I would like to think that I got close to winning an "unwinnable" seat for a small party because a lot of people no longer care about the political label but are prepared to vote for anyone they think is half way straight and honest. So my thanks go out to all those normally Conservative or Labour voters who were quite happy to vote for a Green candidate. Nevertheless a lot of people are, understandably, very bored by politics and still vote the way they normally do regardless of the quality of the candidates or the arguments any particular candidate puts to them. I was facing a particularly weak Conservative candidate but the label was enough for a lot of folks to vote for her regardless. And the Labour party split my vote and let her in!
When it comes to national elections I have always believed that you have to take the results at face value and it is daft to blame the press and the BBC for reporting bias just because they don't share your own partisan analysis of the results. I no longer think it is that simple. In his first budget after the last election George Osborne cut the BBC's income by around £1bn and the Conservatives have made it very obvious that if they don't like the coverage they will go after it hard again. This does not make for brave objective reporting. When you put that together with journalist who struggle to understand that conventional wisdom about what voters will do no longer applies you get a seriously flawed analysis from the BBC. Too many reporters didn't seem to me to be willing to change what they intended to say just because of a pesky little thing like the actual facts.
I don't support Labour. I am not impressed by the way a large number of its MPs have tried to ignore the popular membership vote for Corbyn. Nor was I particularly taken with the way so many of them loyally voted for bad wars, cheered Brown to the rafters when he told us he was putting an end to boom and bust just before the crash, or offered the voters the opportunity to put the party of austerity light into power in 2015. But I try not to let my disagreements with them interfere with a hard objective assessment of how they have actually done in an election.
So I have continued to assert the factual mathematical truth that Labour didn't actually lose any share of the vote in 2015. What happened was the Lib Dems lost seats to the Conservatives and that's why we got the government we did. And I'd also quite like to assess 2016 local elections also on the basis of the numbers. As I write this they are as follows in terms of seats won in England:
Labour won 1,280 seats - down 24
Conservatives won 753 - down 35
Lib Dems won 341 - up 39
UKIP won 58 - up 26
Greens won 32 - down 1
The comparisons are with 2011 not with 2015. That was one year after the coalition came in and raised tuition fees and was quite a bad year for the Conservatives. So holding steady and winning over 500 more seats than the Conservatives was actually a decent result for Labour in England. Labour didn't cling on by their fingernails. They actually did rather well.
In the case of London they did spectacularly well. It is normally a close contest and holding the seat had turned Boris Johnson into one of the most prominent Conservatives. They fought a very dirty campaign to try and hang on to it. They lost hands down. Labour got around 44% of the votes, the Greens a further 5.8% whilst Conservatives got the desperately low score of 35%. This wasn't down to any UKIP split. They only got around 3.6% of the vote in fifth place. It was down to Conservatives losing a lot of votes to Labour in the largest and arguably the most important contest of the night. In my book that counts as a pretty dramatic victory.
Across the rest of England Labour also did very well and UKIP failed to break through. Even in Rotherham, after all that had happened with the child abuse scandal Labour won and there was no breakthrough for UKIP. Nowhere in the UK did Labour lose an important council and they easily won both parliamentary bi-elections. They are a long way from being a spent force yet and it is entirely possible that having someone like Corbyn who actually seems to honestly believe what he says is the reason that they didn't go into the kind of tailspin they did in Scotland. This would be in keeping with the reason that a lot of Scottish people who voted to stay in the UK vote for the SNP. They respect a party that seems to have a high proportion of honest people who say what they really think rather than what they think is more likely to help get them elected.
Saying things that voters think you actually believe is no longer electoral suicide. It is now a necessary electoral asset. Even the Conservatives benefit from this. Their central message is that we need to take money out of your pocket to avoid economic problems in the future and in 2015 more people voted for austerity to be inflicted on them than any other option. They may have lied about a lot of other things but you can't accuse them of covering that one up.
Even when almost everyone in the media tells the voters that a politician is so extreme that they are unelectable it is no longer true. Hence Corbyn winning the Labour leadership. This isn't just a UK trend. It is the single most important lesson from the primaries in the States. I don't like Donald Trump. I don't think he is honest and I think his policies are deeply divisive and dangerous. But you can't accuse him of pandering to the opinions of the popular press. He has won despite the media not because of some conspiracy by it. The same is true of Saunders. An openly Socialist politician is winning shed loads of votes in the United States. That isn't supposed to happen. But he inspires trust.
I think the reason for this is that each form of the media tends to give you a different era of politics. The era of radio, when voters were first exposed to mass media and almost everyone in the nation heard the same broadcast, was ideally suited to propaganda. It produced some very unpleasant dictators such as Hitler and Stalin. The age of TV gradually produced politicians who were very good at looking good and producing short term sound bites that appealed to the centre ground. You got in if you found out what the opinion polls said and then repeated that back to the voters quickly. Hence the election of politicians like Blair who were at their most popular when they didn't really stand for anything except what they thought most folks wanted to hear. The age of social media is different. You have to inspire people. A good twitter storm can over-ride weeks of newspaper coverage and TV bulletins. Because a lot of people get their news and views from friends over the internet it doesn't matter so much if the media doesn't think you are electable. What matters is whether a large group of people will make Facebook comments about you that are positive.
That creates some scary possibilities. It makes it easy for very nasty people to put forward horrible extremist views that were previously unacceptable and to win elections by appealing to the lowest common denominator. But it also creates a much more positive possibility. Plug away honestly at what you really believe and if what you say resonates with the public then you can bypass the opinion of the mainstream media and get those ideas accepted. That seems to me to be a fundamentally optimistic situation. We are in an era when no one can control which ideas you encounter and that gives a chance for different voices to be heard. If we want the world to change then we have a much better chance of achieving that than we ever had in an era where you needed several million pounds in order to own a TV station before you could have your say. On the morning after losing an election that under any fair electoral system I would have won I find that a re-assuring thought.