This is the first election I can remember when people were looking to blame the national party leader for the result before the first vote had been cast, never mind counted. Outside Scotland, which I will discuss later, the results were somewhere between OK and good.
Winning all the mayoral elections - including London and Bristol, both of which were lost last time - would have been described as a breakthrough by political commentators in any other year, except it did not fit into the current media thinking.
In Wales, we lost one seat, which is attributable to the enormous publicity gained by Plaid Cymru’s leader over the last two elections. As party leaders get more publicity during election campaigns, the unintended consequence appears to be a massively increased vote in the constituency they are fighting.
In Scotland, although the result for Labour was better than last year, it was hugely disappointing to only win three constituency seats, but putting it into context the SNP won 7 constituency seats in 1999 and 9 constituency seats in 2003. Labour in Scotland is still paying the price for campaigning with the Tories against independence.
The English council elections were better than the critics expected. As Parliaments since 1979 have usually been 4 years, with 3 exceptions, also except for this year, the governing party lost parliamentary seats at that election, meaning that council gains were almost inevitable. These council elections were last fought a year into the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, when Labour made gains.
Six key points I have learnt, as a candidate, from the election:
1. All politics is local: the issues I was given on the road outside polling stations were traffic speed; apprenticeship with the council; housing repairs; blocked drains; overhanging trees and overgrowth.
2. Internal party disagreements hurt: the average voter pays little attention to the issue but just sees a split party.
3. When party leaders are given huge media coverage, it gives them a huge boost as a constituency candidate, as can be seen by the increase in the votes for both Kirsty Williams and Leanne Wood in Wales. Labour’s one defeat in Wales can be clearly linked to the profile and exposure that Leanne Wood had during the General Election and Assembly Election. This is a consequence of the “presidential” style elections we now have.
4. Candidates matter: victories by Jane Hutt in the Vale of Glamorgan, Julie Morgan in Cardiff North and Ann Jones in the Vale of Clwyd owed a lot to hard the work done locally, personal popularity and some close associations with the locality and key local organisations.
5. Social media works - but not as well as word of mouth and text messaging amongst friends and we failed to use the new members and supporters to spread our message in the workplaces, the community centres and amongst friends and neighbours.
6. Campaigning is important - but it has to be done over 5 years not 5 weeks. People who meet you are more likely to vote for you and more likely to vote than people who do not know you. Visits to community groups and interest groups builds your profile and you cannot be in the local paper, on local radio or on television too much. People will mainly forget what you said but just remember that you were in the media.
These are just personal thoughts and I am sure that others will have different opinions.