary thing is that the new conservative leadership are more or less identical to the 1997 bunch but without the first clue what they are going to do IF they win power.
They are a vacuum of empty space, there is no ideological drive or courage just a lust for the trappings of power in order to enrich their already rich chums.
The ordinary voter has rumbled the new conservative leadership and they are starting to see that there is little difference between the big three parties anymore, why vote for any of them if they are the same?
Cameron lied to us about a referendum and then he tried to blame Brown for it, that pissed a lot of people off. He is lying about exterminating the quango gravytrain shadow state, he is lying about standing up to Brussels and he is lying about working to return powers to the UK and he is even lying about a referendum on further power transfer to the EUSSR, all the powers the EUSSR need they now have, the treaty is self amending and Dave can only obey the new overlords. They blindly follow the global warming fraud and expect us to follow?
A real conservative party should be heading for a landslide of historic proportions, the newfakeconservative handwringing numpties may not even get a majority now. People can see the real new Tory party and it offers NOTHING that the liblabs couldnt do at least as badly!

g.a.tidmarsh said...

Its an issue of trust and credibility.

Cameron's response to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was seen as renegading on a stance British Voters see as important - Also his extreme green views are deeply distrusted.

If he runs the Country where is he going to lead us.

Brown's Britain is bad - what is Cameron's Britain going to be like.

In thrall to a federal unelected Europe - crippled with green Tax's and restrictive green legislation.

Who the hell can we vote for????

JulianGall said...

The problem is David Cameron and George Osborne. However much people detest Labour and Gordon Brown, Cameron and Osborne just don't inspire confidence among non-Tories.

I would expect them to be positively radiating ideas for mending the country after the last 12 years. I would expect to know definitely that petty regulations, reduction of liberties and overweening bureaucracy were going to be disappearing from day 1 of a Conservative government. But they don't fill me with any confidence.

Where's the plan for the first hundred days in office? Where's the list of the laws that will be repealed? Where's the list of quangos that'll be abolished? Where's the clear statement that there'll be a return to cabinet government and removal of special advisors? Where's any indication (even a nudge-nudge hint) that they'll be much different from Tony Blair?

If the electorate had confidence in the Tories forming the next government, I'm sure they'd vote for them at local level too.

MikeyP said...

Three words: Cast Iron Guarantee!

The Stranger said...

It's about Europe, obviously.

I don't think Cameron realises how much damage abandoning the hardline stance on the referendum cost.

steveal said...

Three words (and an ampersand).

Lisbon Treaty & Immigration.

Salmondnet said...

I think the drift of the replies so far gives you your answer. Cameron, as a deliberate strategy. has alienated much of the Tory right (and thus many of his activists) in the hope of gaining more support from the centre. The centre, however, is not convinced. Mostly, they think that if they are going to vote centre-left it is safer to go for one or other of the two ideologically based centre-left parties. Why take a copy when you can have the original?

cassandra said...

Julian Gall called it perfectly I think with his post, where is the audacity,hope,courage,moral outrage,righteous fury at the erosion of our freedom? Where is the lists of laws and quango parasites to be exterminated?
Where is the beef, the meat and bones of a capitalist free market patriotic confident leadership straining at the bit to get to work?

This is the problem isnt it? I see a weak as dish water cowardly leadership lacking even the most short term goals,no plan,no vision,no direction only too willing to be led by the nose in any trendy cause and the tragedy is just ONE speech decided it all!
Much as I hate Brown I would rather have him as PM than Cameron.
BTW Iain the sooner you decide to make a run for UKIP the better, it must be heartbreaking for a salt of the earth guy like you witness the tragedy first hand.

Sui Juris said...

There's a lot of comment about Cameron not having "sealed the deal with the electorate". (Usually meaning with swing voters. But he hasn't sealed the deal with his own supporters either - either with the right wing (among whom I count myself) or with the zealous modernisers.

So there are lots of people prepared to vote Tory but neither traditional Tories, nor modernisers, nor swing voters do so with much enthusiasm. So the Tory vote is inevitably very soft, and soft support tends to disappear in local elections (when the perception is that less is at stake), and when things go wrong (the Lisbon debacle).

Soft support tends to harden when more is at stake in a general election (the "only way to get rid of Gordon" argument). Whether that will happen in this case I don't know.

I'm sure this is a deliberate strategy on Cameron's part: steps to harden support in any of the three groups I mentioned would alienate the others. Whether he could really do better by doing (for example) what I would like to see and returning to a harder conservative line, we can't tell. I would guess that the Tories' marginals polling is telling them that the strategy of balancing soft support from different groups is the optimal one.

Frank Owen said...

Good Lord - I bet you lot haven't knocked many doors recently!

I was out on the knocker for Labour in Queen's Park in Westminster yesterday. I canvass several times a week, and have done for about the past two years (and, sligthly less frequently, for a good while before then).

In all that time I must have spoken to around 10,000 people. Do you know how many have ever mentioned Europe? Not a single one. Some people are angry about it, but the number of people willing to change their vote on that basis in a "proper" election is minute. It won't be affecting these by-elections.

So what's going on? Partially it's a recovery for Labour from unusually poor showings the last time these seats were contested (2006, 2007, 2008), and a corresponding setback for the Tories from their high water marks.

Also, I am definitely sensing a hardening of the Labour vote "out there" - voters who are Labour, and never stopped being Labour, are more motivated to actually vote than perhaps they have been in the past few sets of non-Westminster elections.

Bird said...

You openly invited all the above anti-Tory stuff.
I don't know the reason for the poor showing in local by-elections, but I don't think it has anything to do with Lisbon.
I'm a Tory and I have friends who are Tories, and although we go on about crime, immigration, unemployment, etc., we never talk about Europe.
Methinks you are infested, along with ConHome, with UKIPPERS, LibDems, reitieand Labour trolls.
For a Tory response to a popular blog, you need to go to
It's run by Mike Smithson - a Liberal Democrat!

Mirtha Tidville said...

Whilst its not directly europe and the treaty, its simply Cameron. His position showed him to be shifty and changeable. We already have that with Liebour and people want something more.

They have realised he wants to be all things to all peeps but his constant wooing of the left leaves people to think that he`s not that far apart on ideology from Liebour.

He describes himself (aided no doubt by his lefty wife) as a Liberal there`s a contradiction in terms!!

He is in fact the problem Iain. Now if he was to get his arse off the fence stand up and be counted he might get some where. Its no use wooing new fickle friends if at the same time you end up losing old loyal ones.....

His shelflife is limited I`m afraid. Thats why a lot of his old friends are regrouping within UKIP...

Anonymous said...

It's obvious. People like David Cameron. They just don't really like the rest of his party very much. DC is too hawkish for many - and his pointless banging on about tax breaks for married couples doesn't endear him to the masses.

Most people seem to be wary of a conservative government - but they probably accept that it's inevitable.

Use the X Factor as an example of surprise voting techniques > You like Olly ...but you don't vote for him because you think he's safe. Therefore Joe wins.

Also, local Conservative Assocations are usually full of awful people. awful. Social suicide to vote Tory.

I'll probably vote LibDem and hope for a hung Parliament. That seems the best option.

aseeryl said...

In a word
TRUST e.g.

1) No referendum - even if it is pointless now, something immediate and cast-iron could have been offered.

2) Slavish obeisance to the global warming myth - which matters in the consequences of falling for it. By all means keep the environment clean - nobody likes pollution - but bankrupting the country on the PC altar is lunacy.
Mannmade! Climate change scepticism is the new racism, to be howled down by watermelons and those with selfish agendas.

Anonymous said...

Mr Iain Dale,

The local By-election results are syptomatic of an impending change of National Government.

Seriously, when National Government is seen likely to change hands for some reason the local election results start turning against the party that is likely to form the next government.
It happened to Labour in 1996/97 and it is happening to the Tories now.

Maybe it is folk who think they will wait to register their vote until the GE (Against incumbant government at national level) - Lets be honest when a party is in opposition it is often a protest vote against the government that swings the majority of local elections. Likewise at this point in the electoral cycle, which is increasingly looking like a change of government - forget the more recent turbulance in the polls. I think the Tories will win by a majority of 30 -200. Depends on the day but Tory majority I think there will be. Therefore voters are not enthused about local politics but waiting for the national poll.

Mark Senior has been amusing as usual and who can blame him for trying to trumpet "LD success"? I think him worth reading as i remember when he said there would be no recession at a specific time he bet a gold coin! He lost the bet and not only the quarters he mentioned he thought would be positive growth turned out to be negative but several afterwards and before! lol!

Mark Senior sounds even worse at betting than me!!! lol

thespecialone said...

You only need to go on to the comments in response to Cameron's attitude to 'climate change' and the fact that he seems completely in bed with the fraud. 200 comments and virtually all negative. Most appeared to be from natural Tory voters who were shocked that despite the CRU scandal, and more evidence since that the 'science is not settled', Cameron and the party leadership in general seem enthralled by the fraud. What will the comment from high command be after Brown has said we will be paying £1.5billion per year? Supportive?

John said...

The good thing is they do not show/talk about local elections on the TV.

Lisbon Treaty: Rubbish it was the Labour and Lib Dems would get a zero vote.

Kieran said...


It's Cameron's clause four. Blair surprised us by exceeding expectations. Cameron failed to match them.

Don't trust him.

Won't trust him.

Unsworth said...

@ Frank Owen

So, for (say) four years, each and every week, for five days a week, you have spoken to ten different persons about Europe?


The last time I saw any Labour knocker in our area (and it's a very marginal seat) was, ooh, three years ago, maybe even longer.

N A Berry said...

I think that voting in local elections really do centre round the popularity of individual councillors. For example I would always vote Liberal at the General Election and at a European level but because of the disreputable character of the two Lib Dem councillors for my ward (known to me personally) I voted for the Conservative who was a family friend and a hard worker. At a ward level people really do remember a councillor who helps them deal with local yobs or whatever and will put party allegiance aside for that.

Loki said...

Governments tend to lose council seats. Perhaps, subconsciously, the public already see the Tories in power, and are voting locally in accordance with that. Just a thought.

Libertarian said...

Just try looking at the record in office of Tory local councils.

They are as profligate and wasteful, as politically correct and obsessed with common purpose. They are as Keynesian and overspending on themselves as any Lib/Lab council.

And the voters now know it.

The National party has no policies of any use to the voter, who don't want the EU, windmills, rubbish comprehensive dumbed down schools or an NHS that kills it's patients due to mismanagement.

We don't need 18 NEW quango's and the Regional Development Agencies renamed.

Why vote tory lets just keep the mad idiots we've got they're no better, no worse

Mick Turatian said...

I think that the reason may be that the Conservatives daren't say what people want to hear. The alternative is just as bad if not worse, namely that the Conservatives don't even believe in traditional tory values any more.

richard64 said...

I cannot believe the comments here. The especially amusing ones are those that suggest that the poor dears who voted thought that Cameron was prime Minister! LOL!

It is simple, Cameron went wobbly at the end of the summer.

1) Lisbon. If you give a cast iron guarantee then break it, what will you do with non-cast-iron promises like the NHS ringfence?

2) Green issues. Cameron was never really Green, but at that time it looked like a way to capture the centre. Now that "Vote Blue, Get Green" strategy is proving to be a mistake. Environmentalists want Cameron to take the initiative, sceptics want him to announce restrictions on the Copenhagen deal, and Cameron is keeping quiet.

3) Lack of discipline. People like Hannan and Helmer are deliberately making speeches that are challenges to Tory policy. The public know this but they see nothing from Cameron. Calling someone "an eccentric" is not enough.

4) Osborne. You have to admit it that he is still a liability. Cameron has some well-known economic big hitters to choose from (people that the public trusts) but Osborne is not one of them. The polls may say that the public trust Cameron&Osborne more than Brown&Darling, but that trust is for Cameron. Osborne is a liability

So where is the vote going? Simple, the vote is going to UKIP. There won't be a Prime Minister Farage (nor Pearson) but I would put money on Cameron having to offer Farage a cabinet seat.

Anthony Z said...

Richard64: If UKIP do well at the general (which I doubt very much), Cameron will be in no position to offer Farage a Cabinet seat. Or even a Shadow Cabinet seat.