Friday, November 21, 2008

Liberal Democrat Run Tower Hamlets Borough Council - never ever again?!

Liberal Democrats not winning hereYesterday there was a by-election in the Mile End East ward in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The result was as follows:

Rachael Mary Alice SAUNDERS (Labour) 1208 47.3354232% (+15.11246805)
Motiur RAHMAN (Conservatives) 630 24.68652038% (+12.46136646)
Hafiz CHOUDHURY ("RESPECT") 604 23.6677116% (-3.794909334)
Jainal CHOWDHURY (Liberal Democrats) 110 4.310344828% (-17.94119431)
TOTAL 2552

(A word of caution. There are several different ways to calculate party percentages in multi-member wards, each with their own advantages and drawbacks, and I've used the method that assumes all voters used all their votes in 2006 - see Croydon Official Monster Raving Loony Party: Croydon 2006 for a summary of methods, mine is "Method B". At the last regular election not only did Mile End East have a huge amount of ticket splitting by normal standards but also Hafiz Choudhury ran as an independent, getting 5.837730871% of the vote. One could in theory add that to the "RESPECT" share, but it's not standard practice.)

It has been a good by-election to campaign in - our candidate, Motiur Rahman, is one of those people who can inspire activists to stay out far longer than they planned. The Conservative result is the best in living memory in the ward in both absolute and % terms (see Wikipedia: Tower Hamlets local elections and also Tower Hamlets Borough Council Election Results for earlier results - Mile End East takes in most of the old Limehouse ward with some of the old Bromley ward).

Now there's a lot that can be said about the various candidates and parties (and I was semi-surprised to see Rachael Saunders, a familiar name from Labour Students from years past in the NUS) but whilst the "RESPECT" vote has continued to fall (a decline even sharper when you consider the votes Choudhury got as an independent in 2006) as flash parties invariably do, perhaps the most significant long term sign is that Liberal Democrats in the borough are crashing and burning, after a long history here.

Tower Hamlets has a long Liberal/Liberal Democrat tradition - before Simon Straight Choice Hughes's victory it was the last part of Inner London to elect a Liberal MP when Sir Percy Harris held the Bethnal Green South West seat in the 1935 general election and although he lost the seat after the war he successfully returned to the London County Council, with Bethnal Green sending the only Liberals. Harris's campaign methods were in many ways the forerunner of "community politics" used in the borough. Even in the 1950s Bethnal Green had a respectable Liberal share.

More recently the Liberals/Liberal Democrats grew electorally in the borough, controlling it for eight years and producing one of the most notorious administrations in recent local government history, including being served notice by the Commission for Racial Equality. The tensions stirred up saw the first ever British National Party electoral victory in the borough. Fortunately both the BNP councillor and the Liberal Democrat administration were thrown out in the 1994 elections. But "Liberal Democrat Run Tower Hamlets Borough Council" still remains a dirty term.

The Liberal Democrats briefly reversed their decline in 2002, but then crashed again in 2006, losing nearly 2/3 of their seats to Labour (the one shift in the borough the media failed to spot) and now have just four councillors. They are the smallest party on the council and look to be in terminal decline. Does anyone believe they will one day again ru(i)n the borough?


Anonymous said...

It is surely debatable that Percy Harris was the forerunner of the Focus and the franchise politics - where is the evidence? Spitting Image clips won't cut it...

Good call with the 8 decimal place figures (we wouldn't have seen past the bar charts to see the true Lib Dem decline without them), and with following the Croydon Loony in matters psephological!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The large decimal place figures are because when I transcribed the results last night for a forum I used Excel to calculate the percentages. Copy & paste reproduced them easily. And the method I used to calculate the original percentages is quite widely used (though not universal - indeed John Loony's page gives all three main methods) and the Croydon page was the best place I could think of for linking to an explanation. And there's nothing wrong with looking to the Loonies when discussing the Lib Dems - remember when the OMRLP spokesperson said of Lib Dem policies:

"I am afraid that kind of nonsense would find no place in the Official Monster Raving Loony Party manifesto. We're loonies, not nutters."

As for Harris's campaigning methods, the Oxford DNB says:

He did so [win six times in a row] by assiduously building up voluntary organizations such as the Bethnal Green Men's Institute and by holding weekly surgeries, as a result of which Harris's agent, George Holmes, became known as the 'poor man's lawyer' (The Star). These activities were not innovations in Bethnal Green's political life but were later claimed as antecedents of Liberal community politics.

Anonymous said...

Well now I see where you are coming from - but you really shouldn't associate anyone noble enough to represent the poor of Bethnal Green out of the goodness of their hearts, with tactics used to win the votes of the poor (and the rich, and anyone neither rich nor poor but somewhere in between...) for purely personal ends in the later half of the 20th century. :)


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