Following the news immediately after the local council elections was interesting, in part, to observe the lack of any reference to Oxfordshire. The headlines were full of “Conservative victory”, “Labour disaster”, “UKIP wipe-out” and “Liberal failure” not to forget Lady Macbeth (AKA Nicola Sturgeon) finding the Scottish Conservatives are now her principal and principled opposition and flying the flag for the Union. However, there was no Conservative victory in Oxfordshire; in fact, the failure to regain control of the council was, in my view, a signal failure.
I will repeat the statistics I cited in my earlier blog:
=======Cons Lab Lib Grn Ind
Before 31 15 11 2 4
After 31 14 13 0 5
Change 0 -1 +2 -2 +1
There was no Labour rout in Oxfordshire. They consolidated their position in Oxford City but it worsened in their other bastion – Banbury. The Liberals did better in Oxford City than in the rest of the country, taking 2 Divisions from Conservatives. Interestingly, the Greens lost both of their Divisions to Labour. I find this particularly interesting given that one might have expected the Greens to capitalise on the Corbyn factor. Whether there were local issues in play, I do not know but would be interested to learn.
I suppose there are three factors behind this bucking of the national trend. One is Oxford City, the second is Abingdon & West Constituency and the third is Liberal campaigning skills.
When I was recently in Oxford City, I remember meeting an ex-Vice-Chancellor close to tears over the Brexit vote who regarded it as the end of the world for academic funding. Oxford is full of academics and health professionals who see the public sector as their source of comfortable living. Before they choke on their lobster thermidor, you need to have attended high table in an Oxford College or a dons’ reception to understand how well the academics live in their cloistered world and their dependence on public funding. As for senior health professionals, you need to take a look at their restrictive practices and remuneration processes to understand their dependence on state funding not to mention the continuing financial pressure on the NHS. Because of the predominance of the public sector in Oxford City, I suppose it is no surprise that Labour did as well as they did.
Banbury was different and I suspect this reflects the majority vote for leave in Cherwell. Although it was marginal, I would not mind betting that there was a bigger Leave majority in Banbury counter-balanced by Remainers in Kidlington with its closeness to Oxford City.
Turning to Oxford West and Abingdon Parliamentary Constituency, this was always one of the strongest Liberal constituencies in the country so it is little surprise that they managed to tip out Sandy Lovatt who was a past chairman of our weakest constituency in Oxfordshire.
Slightly more surprising was the loss of the Charlbury & Wychwood Division to the Liberals in West Oxfordshire. Of course, West Oxfordshire showed a strong Remain vote in the referendum while Rodney Rose never hid his wish to Leave and whether this was part of the problem we may never know. It was certainly a resounding Conservative defeat and I think the voting numbers are instructive:
============ Con Lib UKIP Lab Grn
2013 votes 1,199 900 461 267 220
2013 % 39% 30% 15% 9% 7%
2017 votes 1,579 2,105 210 132
2013 % 39% 52% 5% 3%
These figures are quite telling, I think and a lesson to all local politicians. While Rodney Rose’s share of the vote remained constant, the Liberal share shot up from 30% to 52% while the turnout soared from 38% in 2013 to 50% in 2017. I suspect the Liberals targeted this Division, poured in their troops and turned out the vote. I suspect most of the UKIP votes went to Rodney Rose but he failed to turn out his supporters in anything like the hordes that the Liberals managed.