York’s local election

In the aftermath of York’s election I was interested in the sort of things that might get talked about at a general election in terms of a picture changing from election to election. The simple picture was a crushing defeat for the Liberal Democrats as Labour swept to power but in the spirit of Whitehall Watch is there a story in the votes rather than the seats?

First up, the makeup of the chamber before (taking into account the by-election results since 2007):
City of York Council 2007

After:
City of York Council 2011

And you can see from a quick glance how the vote changed from 2007 to 2011

Labour recorded 18,000 votes more on Thursday than they did in 2007 and increased their share of the vote from 27% to 37%. Much has been said about Thursday representing an incredibly bad night for the Liberal Democrats but in York the result was not down to the complete evaporation of Liberal Democrat support. The ruling Liberal Democrats (only) lost 5,000 votes across the city, a similar figure to that dropped by the Conservatives. The other party to shed votes was the BNP whose support shrank by 70%.

Party Votes 2007 Votes 2011 Change
BNP 3,582 1,076 -2,506
Conservatives 37,172 32,788 -4,384
Green 14,337 19,196 4,859
Labour 36,746 54,874 18,128
Liberal Democrats 43,764 38,818 -4,946
Others 829 1112 283

Swing is a favourite statistic to work out and in order to calculate it you take the increase in votes from one party, add it to the fall of the other and divide it by two.

This means a swing to Labour from the Liberal Democrats of 8% with a similar figure for the swing to Labour from the Conservatives of 7.7%.

But there are some more nuances to what actually happened in the city. Although the Conservative party vote fell by 5,000 this is more connected to a reduction in candidates from 47 to 33. In 3 wards, which had contributed 3,724 votes in 2007 there was no Conservative candidate at all. Despite their share of the city’s vote falling to 22% their average vote per candidate increased to 994, more than any other party except Labour.

In contrast, the Green party’s significant improvement overall comes from their fielding an additional 15 candidates. In Clifton, for example, they tripled their candidates and secured an additional 10% of the vote (although their leading candidate only increased her votes by 33). But, apart from Skelton, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without (the neighbouring ward) where they picked up almost 12% more of the vote their performance across the city was fairly static with the average number of votes each candidate received falling by 74.

The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have simply lost seats due to dissatisfaction with the national political picture. In Strensall, Haxby and Wheldrake they lost seats to their coalition partners (Christian Vassie’s loss of Wheldrake compounding a miserable 12 months in politics after last year’s general election when he was unable to dislodge Hugh Bayley).

So the convincing nature of Labour’s victory seems to be much more down to getting people to vote rather than seeing a massive drop in support for either the way the Liberal Democrats ran York or in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster. In 2007 the turnout was 41.8% (approx. 136,000 voters) but this year the extra 10,000 voters in a turnout of 44.7% seems to have made all the difference rather than disgruntled voters switching from one party to another. Edit: of course, I’d failed to think about the aggregating effect of wards where individuals got more than a single vote. The difference between 2007 and 2011 was actually closer to 4,500 voters.

Mind you, given that the majority of York wasn’t voting last Thursday I wonder whether any of these thoughts are in any way relevant.

If you want to pick over the data and point out any of the flaws in my data literacy there’s a spreadsheet on Google Docs.

About Benjamin Welby

Hi, I'm Benjamin Welby. I'm a displaced northerner currently living in Croydon, I church with a group of Christians who meet in a Soho nightclub on Wednesdays and I support Bradford City. I've an academic background in History, Politics and International Development. I work for the Government Digital Service but I left my heart in local government. This blog is infrequently updated and may feature any, all or none of these things...

  • So does this count as a success for democratic engagement? 10,000 more votes sounds like it, but while the turnout is still lower than 50% I think ‘success’ might be a bit strong….

    • bmwelby

      No doubt York’s Labour activists recognise it as a success because it’s ‘job done’.

      Could the LibDems have put more effort into getting the vote out, particularly in the prized ward of Westfield? 3 big hitters, including two former leaders, polled only 500 votes fewer than 2007 but were ousted with a total deficit of about 1,000 votes on a 38% turnout.

      Take the parties out of the equation and a majority of voters choosing to stay at home can’t be seen as success can it? And if it is that’s a telling indictment.