No need to go into great detail here – all the details are on the council’s website but there are different ways of looking at them.
As with all sets of results they can be interpreted several ways depending on how optimistic/pessimistic you are, how in touch with reality you are, what political persuasion you are and what you want to prove. (As any avid reader of Daryl Huff’s seminal work How To Lie With Statistics knows you can prove just about anything from the same set of numbers)
Here some of the many ways of looking at the results:
1. The Private Frazer approach
As John Laurie used to say in Dad’s Army – “We’re all doomed. Doomed I say!”
On the face of it, thats a pretty good way to sum up an election which saw 13 seats contested and Labour only winning 2 of them, and losing 5 seats which were Labour seats up until this week, and the whole council moving from no overall control to an absolute Tory majority of 7 seats.
2. The turd-polishing approach
On the other hand we can look at the fact that the Labour vote did not totally collapse and go into ‘meltdown’ as everyone predicted. It generally held up fairly well. In several wards our vote increased and our percentage of the vote increased.
In Bewbush our vote increased by more than 140 even though the turnout was a bit down on last year, so our vote went up by more than 12 percentage points. In Maidenbower we got a few more votes on a lower turnout and moved up from distant third to distant second place.
3. The fence-sitting approach
In keeping with the now-legendary ‘third way’ the truth probably lies somewhere between the other two. We do have to accept that we did not do very well at all, but take a positive approach to that. The results were worse than expected, but not a total shock. (I did not waste time filling out the nomination forms for the group AGM, saying what positions on the group or council committees I wanted, and I wonder how many others didn’t bother.)
It is useful to realise that we did not lose because our vote collapsed but because it did not increase while the Tories’ vote did increase. The mistake would be to sit back and wait for the Tories’ vote to collapse again. It is all too easy to say that the result is down to Tony Blair, mid-term blues, Iraq, the terrorist trial verdict, the extra candidates in most wards, and a host of other issues. This is the mindset that assumes everything is down to outside factors therefore we need do nothing different ourselves: just wait for the natural order to re-assert itself. I think the word for that is complacency.
Yes the vote did not collapse completely as predicted, and with so many seats being close, turnouts so low and so many parties involved the effect of small movements can be magnified and result in a disproportionate loss of seats, but that is not the end of the story. In that context maintaining our vote is akin to the last-minute goal a team scores when it is six-nil down – a consolation goal.
When we lost a few seats in 2004 and had our majority reduced it could have been an anomaly or the start of a trend. I think we chose to put the blinkers on and treat it as a fluke. When we lost a few more seats and lost the majority by the drawing of lots it should have been obvious that it was not a fluke, but I am not so sure we really took it seriously enough.
The thing about trends in maths/statistics is that once established they will continue unless a limiting factor causes them to plateau or unless the contributing factors change. OK, there were some factors outside our control which have affected resuts in the last few years, but what have we done to mitigate their effects?
If these latest result can force us to be honest enough to examine where we can improve ourselves locally, regardless of what happens elsewhere, then there really will be some consolation.