Mayor Result in Bristol Shows Labour Short of a Breakthrough

by Jackie_South on November 25, 2012

Labour’s failure to win the mayoralty of Bristol in last week’s elections shows that the party has a long way to go in the capital of the South West.

Labour did far better than the Coalition parties: indeed, it received 80% more first preference votes than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together. But Labour lost in both rounds by a fair margin to the independent Bristol First candidate, George Ferguson. In case this looks like a complete non-partisan fluke, let us remember that Ferguson’s 42-year membership of the Lib Dems (including his membership of the pre-1988 Liberal Party) only came to an end earlier this year when he decided to stand for mayor. The Coalition vote was clearly suppressed by tactical voting for the more viable Ferguson.

The other worry for Labour is that their share of the vote in the city has not increased since the general election: the chart below compares the first preference results of the mayoral election and the votes tallied by each party in the general election across Bristol’s four constituencies.

Labour won all four constituencies in Bristol in 1997 and 2001, but only two in 2010 (Bristol East and Bristol South). The Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams won Bristol West in 2005, whilst Labour finished third in Bristol North West in 2010 when it lost that seat to Conservative Charlotte Leslie.

The map below shows the wards and constituencies of the city.

Labour is strongest in the southwest and east of the city, with other outposts on the northern edge of the city at Southmead and Avonmouth.

The Liberal Democrat strength is around the central Cabot ward and areas to the west and north, with a further area in the south east of the city.  They are particularly strong in the Bristol West constituency, which might more accurately be described as Bristol Central, as it covers areas to the north, east and south of the city centre.  Cabot ward also includes Bristol University where the student vote helped the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

The Conservatives have a more diverse spread of support, with an area of strength in the north west and others at the fringe of the city.

The Liberal Democrats had outright control of the city until the 2011 elections, and are still the largest party, holding 33 of the 70 seats on the council.  Labour have 21 councillors, the Conservatives 14 and the Greens 2.

This spread of support indicates why Labour did not win: its areas of strength had the worst turnout in the mayoral elections.  It appears that Labour voters were less engaged with these elections, and perhaps the idea of having an elected mayor at all, than others in the city.

To demonstrate this, the map below shows Labour’s support in the most recent council election in each ward.  Note: these are not all from the same election as the city elects a third of its councillors in any election on a four-year cycle – so two-thirds of these results are from 2011 and the rest from 2010.  Given that Labour’s share of the vote did not appear to shift that much between those two years, it should not matter too much for the purpose of this comparison.

Compare this to the map below of turnout for the election for mayor.  Turnout over all was 29%.

Those areas where Labour do worst had the strongest turnout, and where they are strongest had the poorest turnout.

For example, Labour took 9.7% of the vote in Stoke Bishop ward in 2010, whilst the turnout here last week was 32.7%.

Contrast that with their strongest ward, Filwood in the south of the city, where they obtained 64% of the vote in 2011.  Here, turnout was only 12.5%.

The only ward with a lower turnout was another southern ward, Hartcliffe, where a paltry 11.2% of registered voters bothered to vote.  This is another very strong area for Labour: they took 56% of the vote here in 2011.

The best turnout was in the northern Henleaze ward, which chalked up an impressive 42.6%.  This is the ward that saw Labour’s second worst result in 2010 as they only took a 10.4% share of the vote in that election here.

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