Friday, 4 May 2012

Well, we lost

In Hastings, near where my father lives, we've just had the district council elections. We Liberal Democrats were hoping to take Castle ward off of Labour. But we didn't. Nor did we win Maze Hill, our other target ward.

This is a real shame as it means that we no longer have a presence on the council - which is bad for Hastings as well given that the Labour and Conservative council groups tend to spend much more time bickering with each other than looking out for the interests of Hastings.

Looking at the positive side, however, this was the first proper campaign Hastings and St Leonards Lib Dems have run in a while due to a prolonged period of infighting and decline following the failure to win the seat in 1997 where we came within a hair's breadth of victory. This sort of decline is often referred to as "target seat syndrom" but, thankfully, it came to its final end in Hastings in the past two years and the party is now becoming reorganised and developing a proper campaign machine.

As I said, we were hoping to take Castle ward from Labour, but this would have required a 20% swing and this, under the current political climate, was never very likely - even if we liked to think it was. On top of that, the last reliable canvass data we had was from 2008 (and the Coalition had made all of that inaccurate), and we didn't start campaigning properly until January. So, all in all, the results aren't too bad.

We managed to increase our share of the vote by 10 points - which translates to about 100 extra votes on a turnout that was 5 points lower than last time. Labour increased their share of the vote by about 1 point, while getting about 70 fewer votes - which isn't that surprising given the lower turnout of 30%.

What is interesting is how accurate our data is and how it breaks down. We canvassed about a quarter of the ward (which contains about 4,500 voters) and, looking at the result, I think we got our estimation of our share of the vote on election day about 100% accurate. The problem seems to be that a lot of people who we hadn't canvassed voted Labour. My guess would be that Labour ran a very effective postal vote campaign (about a third to half of the votes cast were by post) and managed to win it on that. This isn't too surprising given that I've seen Labour run very effective telephone canvassing campaigns before when it comes to postal voters - which means it will be interesting to see from their election expenses exactly how much they spent on IT.

But, assuming we got our canvass data pretty accurate, then we've got a lot to build off of for next time. Despite having new, unfamiliar election software, quite a few inexperienced activists, limited resources and starting the campaign late, we managed to get about half a dozen rounds of leaflets delivered to the entire ward and to manage a 4.5% swing to us from Labour while they were in the ascendant across the rest of the country. Which is a fairly promising indicator of what we might be able to do next time now that we've got good data to work off of and a well run campaign under our belt.

So the next thing for us will be knocking up all of those who definitely voted for us and trying to convince them to join the party - with a bit of luck we'll get enough new activists that we'll no longer need to rely on the candidates to help deliver leaflets.

And, in case you're interested, the full results are as follows:

Castle - Election Result

Borough Council Election, 01 May 2008
Turnout: 36.7%
Barlow   (Lab)   718   (46.5%)
Smith   (Lib Dem)   286   (18.5%)
Allane   (Con)   246   (15.9%)
Dumas   (Ind)   168   (10.9%)
Turner   (BNP)   83   (5.4%)
Stewart   (Ind)   43   (2.8%)

Lab Gain
Swing (from 2004): 19.1% from Lib Dem to Lab

Castle - Election Result

Borough Council Election, 03 May 2012
Turnout: 31.9%
Rogers   (Lab)   644   (47.5%)
Perry   (Lib Dem)   388   (28.6%)
Rowe   (Con)   170   (12.5%)
Bossano   (Green)   153   (11.3%)

Lab Hold

Swing (from 2008): 4.5% from Lab to Lib Dem

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