Grant Shapps, the former Conservative Party Chairman, bet £50 on the Conservatives winning an overall majority. I had rather more confidence in our Party’s prospects and bet £100 on the same proposition. That leaves me with the problem of how to spend my £750 proceeds. Mr Shapps has already spent his winnings on drink.
Yet I was not surprised that we lost seats to Labour in London. My optimism was based on expectations, which thankfully proved valid, that these losses would be more than offset elsewhere – for example in Wales.
Last year the local election results saw a poor Labour performance outside London. Since then I suspected that the Conservatives would face losing seats to Labour in the capital while gaining seats overall.
Even within London the council results gave us a clue. In the council elections last year in Hounslow we lost 14 seats– more than half our seats. Last week we lost the the Brentford and Isleworth constituency in that borough. In the Ealing council elections last year we lost 12 seats exactly half our previous tally. Last week we lost the Ealing Central and Acton constituency. In Enfield in the council elections the losses were more modest at five – but that was still a discouraging signal for the Enfield North constituency which we lost last week. Similarly in Redbridge we lost five seats and then went on to lose Ilford North at the General Election.
A happier contrast was provided by gaining control of Kingston Council and gaining nine seats in Richmond. These proved to be a pointer to gaining Parliamentary seats from the Lib Dems in these boroughs.
Keeping power in Barnet and Wandsworth was followed by victories in Battersea and Hendon in the General Election. In Harrow we only lost one seat in the council elections – then Bob Blackman was easily returned last week for the Conservatives in Harrow East.
I don’t want to make too much of this. It is significant that the seats Labour gained from the Conservatives in London were all by narrow margins. For instance in Ealing Central and Acton there is now a Labour majority of just 274. The council elections would have indicated a worse set of defeats.
Of course there will be different issues in local and national elections, differential turnouts and over the course of a year voters can change their opinions.
But in future General Elections it would make sense for more attention to be paid to the council results in the wards making up each constituency. This is certainly not to suggest opinion polls should be ignored – merely that previous local elections should be included as a larger ingredient in the psephological mix.