“What on earth happened in Leigh?”
That is the question that, on 8th May, everyone was asking. The Lib Dems, the Tories, and the residents of Leigh woke up to find that for the first time in I-don’t-want-to-look-up-how-long they had elected a Tory councillor. (Woke up isn’t exactly right — it was around lunchtime that the result was announced -Ed)
Indeed, the Lib Dem collapse has been pretty much nationwide, so on one level it can’t be surprising that the only council seat that the party were defending at this round of local elections was at risk. I had heard reliable reports earlier in the campaign that they had pulled everyone out of everywhere else in order to try and hold it — the fact that even that wasn’t enough tells a sad story of yellow fortunes.
The quickest way of getting to the core of all of this is to look at the votes, and how they changed.
11.5% is a big fall for the Lib Dem vote, especially for such a locally known name like Peter Wexham. There were local issues over wind-farms and such, and a fair amount of bad blood between the candidates, but honestly this fits pretty well with the general Lib Dem collapse. The surprising thing for the Lib Dems is that even in their fortress ward they weren’t safe from the voters.
Democracy’s a bitch, eh?
But the Tory vote only went up by 4.9%, of which I would imagine a portion are natural Tory voters who simply didn’t turn out in 2014. And given what my little birds have been telling me about Cllr Arscott — which I won’t repeat here, being a) anecdotal, and b) pretty ad hominem — I don’t think he won on the basis of his personal charisma.
So where did that Lib Dem vote go to?
Well it didn’t go to Labour. Despite having an excellent candidate in Dr Chris McGurk, our vote went down by 2.4%. Disappointing? Yes. But probably not surprising given how mullered we were in the national election.
But take a look at the Green Party vote. Jon Mullet took them from not even standing a candidate in 2014, to last place with 11.4% of the vote. Which is all but 0.1% of what Lib Dem former councillor Peter Wexham managed to shed.
Now, I’m no fan of the Liberal Democrats. I’m not going to claim that the yellow party didn’t deserve their whomping, or that I don’t at least partially take a schadenfreude-flavoured joy in it. But there are a lot of voters in Leigh who, seeing their new blue representative, wonder if the Liberal Democrats weren’t the lesser of two evils.
And what of the Greens? Well I’m sure that Mr Mullet and Cross Simon will be upset at my pointing it out, but here as in Milton their main contribution seems to have been to ensure a Conservative win. Not bad for the self-styled only anti-Tory party, eh?
So what happened in Leigh? Unfortunately for Leigh residents, the Green Party happened.