Red sky in the morning: How successful really was 2012’s local council elections for Labour?

By Sean-Paul Doran

As the dust settles on one of the most keenly fought local election battles in recent history, MM looks at the emergence of the Labour party as the real winners of the recent battle for political control.

There can be no doubt as to which party will look back on the 2012 local elections with the most fondness.

A shade of red swept through council chambers across the country as Labour wrestled control of 823 council seats and narrowed majorities in many more.

In a miserable weekend for the other major parties, the Conservatives lost 405 seats and the Liberal Democrats surrendered 336, including the seat of Marc Ramsbottom, Lib Dem leader in Manchester City Centre.

Greater Manchester has long held a reputation of being a Labour stronghold and seven of the ten councils in the area are Labour-run.

In contrast, the Conservatives hold just one – Trafford – and may even lose this one if this year’s results are an indication of a turning tide in the area.

Many had pegged the borough as clear cut and predictable, but the results hint at a tide of red sweeping across the council chamber.

Trafford’s Labour leader, Cllr David Acton, spoke of his delight at gaining three seats and increasing the likelihood of Trafford Council turning red in the near future.

He said: “We’ve closed the gap a lot and built a platform to arrest control from the Conservatives.

“At the next election in two years’ time I believe taking back control of Trafford is more than achievable if we continue our progress.”

Although voter turnout was at a particularly low level across the ten councils this year, those who bothered sent a clear message about the political future they want.

Manchester City Council saw a significant drop in turnout with 25.38%, and figures for the city centre ward are thought to be the lowest the ward have ever seen with just 13%.

The Council saw Labour gain 12 seats, including that of Cllr Ramsbottom’s, and the party now hold 86 of the 96 seats in the chamber.

The historic mayoral election in neighbouring Salford saw Labour candidate Ian Stewart voted in as the city’s first ever directly elected mayor, beating Conservative rival Karen Garrido at the second count.

His party had gained eight seats in the local elections the night before and he outlined his plans to work with the council to bring prosperity back to the city.

“I have campaigned on a change agenda. That means change to meet people’s needs,” he said.

“We have to have a vision for the future of our city and we have to have a plan and understanding of how we will meet that vision.”

The Liberal Democrats suffered the biggest losses across the country as the growing unease at the coalition government hit the party’s share of the votes.

Salford’s Liberal Democrat leader Norman Owen lost the Claremount seat he had held since 1999 and then failed to seriously trouble the counters of the mayoral election votes the following day.

Attacking Labour’s success at the polls, he said: “You can’t squander £1.2 trillion, leave the country with £358 billion debt and say it is not our fault.

“They’ve been playing on national politics and it’s worked for them here.”

Despite the re-election of Tory candidate Boris Johnson as London Mayor, Labour’s success in Salford and beyond were seen as an indication of the public’s growing discontent at national politics.

Throughout the country, the Conservatives relinquished control of 10 councils overall whilst Labour gained 22 and held 39 they already controlled.

Labour leader Ed Miliband was jubilant with his party’s success but admitted that the job was far from done.

“This is a Labour party getting back in touch with people,” he said.

“We know that people threw us out two years ago.

“We’ve listened hard to what people have said to us. We are learning the lessons.”

As Labour councillors across the country prepare to move into their new offices, there are definite signs that the party are bouncing back from their electoral crushing at the 2010 general election.

The results in themselves won’t change the face of British politics beyond repair; rather it will be how the parties and the councils deal with their newly-found compositions.

Of course, this could be simply a case of the traditional mid-term blues as people rally against budget cuts, job losses and a growing disillusionment with party politics.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Miliband can secure occupancy of 10 Downing Street in 2015.

Despite currently holding a projected 38% vote share, these results have historically been a somewhat unreliable indicator to how the votes actually are cast.

However, given the strength of the party’s gains in this year’s elections, Labour will have every reason to be optimistic for the next time the country goes to the polls, both locally and nationally.

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