Monday, 26 May 2014

Barnet bucks the trend

We like to buck the trend in this borough and last week we did just that.  Barnet is still blue, just.  The trend of Labour making a number of council gains across London did not extend this far, fortunately.

Labour were a couple of seats away from gaining control of Barnet but by my calculations we won significantly more votes across the borough as a whole.  In East Barnet, Brunswick Park, Hale and West Hendon, Labour's victories were by small margins.  For me, the scale of defeat is as important to analyse as defeat itself.  

For Labour to be confident of winning the general election, they should have won the above wards by much larger margins than they did.  These wins do not suggest to me that the voters concerned are wholly enthusiastic about Labour, which four years in to a Conservative-led government is not good news for them.  Conservative losses are not good news for us either.   However, there were positive results in addition to the fact we retained control.  We won two seats in Childs Hill for the first time in a generation and came just nine votes from winning all three.  In Mill Hill, we retained recently won seats with a convincing majority. 

That said, both parties will now be trying to work out what happened and formulate a strategy for the future. In so doing, it would be a big mistake to try and guess crude 'reasons' behind the result and base future strategy around them.

Voter motivation and election results are always difficult to interpret as any student of psephology or rational choice theory will know.  How many people voted on local issues?  How many used the ballot to send a message to the Government but will come back to us in a general election?  Of those who did, what was the message they wanted to send?  How many were primarily interested in the European debate given the coverage it has received?  How much did disproportionate turnout effect things?  Was it a case of one party simply being better at getting its support out than others?  Did Conservative supporters think their party would fare well and put more priority on their busy lives than voting (which is their democratic right)?  Did some Conservative supporting families go away on polling day to take an extended half term break as their schools were closed?  All of these things have an influence but the truth is nobody really knows.  

What we do know is that Local Government is going to have to make even more savings regardless of who is in Downing Street next year.  What we also know is that satisfaction with the council has increased significantly since 2010 and that the Conservatives have a record to be proud of in Barnet.  Yes, we have a majority of one but nonetheless we have been given a mandate to continue our good work.  

In continuing that work the council will need to talk with residents about the challenges ahead, the future of services and what is important to them.  The parties will be doing the same.  Perhaps then we may get an inkling of what happened in certain wards.  Over the next four years we will prove to residents who didn't vote for us this year that we have listened and are delivering for them a borough we can all be proud of.