Thursday, 24 July 2014

Some thoughts on the recent Cornwall Council by elections

Over the last few weeks there were 2 by elections in the space of 2 weeks the first in Illogan and the second in Mabe, Perranarworthal and St Gluvias. I've had some time to think about the campaigns and the results and now find time to write about them. For what it's worth my thoughts on them. I'll talk about each by election separately and then the meaning for the various parties involved as I see it.(I have copied and pasted result tables direct from with many thanks to @KristoferKeane.)


Illogan was an interesting contest as a by election and there was always a lot at stake for all of the parties and their candidates. In the contest in the Cornwall Council election in May 2013 the Tories had topped the poll, with Mebyon Kernow second and UKIP not far behind in third with a 31% turn out.

2013 Result

PartyCandidateVotesVote %
ConservativeTerry Wilkins33128.8%
Mebyon KernowStephen Richardson29025.2%
UKIPDon Armstrong25922.5%
Lib DemsDavid Ekinsmyth15713.7%
LabourLinda Moore1139.8%

The by election result was as follows with a 32.4% turn out:

PartyCandidateVotesVote %Change
Lib DemsDavid Ekinsmyth27723.8%+10.1%
Mebyon KernowStephen Richardson21718.6%-6.6%
ConservativeAdam Desmonde21518.5%-10.3%
UKIPClive Polkingthorne15613.4%-9.1%
LabourTrevor Chalker12911.1%+1.3%
LiberalPaul Holmes12110.4%+10.4%
GreenJacqueline Merrick504.3%+4.3%

I think it's far to say no one was expecting that result, but was it really a surprise? In some senses no, the dive in popularity of the Lib Dems may have been a factor in 2013 but this problem was circumvented by a number of factors. The Lib Dems had a strong base in Illogan winning in a by election there in 2002 narrowly squeezing out the Liberal Party who subsequently took the seat from the Lib Dems in 2005 again by a close margin. Not forgetting the earlier election that saw the Liberal Party's Paul Holmes win (against the Lib Dems) by such a close margin a judge ordered a recount. So although Terry Wilkin's would win for the Tories in 2009 and 2013, it was far from a no go area for the Lib Dems. 

Also has to be considered is the candidate David Eskinsmyth is a very strong candidate. He has a track record in the area, the candidate and their history in the area and popularity etc can never be underestimated. One of my pet hates with an over reliance on opinion polls is they tend to focus on parties and ignore personalities, many people would rather vote for a candidate they like than for a party. 

The campaigning in Illogan was immense, particularly for MK, the Lib Dems, Labour and UKIP. I was only there once half way through the campaign and on polling day. But in that time I saw 10 Cornwall Councillors from the far corners of Cornwall and 3 PPCs for Camborne and Redruth, who knows how many more through the rest of the election period. I don't think the parties had much more to give in this contest and by far the Lib Dems threw the most at it. 

Mebyon Kernow- the Party for Cornwall had a strong candidate in Stephen Richardson, who had a stunning result from a standing start last year to come second. The addition of the Green party, the Liberal Party and a much stronger Labour and Lib Dem campaign than last year, was always going to muddy the waters. I still feel disappointing that Stephen did not win. He ran a good campaign and managed to bring in people to help him, I don't think he could have done much more and stood up well to the impressive might of the Westminster parties campaigning machines. Obviously there was some votes lost to other parties but by no means a collapse in support. There are lessons for the party from this by election. 

Mabe Perranarworthal and St Gluvias:

Again this was an interesting contest with a rise in parties contesting from 2013. Unlike Illogan which took time from the incumbent resigning until the election, the process here was much more rapid. In a peculiar twist John Ault the Lib Dem candidate was the only candidate to stand in both 2013 and 2014 with a 40% turn out. 

PartyCandidateVotesVote %
UKIPMichael Keogh41328.6%
ConservativeChris Ridgers41028.4%
Lib DemsJohn Ault33122.9%
IndependentChristopher Jackson16011.1%
LabourBetty Ross1298.9%

By election result with a 28.6% turn out:

PartyCandidateVotesVote %Change
ConservativePeter Williams40632.6%+4.2%
Lib DemsJohn Ault40532.5%+9.6%
UKIPPete Tisdale27121.7%-6.9%
LabourLinda Hitchcox1078.6%-0.3%
Mebyon KernowKaren Sumser-Lupson584.7%+4.7%

Again the result was a bit of a surprise and I think UKIP will have been a bit shocked. This was their first by election ever for Cornwall Council and they have already lost one of their first Cornwall Councillors. For the Tories to win was not especially surprising. They held the seat before and were shocked when the previous cabinet member Chris Ridgers lost last year. In terms of previous results, it's hard to really draw any great comparisons historically as the division was very different. 

Peter Williams is certainly a strong candidate, a former tin miner and a factor in their victory. Much like the Illogan by election, this was a hard fought contest, with the place flooded with leaflets, canvassers and teams of doorknockers. We might ponder how the strength of John Ault, who's cv includes lecturer in politics at Tremough, chair of the Electoral Reform Society and being a former Cornwall County Councillor effected the results. 

For Mebyon Kernow is was an interesting election, certainly the focus was more on Illogan than here. Unfortunately there wasn't as strong a campaign here, but a lot was done on a couple of weeks notice. Also we did not stand here before so MK was coming from a standing start. For Karen it was her first time standing and although she works in the division, she does not live there which is never an ideal situation for a candidate. Considering all of these factors Karen did very well and although it is never good to come last in an election 4.7% from 0% is a good result
What this all means for politics:
In terms of what the result meant for the other parties. These elections are crucial most of the Mabe, Perranarworthal and St Gluvias and all of Illogan are in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle constituency. This is widely tipped to be a close run affair next May and every single party thinks they can do well here. In part both of these by elections were a dry run of the campaigning over the coming months. 

To collate the results from both by elections:
2013 elections      2014 by elections
Mebyon Kernow                                            290                             275
Lib Dems                                                       488                             682
Conservatives                                                 741                             621
UKIP                                                             672                             427
Labour                                                           242                             236
Green                                                                 0                               50

(Please note this is more for reference than an absolute marker. Turn out rose 1.4% in Illogan and fell 11.4% in the Mabe, Perranarworthal and St Gluvias poll.) 

I think obviously the Lib Dems felt the happiest about the results. They would certainly like to see it as a sign things are turning around after the low ebb of 2013 where they did very badly indeed resulting in only 1 Cornwall Councillor elected for them. They would hope that it bodes well for Julia Goldsworthy for next year. It certainly isn't a bad result for them, but it is unrealistic that they could put that kind of time and work in everywhere for next year's poll. But perhaps the same can be said of all parties. Also how much was this a victory for David Eskinsmyth and John Ault and how much for the Lib Dems? 

Conservatives will be happy with Mabe Perranarworthal and St Gluvias and should thank every single Tory voter because if 2 of them had stayed at home or voted for someone else they would've lost. To win it back from UKIP is an obvious psychological victory in their tit for tat battles and they no doubt hope voters are coming back to them. I think they will be less than impressed with the Illogan result to go from first to third isn't good and I imagine coming behind Mebyon Kernow hurt their pride. In terms of next May every vote will count, beating UKIP twice in a week is a plus but I'd imagine George Eustice is starting to feel nervy. 

For UKIP these elections were a backward step. Targeting 2 wins was no doubt a target and ought to have been achievable, holding on to existing voters and picking up a handful more theoretically could have done it. Down 9.1% and 6.9% in a week is a bitter pill to swallow. Is this due to the lack of blanket coverage in the media of UKIP recently? or has this fad passed? In terms of May there was a long way to go for them to win in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle before these results but now...

Labour hmm like most parties a mixed result +1.3% in 1 election and - 0.3% in the other. Combined with the fact 1 result was a fifth and the other a fourth, it's hardly outstanding. But then in 2013 they were last in both results and did not repeat that again, so not totally bad. Pretty much the same comment as for UKIP they might fancy there chances and will try to paint next years general election as there's to win but there's not much evidence here for that assumption. I think they'll be fairly disappointed with these results.

The Green party, not a great deal to say, came from nowhere in Illogan and got 50 votes with 4.3% of the vote. I don't think there was a great deal of campaigning by them either. Hard to know what to make of it for them.

Mebyon Kernow absolutely brilliant result will mean Loveday Jenkin will easily win in 2015 ( ; 

Seriously though hard to say really as I am obviously biased and I do think we can get a good result in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle next year. With a strong candidate, a strong campaign in an area we've done well in the past, we can nearly match the might of the bigger parties. Without that it's much more difficult. There is still a lot of work that needs doing, getting our voice heard and building our profile and support base to make a bigger impact in the next general election. That said, we do have a strong candidate and lots of parts of the constituency, we have got our voice heard and do have a solid base already.


There's lessons for all of the parties in these by elections. Are we any closer to predicting next year's result? I don't think so, after all both areas together amount to a tiny proportion. Add to that the time between now and the election and the uncertainty grows. If we were to ignore these facts and look at the by election results alone it would look like Mebyon Kernow, Labour and the Greens were outsiders and that the age old Tory/ Lib Dem dominance would continue. I think it's safe to say that the Tories and Lib Dems are better than anyone else at running election campaigns and when they can focus on a single area they can achieve a great deal. An article on Lib Dem Voice claims that John Ault's campaign included 10 leaflets and every door knocked 3 times. I doubt this kind of focused activity can be replicated when elections are being fought across the UK and activists won't be able to be bussed in from far and wide. To quote the ancient Greek Heraclitus "You could not step twice into the same river." The same sentiment is true of elections, like rivers everything changes, by elections are unique events and everything is up for grabs next year. 

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