Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
UK local elections were held on May 2 in England and Northern Ireland. With all 248 English councils that had elections declared, the Conservatives won 3,562 councillors (down 1,334), Labour won 2,023 (down 82), the Liberal Democrats 1,350 (up 703), the Greens 265 (up 194), the UK Independence Party (UKIP) 31 (down 145) and Independents won 1,045 councillors (up 606). The Conservatives won majorities in 93 councils (down 44), Labour in 60 (down six), and the Lib Dems in 18 (up ten). This was the biggest loss of councillors for the Conservatives since 1995.
This year’s council elections tended to be in Conservative-friendly territory, explaining why they easily won the most seats despite big losses. The BBC’s projected national share (PNS) of votes adjusts council results to what would occur if the whole UK held council elections. This year’s PNS was 28% Conservative (down 7% since 2018), 28% Labour (down 7%) and 19% Lib Dems (up 3%). Arguably the Greens should have been included. The last time most of these seats were contested was in 2015, the same day as the general election at which the Conservatives won a majority. Changes from 2015 were Conservatives down 7%, Labour down 1% and Lib Dems up 8%.
The lost Conservative votes did not go to UKIP, which did terribly too. UKIP has become associated with Islamophobia, which its former leader Nigel Farage avoided. Conservatives who felt betrayed by their party’s handling of Brexit were not comfortable with voting for UKIP, but are likely to vote for Farage’s new Brexit party at the UK’s EU elections on May 23. The latest EU election polls have the Brexit party either tied or leading Labour, with the Conservatives in the mid-teens.
With the Brexit party not running in the local elections, and with UKIP unviable, there was no hard Brexit alternative. I believe the Lib Dems and Greens benefited from both sides of the Brexit divide. Those who wanted a more pro-Remain position than Labour voted Lib Dem and Green on policy, while Leavers who were angry with the Conservatives voted Lib Dem or Green as a protest vote.
The dire results for the Conservatives will increase pressure on Theresa May to resign, and allow someone more committed to Brexit to take over. But neither major party is doing well from the Brexit uncertainty.
Left-wing parties win Spanish election
At the Spanish election held on April 28, the left-wing Socialists won 123 of the 350 seats (up 38 since the 2016 election) and the further left Podemos 42 seats (down 29). The conservative People’s Party (PP) had a disaster, winning just 66 seats (down 69), the right-leaning Citizens won 57 seats (up 25) and the far-right Vox entered Parliament with 24 seats. Overall, national left-wing parties won 165 seats (up nine) and national right-wing parties won 147 seats (down 20). Mostly left-wing regionalist parties won the remaining 38 seats. It is the Socialists’ first victory since 2007. It appears that the Socialists will try to govern as a minority.
In my previous article, I mentioned that Spain’s system rewards the bigger parties more than straight proportional representation. The combined vote share for the Socialists and Podemos was 43.0%, actually down 0.8%. However, the Socialists, with 28.7% of votes, won 35.1% of seats. The combined share for the PP, Citizens and Vox was 42.8% (down 2.9%), but because the PP crashed 15.9% to fall to 16.7% – its worst result since the first election it contested in 1989 – the right vote was more fragmented than the left. Turnout was 75.8%, up 9.3% since 2016.
The Senate uses first past the post by province, with the 47 mainland provinces having four senators each. The Socialists won 123 of the 208 elected seats (up 81), the PP 54 (down 73) and the Citizens four (up four). Podemos lost its 11 seats and Vox did not win a seat. With regional appointees, the Socialists have 141 of the 266 total seats – a majority of the Senate on just 28.7% of votes! Isn’t first past the post a wonderful system? (sarcasm)