A view from a bellwether seat
Basildon is one of most famous bellwether seats due to its high concentration of swing voters. Known for the famous victory of David Amess in 1992 that signalled the start of an awful night for Neil Kinnock, this month’s local election results are quite interesting. This is not an exact science but a brief overlook of the results in a swing seat are important to see what has gone on in the past few years.
The Conservative run council had 29 seats before the election but lost 4. 3 were swing seats and 1 was a typically safe Labour ward that the Conservatives won in 2008. The Conservatives now have a majority of 4, down from 8. Local issues included the eviction of the Dale Farm travellers, building of the £41 million Sporting Village, and the selling off of some land in order to pay for the sporting facility. However, we can safely say that a lot of votes were reflected on national issues.
In starting this analysis, we must look at the safe seats of the three Billericay seats (Billericay East, West and Burstead) and Crouch. In 1992, Teresa Gorman, MP for Billericay that was made up with these safe wards and some swing wards (discussed below), had a majority of 22,000 but by 1997, had a 21,000 swing against her in 1997 reducing her majority to just above 1,000. If Labour is to win in middle England, they must attract the typically white and middle class voters who live in the leafy suburbs. Labour didn't win in 1997 any safe Tory wards, but the Liberal Democrats did. They did however come third with a lot more of the vote than they usually receive.
The Conservative vote in 2010 was 61%, 63%, 58% and 62% respectively, and the majorities were around 45% on a turnout of 70%. The Labour vote was around 11%, and the Liberal Democrats were the second party. In 2011, the Tory vote was again 65%, 59% and 63% with majorities of 45% on a 44% turnout. The Labour vote was 14% and became the second party. In 2012, the Conservative vote was 58%, 67%, 63% and 61% on a much lower turnout of 23-29%. This time however the second party was UKIP gaining around 16% of the vote. What we can see is that the Conservative vote in Conservative safe seats has held up well, but by 2012, the core vote didn’t come out in the numbers expected (around 5% less). Our core vote (I am an active member of the Tory party in Billericay) informed us that they weren’t coming out to send a message to the national party to listen to their concerns. The Labour vote stayed relatively constant and if there was a surge, they would have increased their share of the vote by quite a lot, irrespective of turnout but this is false according to these results.
The same is true for the safe Labour wards in Basildon that the Conservatives failed to win in 2010, although they were close contests. In 1992, the Tories won all seats on the council and show how important it is to win safe wards from opponents. Labour held onto the two safest seats with 37% against 31% and 37% against 34%. By 2011, the results were 52% against 28%, 55% against 29% and 58% against 32% (St. Martins was not contested in 2010). These seats realigned to the Labour party after swings from the Conservatives.
Now what is important in this discussion is the swing wards of Pitsea North West, South East and Laindon Park. They were all in the hands of the Conservatives before the election. However, by 2012 they were back in Labour hands.The Liberal Democrats vote dropped off the map.
Whether this is a protest vote against the major parties, or a centre-left protest vote that was typically a Labour vote would be an interesting study to undertake. From my experiences of door to door canvassing, I have only come across one person who actively declared on the doorstep they support the Liberal Democrats and this was in the general election. The UKIP vote grew a lot in 2012, to around 20% of the vote - much greater than the Labour majority in the Pitsea SE and Laindon Park seats.
If these votes were traditionally conservative votes and were a protest vote against the Tory party, then the outcome of the election were statistically significant to be caused by a UKIP candidate standing in the wards. In Laindon Park in 2011, there was no UKIP candidate and the Conservative candidate won by just over 150 votes. If there was a UKIP candidate, then it would be questionable if the Tories would have won. On the other hand, the Tory vote held up in Pitsea SE in 2011 even with a UKIP candidate. Despite this, there was an AV referendum and the Eurozone crisis was not as bad as it is now so these in narrative form could have affected the result.
A question to ask is, what is the UKIP vote? I think it is split into four categories; a new solid core anti-European vote from both Labour and Conservative Eurosceptics, the Tory Traditionalists who support grammar schools and right wing policies, a protest Conservative vote who are disaffected with the current stance of the party or a general protest vote that was once a Liberal Democrat vote. I am convinced that it is the former two, but this is no reason to blame why the Conservatives lost in the swing seats. The party must be competent at the national level on all areas, not just on the European question.
From this short analysis, the bellwether seat of Basildon has shown us some interesting results. Labour have failed to make inroads in the Conservative seats whilst the Tories have lost support in safe Labour wards. The swing votes that went to the Tories in 2010 in Pitsea and Laindon shifted back to Labour in 2012. It's results like these which matter, areas like Basildon which will have to be hard fought by both parties.