Various polling station signs

Since the election was called I’ve been agonising over which way I should vote. While quitting a party has lots of upsides, it’s actually hard work being a floating voter, especially when we insist on using an atrocious electoral system like first-past-the-post1. I’ve found myself flitting between parties and candidates. A week away from the election, I’m still no nearer a decision.

Battersea is spoilt for choice with candidates this time, with the usual selection of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat joined by Green, UKIP, Socialist and a pro-Remain independent.

Arguably first-past-the-post makes the choice of vote easier, since there’s little prospect, based on the 2015 result, of anyone but Conservatives or Labour winning. Indeed, based on the 2015 result it’s easy to assume it’s a Conservative hold.

Until, that is, the publication of the YouGov election model yesterday and listed Battersea as ‘leaning Labour’. Their model had Labour estimated to get 43% (with a 95% confidence interval of 36-51%) and the Conservatives estimated on 41% (with an interval of 34-47%). It struck me as unlikely, to say the least.

However, it did make question if there was any chance it might be right. I could certainly point to anecdotal evidence it might not be totally outlandish. My own experience (admittedly getting older) was that while the response to the Conservatives on the door was still warm, it never felt quite as effusive as it once did. It was certainly my experience at the time and from observation and gossip since that the local party machinery of the Conservatives—historically quite formidable—was a shadow of its former self and unable to compete with a youthful and energetic Labour party.

The mountain to climb…

The evidence of 2015 was, however, that local campaigns don’t necessary win elections. It was commonly accepted that the Labour party outclassed and outgunned the Conservatives on everything. Everything, that is, except votes in the ballot box. Jane Ellison held the seat with over half the votes cast, 52.4% against Labour’s Will Martindale on 36.8%. For Labour to overturn that it would require a swing of 7.8%.

The only published poll for Battersea, commissioned by the independent candidate, had the Conservatives on 46% and Labour on 38%. The poll was conducted before the recent shift towards Labour in national polling, but still showed Labour some way off the pace.

The YouGov model has a swing towards Labour in its national model, but only 3.5% 1.75%.2 That is arguably suspect, since it goes against the consensus of all the polls published thus far. And it’s hard to see where the other 4% 6% or so of swing is coming from, even if you accept YouGov’s close result.

…and how it could be scaled

A few factors? Labour’s campaigning is getting stronger while the Conservatives are getting weaker. It’s hard to see how this would be reflecting in polls, though, since campaigns are far more about getting people out to vote than changing hearts and minds on the doorstep. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to be a factor in YouGov’s model.

The London bubble, in which Labour somehow seem unaffected by the national unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn (and perhaps buoyed by the regional popularity of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London) may be adding a little to Labour total.

The continued Lib Dem collapse may be playing a part. There were about 5,000 Lib Dem votes ‘lost’ between the 2010 and 2015 election. Again, it’s possible these voters may now be flocking to Labour having abstained or flirted with the Tories.

These may individually get a challenging Labour party a little closer, but the biggest gains, surely would have to come from the EU referendum referendum.

Remain, however, has to be the biggest factor in play. Battersea is a young, international constituency. Wandsworth had one of the biggest remain votes in the country and while constituency results were not declared there was some academic and polling evidence suggesting Battersea was the most pro-remain constituency in the borough. Given that Jane Ellison has long been an ardent pro-European there was understandable disappointment when she failed to represent her constituents and her own beliefs and still voted to trigger article 50.

Can Labour win?

Possibly, but then it’s a theoretical possibility that any candidate could win. Would I share YouGov’s projection? Probably not. They might get a few bits and pieces from some factors, and will probably get a good chunk because of the remain factor (something they are clearly pushing for in their literature). There are definitely many who are angry with Jane Ellison for, as they perceive it, putting her ministerial career before her principals and the national interest. My sense, though, is that many of those would not have been voting Conservative in any case.

So, possible? Yes. But likely, even in YouGov’s nuanced language of ‘leaning’? Probably not: so many things have to stack up it would have to be an outlier.

And my vote? I’m still stuck.

  1. Yes, I once was a supporter of first-past-the-post, but people change and I’m older and wiser.
  2. By my reckoning, I’m only using the very simplistic Butler swing model and not factoring in the potential effects of the smaller parties or independent candidate. I also got this wrong in my initial post, meaning there’s an even bigger mountain for Labour to climb.

The entrance to Queenstown Road station

I cried after the Queenstown election result.

Not last week's by-election, but the 2014 council election. I had, as I always did, become absorbed by the election, throwing myself into a hard fight believing that what I was doing on the doorstep affected the final result.

But after several weeks of missing my kids' bedtimes six nights a week it wasn't enough: we got two of the three seats. Whatever people said, that there was nothing more I could have done, that two of three ain't bad, I couldn't help feeling I'd let that third candidate down. I'd put my heart into the campaign, losing that one seat was one too many.

Now I'm happily detached from party I enjoy elections purely on their own merit: it may lack the highs but it's blissfully free from lows. The most intense emotion I experienced during the Queenstown by-election was the gratitude I was no longer at risk of being sucked into spending every free night and weekend knocking on doors in bitterly cold weather.

Why would the Conservatives have expected to win?

I won't deny that I felt the Tories should do badly. I have written several times about Formula E and why I felt it was wrong for Battersea Park and, yes, I thought there should be some electoral consequences for it. My expectation, though, was still a Conservative gain.

First, national polls have moved in the Conservative's favour since the seat was last fought in 2014. At the local elections in May 2014 the two parties were about level, with Labour, if anyone, tending to be the one that would take a small lead. Currently there is a clear lead for the Conservatives of around 8%. Even taking the least favourable numbers for the Conservatives it still equates to an 8% swing to them.

Second, the demographics should have moved in the Conservatives' favour. While the developments at Nine Elms are far from fully occupied, some people have moved in and I would expect those living there to be more likely Conservative than Labour voters.

Third, the local Conservatives have been better campaigners than Labour. When turnout is low (and who really gets excited about local elections?) a good local campaign that mobilises its vote can make the difference between winning and losing.

Guessing a turnout around 20% (it was actually a bit higher), I'd have bet a Conservative gain with a majority of 150-200. But they lost by over five hundred.

Why did the Conservatives lose?

So, what went wrong? There were a number of factors, some of which I should have included in my initial thinking.

National swing isn't always relevant in a local by-election. London has exists in a bit of a political bubble and, at the moment, there's still something of a Sadiq Khan honeymoon for Labour that you might speculate was boosted by Tuesday's US Presidential election.

While the demographics might have shifted, I know from experience that people who live behind entry-phones are incredibly difficult to get out to vote. Living behind secure entry and concierges creates a different mindset: you pay a service charge to put a barrier between you and the rest of the world. Civic duty and democracy might be important, but it's hard to persuade people to leave their enclave to vote. And to offset any gain there, Formula E remained a bigger issue than I would have expected. Formula E might not be coming back, but a lot of people are still sore about it.

Perhaps most of all I failed to appreciate that while the Conservatives are great campaigners at the big elections (the Parliamentary fights or the whole council elections) they don't always scale down that well. Faced with the prospect of a cold, wet November by-election it's very easy for councillors—the backbone of the campaign machine—to find themselves having to attend to important business in a warm, dry Town Hall.

But why the Conservatives won't worry

The result will be a disappointment, especially to a council that doesn't like failure. But they know they don't need Queenstown and it's much better to learn the campaigning lessons with a single seat, than when all sixty are up for grabs.

And when all sixty are up for grabs it is a different contest. The Conservatives are better at those campaigns, they know their numbers, decide their strategy and move their troops. Plus they have the much easier job of defending a few key seats to retain control than having to win lots of them to take control.

Time is on their side too. Looking to the future, by the 2018 election Formula E will be a distant memory with voters thinking more about who runs (and sets the bills for) council services than exercising a protest vote. Looking to the past Conservative control is the default. It's over 40 years since Labour won control of the council, and over twenty since the Conservatives won anything less than two-thirds of the seats.

Finding examples of councils where control has changed after four decades is very difficult1. The electoral maths and demographics are such that if one party exercises such dominance for such a long time it's more than earned the right to be deemed 'safe'.

Most reassuring of all to the Conservatives will be that this is a seat they wouldn't even be competitive in anywhere else. (Queenstown is not alone but helps show how Wandsworth has defined and re-defines inner city Conservativism2.) The fact that it only has a single Labour councillor after twenty-four years highlights just how dominant the Conservatives have been and how the 'Wandsworth effect'—where voters who would ordinarily be Labour vote Conservative—has come to define local Wandsworth politics.

Were any tears shed after the by-election result was declared? I have no idea. If they were, though, I suspect not by those with wiser and cooler heads than I ever had. The Conservative leadership has a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose; it will not be too worried about one anomalous result.

  1. Well, perhaps not that difficult. The Conservatives lost lots of councils in the 1993 elections but this was in the unprecedented circumstances following Black Wednesday the previous year and many of those councils had been altered less than twenty years before by the Local Government Act 1972.
  2. For interest I did a quick look to see whether the proportion of social renting and Labour voting correlated in Wandsworth, Lambeth, Merton and Richmond. While it didn't produce a nice straight-line the relationship is there. Interestingly, in those boroughs only nine wards with a higher than average proportion of socially rented housing elected Conservative councillors. Six of those were in Wandsworth. You can download the data I used (which I got from the London Datastore) and the graph.

Southfields Tyres: the only Southfields 'landmark' photo I have!

I don’t really do politics. Not on here, and not that much anywhere else. I’ve commented enough on my political evolution to delve into it once more.

However, this has been a remarkable week in politics and I’ve been unable to reflect on it. The major political event locally has been the victory of Kim Caddy, the Conservative candidate in the Southfields by-election.

Congratulations are due to her on her victory, I have no doubt she will be a great asset to the council and Southfields.

But local politics do not exist in a vacuum. Unfortunately.

The past week will never be considered the coalition’s zenith. We have a petrol crisis that seems to have resulted entirely from a few ill-thought pronouncements by ministers. Granny tax was joined by pasty tax and I don’t think the public perception of politicians was enhanced one iota by the various photo opportunities provided by Gregg’s.

A few polls have even showed Labour with a double-digit lead, equating to something like a nine or ten per cent swing from the Conservatives.

So for us, locally, to hold a council seat in a by-election with only a 3.5% swing away from us is pretty good going. And given the national mood music must leave the opposition wondering what on earth they need to do to win a seat.

And then there’s Bradford West.

Only hours have passed, but I’m pretty sure the only rational response is to laugh at the absurdity of George Galloway being elected again. But what is particularly crushing for Labour is the scale of the defeat.

I’m sure that Bradford West may not have been the cleanest election in history. And I’m sure that the large Muslim population was a key factor. But those alone, and even together, surely cannot account for the 10,000 vote majority for Galloway.

If this week hasn’t been the coalition’s zenith, it might well be Labour’s nadir.

A slightly modified version of the London Council's control map

When I wrote that I thought Wandsworth Labour must have been disappointed with their result I didn’t realise quite how disappointed until I looked at how their colleagues across London performed. Much as it pains me to say it, it was a good night for Labour in London.

After the 2006 elections 14 London councils were Conservative controlled, 8 controlled by Labour. Following last Thursday’s election the figures are now 11 and 17. A fairly drastic reversal of fortunes.

Looking at our immediate neighbours the story is fairly mixed. In Lambeth Labour solidified their grip on the borough at the expense of both the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Merton council remains in no overall control, but finely balanced – Labour now hold exactly half the seats, the same position the Conservatives had been in from 2006. Over to the west Richmond has become Conservative controlled, taking 12 seats from the Lib Dems in a two way fight.

Elsewhere Labour took control of Brent, Camden, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hounslow, Islington, Southwark and Waltham Forest. And in some of those the shifts were fairly dramatic, making double digit gains – which brings home Wandsworth Labour’s lack of progress.

It seems fairly clear that the increased turnout of a national election can have a dramatic effect on the a local election poll.

What gets me, though, is the irony that the party who have created a financial disaster nationally have been asked to fix it in so many places locally.


Today I (technically) start my fourth term as a Wandsworth Councillor after a long and hard election.

It’s been an interesting campaign. There’s no shortage of commentary about the national campaign, so I will add little to it, suffice to say I’m pleased to see Justine re-elected in Putney and Jane elected in Battersea. Obviously it’s disappointing that we didn’t get the clean sweep and Sadiq Khan held on in Tooting. I only wish he and his supporters could have exhibited the grace in victory shown in the Putney and Battersea results declared before his, but I think I always knew that would be too much to ask.

But moving onto the local results, I can’t help but think how good they were for the Conservatives and wonder how disappointed the Labour Party must be think weekend. The combined general and local election poll was a great opportunity for them to increase their representation on the council but now they must bitterly reflect that it was an opportunity missed.

Tooting
Most of their gains came in Tooting, getting one seat that had been held by the Conservatives in Furzedown and two in Tooting ward. Fuzedown has always been an ‘odd’ ward, regularly returning a split and this is the first time in my memory that all three councillors have been from the same party. Tooting was always seen as a Labour safe seat and it was an upset when we took two seats there, defeating the then Labour leader Stuart King (who must also be disappointed with the night’s results for other reasons). This time our candidates in both wards put up a hard fight, but it wasn’t enough.

However, Labour failed to make any in-roads into any of the other wards, most notably Bedford, where they must have been hopeful of a Labour gain, but found themselves 350 votes short of taking a seat and over 1,300 short of all three.

Putney
Labour’s only other gain of the evening was in Roehampton. This was a ward we won in 1998 (totally against the odds, the Conservative candidates were so sure of defeat they’d gone for a curry instead of to the count) and have managed to hold ever since. But despite another fierce Labour campaign they only managed to gain one seat, instead of all three. And they totally failed to make an impression in West Hill, the other Putney ward they had been targeting.

Battersea
In Battersea no seats changed hands, Labour held onto Latchmere, but failed to take their target seat of Queenstown. I think this must be one of the few constituencies in London were all council seats were successfully defended, no mean feat and a credit to all the candidates and activists involved.

The net result is a gain of four seats for Labour, giving them 13 councillors to our 47. But given that they must have been expecting at least 15-21 seats doing worse can’t be a good feeling for them.

The challenge for them now is making sure they use what they have effectively. I do not think they were a strong team over the past four years, and were heavily reliant on their leader, Tony Belton (for whom I have a great deal of respect). Time will tell if this will change.

This time tomorrow I’ll be running around like mad working for a Conservative victory, locally and nationally.

And hopefully the result will reflect the months and years of hard work the Conservatives have put into Battersea and Wandsworth, both administratively running an excellent council and politically, campaigning to hold Putney and gain Battersea and Tooting. It’s been a hard campaign, but the response on the doorstep has been friendly and positive.

But for me the saddest part was finding some people who are not voting Labour. Quite an odd thing to say, perhaps, but let me explain.

I am from a Labour family, my father was a docker and my mother worked on a factory line. Perhaps I’m a class traitor, that’s for others to judge, but growing up in the 80s I saw my working class family doing better under the Conservatives. The horror stories of the 80s put about by Labour that I hear now bear no relevance to my life whatsoever. I’m not saying things were easy, but I could see how they were getting better, and I could see how the left were about holding things back rather than moving forward.

But while those formative years left me thinking that just following the traditional Labour line was wrong, I still had respect for the Labour party. It was my father’s party, my mother’s party. We disagreed, but we respected each other’s views.

So when I was knocking on doors in the Shaftesbury Estate and talking to elderly voters telling me they were not voting I was saddened. When we talked further I discovered that they had been lifelong Labour voters. Most could remember the war and Clement Attlee even if they hadn’t been old enough to vote for him. These were people who had the Labour movement in their blood.

But they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Gordon Brown.

And that, to me, is horrifying – Labour have let them down so badly they are breaking the habit of a lifetime and staying at home rather than voting. I can think of no greater condemnation of the prime minister and his government.

What’s worst is that lacking any alternative Labour now peddle fear, trying anything to stop someone else winning. It really is politics at its worst.

The Conservatives offer an alternative. It will be hard, and there are tough decisions to be made. But we want to involve everyone, we want to give everyone the opportunity to help make their neighbourhoods better, whether by hosting a street party, running a neighbourhood watch or starting a new school. We want to reward responsibility, but will hold those who fail to meet their responsibility to account. We want to foster our communities, helping businesses and individuals take pride in their areas and get along with their neighbours. And we will provide value, making sure that your money is spent efficiently and effectively.

Tomorrow is about whether you want start again with an ambitious vision, or want to listen to fear and let that be the foundation of five more years of Labour.

I’m choosing hope and voting Conservative.

Some of the Shaftesbury team on the doors in Stanley Grove

Less than a week to go until polling day now and my election buzz still is starting to kick in. I can only speculate on why it took so long, that it might be things like age (I’m now a family man and supposedly more mature) or that we’ve just been campaigning constantly for so long that it wasn’t really that different when the election was formally announced.

But it also occurred to me today I’ve just not seen any opposition activity.

Perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, but having been on the streets day in and day out for the past few weeks I rather expected I would have seen more. If they are out campaigning they are either doing it elsewhere, or in a very low key way – I’ve not had any leaflets from any other party and have only seen a couple of Labour activists in the ward, one delivering and one who was lost on Lavender Hill.

This is totally different to years gone by. While I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Liberal Democrats campaign in Battersea, the Labour and Conservative Parties had some real battles. In 2005 there was a regular competition to see which of us could muster the most people at Clapham Junction each Saturday. Dozens from either side would run street stalls and, I would imagine, depress trade for the local businesses as people avoided us.

Going further back to 1998 when I was first a council candidate we would regularly cross paths with the Labour candidates on the streets. And just as regularly have a drink with them in The Lavender at the end of the evening. Indeed, we would often all end up in Andersen’s (then the area’s only late night bar, which celebrated its monopoly by selling watery lager and never, ever, cleaning). It was a battle, but it was fun and the rivalry was friendly. Above all, it was personal, we knew each other because we were doing the same thing and got on together because of it – we disagreed about policy, but our motives were the same.

Maybe this time the other parties are campaigning differently, perhaps concentrating on the phones or targeting heavily, so we don’t see them. But I can’t help but feel that we’re losing something when campaigns become so impersonal we don’t even see our opponents.

Instead, I have to console myself with seeing the occasional tweet or dipping into blogs run by opposition activists and candidates. Although these invariably pretend everyone is supporting them (and become so banal and partisan as to be pointless) you can sometimes read between the lines: for example, Stuart King’s blog seems to spend an inordinate amount of time having a go at the Lib Dems, which leaves me wondering if Labour are worried about losing second place there. But generally, it seems we are campaigning in a vacuum here.

That’s not to say I’ve not enjoyed it. It has, so far, been a fun campaign. We’ve set a great pace and covered the ground. Then covered it again. And again. And, in some places, again. If we’ve not managed to see you over the past four weeks (or four years) it’s not because we’ve not tried – it’s because you have a great social life and you’re never in.

And as well as covering the ground, the response has been the friendliest I have ever known, though admittedly I’m using 1997 as my benchmark, and it’s hard to imagine a less friendly time than that to be a Conservative activist!

Now we are entering the final phase, with several days frenetic activity building up to election day next Thursday. Hopefully we’ll make all the hard work – and the friendly response – pay off.

The council have published the final list of candidates for the Battersea parliamentary seat.

I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m a little disappointed, the field has narrowed, and we are now down to seven candidates, the major parties are there, obviously, with the Conservatives Jane Ellison challenging Labour’s Martin Linton for the seat. They are joined by the Liberal Democrat, Greens and UKIP along with two independents: Tom Fox, who opposes corruption and Hugh Salmon who seems to share a lot of Conservative policy (although I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time studying his policies).

We’ve lost two candidates though. The Jury Team candidate, it seems, didn’t manage to get a nomination together and, sadly, the Monster Raving Loony Party didn’t stick to his promise to stand. Why am I disappointed? Because I occasionally enjoy politics and some of these candidates can bring some colour to the race. Sadly, they won’t be bringing it to Battersea.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the nomination of a BNP candidate in Putney. Given that they had managed to nominate a candidate in West Hill, they could clearly get the signatures for a parliamentary nomination (both only require ten people) and the only question remaining was whether they could afford the deposit. It seems they could.

I’m still slightly puzzled by their choice of constituency, as I mentioned with their West Hill nomination, they predominantly take votes from Labour so Putney is a surprising choice given that that the Labour vote there isn’t that high. There isn’t even the argument that there is a media focus on the seat – since most will be looking towards Battersea and Tooting where there are likely to be changes.

Whatever their logic, I hope they get a record low in the polls.

We'd actually spoken to the resident here in the pre-campaign campaign. I hope that's not what has put them off.

Over a week into the formal campaign. And still three weeks to go. Are people fed up yet?

So far it’s been a pleasant experience. I can’t help comparing to my first stint on the Battersea doorstep in 1997 which was, frankly, a depressing experience. As a Conservative campaigning has got better and better with each passing year.

Has it got worse for Labour? Clearly I’ve no idea, I’ve never knocked on a door as a Labour activist, but I can’t help imagining that it has. Our supporters are easier to find and far more motivated to vote than ever before. And while I’m finding Labour supporters (I’m not going to pretend they aren’t out there) I’m not finding enthusiastic Labour supporters.

Back in 1997 we had plenty of supporters, but as I discovered when I was going back to the same doors again and again and again on election day, while they were Conservative supporters they were not, for that election at least, going to be Conservative voters. It’s a simplistic view, but what gave Blair victory in 1997 weren’t the people switching from blue to red, or people voting tactically, but the Conservative voters who stayed at home, while Labour’s vote increased by 2 million between 1992 and 1997 the Tory vote plummeted by 4½ million.

I don’t think we’re on course for a 1997 landslide, the electoral system is too heavily stacked against us for that, but it will be interesting to see how the numbers pan out on the day. It’s a truism, but elections are won or lost on who can persuade their voters to get out and vote. And that’s why we’re out there (annoying some) every day and every night.

As I mentioned at the end of last week the nominations for the council elections closed last week and the statement of people nominated was published today. The full list can be downloaded from the council.

This is the sort of thing that only really interests anoraks like me, but to give you the highlights.

Every ward has a full slate of Conservative, Labour and (surprisingly) Liberal Democrat candidates. I don’t think the Lib Dems have managed that in my memory. Having said that, I’m not sure how committed they are, I know at least one has publicly stated being a paper candidate, and Layla Moran, their parliamentary candidate is also standing for council in Latchmere.

The Greens have fielded a number of candidates, with at least one per ward. Four years ago they managed to beat Labour in a number of places, so might be interesting to watch.

Then there are a few ‘others’:

  • A Christian Peoples Alliance candidate in Latchmere
  • An independent candidate in Southfields
  • A Communist in Tooting
  • And most disappointing of all, a BNP candidate in West Hill

I believe Wandsworth is a remarkably cohesive borough, so it’s a real pity that they feel there’s enough division here to field a candidate (even worse, they are supposedly fielding a candidate in the Putney parliamentary election). What’s particularly interesting, however, is the ward and constituency they have chosen: the BNP takes votes from Labour – so chosing a Conservative held ward and a Conservative held constituency does not seem terribly logical. Given that they won’t win and their aim is, one assumes, a good showing, they’d have been better somewhere with a stronger Labour vote.