What’s the real story behind the local government elections?


More musings on the election results – being presented through a broken mainstream media

There are so many different ways to spin the various statistics coming out from these elections that everyone has won.

“Robert Kilroy-Silk, The Party for Working Socialism, The Natural Law Party – Puffles gave your boys one hell of a beating!!!”

…because they weren’t on the ballot paper. Therefore Puffles wins 😀

News-at-Nige vs the numbers

The TV press has been all over the UKIP leader like a rash. Many of my followers on Twitter have been calling out the BBC in particular on this – saying the coverage is disproportionate to the number of votes and candidates they have to the mainstream parties.  You might also be under the impression that UKIP did better than the Liberal Democrats. But what do the numbers say?

So Labour got more than all of the others put together if we look at the results as a snapshot.


If you look at the trends, it doesn’t look good for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats at all. But the Liberal Democrats in particular are still a force – even though not big as they were in the run up to the 2010 general election.

If you look at the share of the vote, UKIP has fallen compared to last year. But because they were contesting seats that were not up for election last year (this was the 2010 cohort), in one sense it’s a bit of a false comparison. The Liberal Democrats were always going to take a kicking from the electorate.

Total number of councillors

There are 21,000 or so local councillors across England & Wales. So in terms of percentage of councillors overall, parties like The Greens and UKIP have a very small share. UKIP going by this and last year’s results probably have around 300 councillors, and The Greens have just over 140. So we’re not really talking about surges – more a case of ripples on the duck pond.

“Why are the media spinning it as such?”

They’re bored?

The nature of short news soundbites that was honed by Blair’s machine in the 1990s has come back to bite the political parties. Journalists no longer have conversations with politicians human beings, they have conversations with people programmed to regurgitate lines to take that they’ve been fed. Hence the challenge for journalists is to try and ‘catch out’ the politicians by getting them to say something that they’ve not been pre-programmed to say. So when someone like Nigel turns up, it can seem like a breath of fresh air in comparison. Why bother chasing after a senior politician who is simply going to repeat a line in a pre-prepared press release when you can follow Nigel who is going to be more engaging and conversational instead? (Irrespective of his policies).

Off the cuff remarks

I remember recently watching Douglas Alexander MP of Labour being torn to pieces by Andrew Neil on the BBC recently – desperately trying every trick in the political book not to answer Neil’s questions. Again, irrespective of Neil’s politics (he’s a climate change sceptic for a start), he is a very good and impartial interviewer – giving everyone a real good going over. Mr Alexander tried the ‘I’m not here to talk about…’ and the ‘So you don’t think that X, Y and Z are important?’ responses. Not surprisingly, watching audiences were not impressed. So how was it that Nigel Farage was able to get away with: “We’re in Essex – why are you asking me about London? Ask me questions about Essex!” When a journalist asked him about UKIP performing badly in London. (They scored highly with voters in Essex). Compared to other politicians in the mainstream parties, Farage is much better at closing down lines of questioning than others – the above being a reasonable example. But that’s also because journalists themselves are not nearly as well researched as they could be. When a journalist does their homework, the results can be devastating – as Farage discovered.

Puffles and the media – so many interviews yet so few votes?

It was something that struck me following the polls. For the candidate that got the fewest votes in the elections in Cambridge in 2014 (but more than UKIP in 2010! – see here), me and Puffles got far more media coverage than most of the other candidates. But why?

We are new and different

There was a ‘Who is this new person/thing all about?’ element. Prior to the election campaign, my local news media profile was almost non-existent. It was only when I threatened to stand for election that I first registered – see here. This was followed up when I announced I was going to stand – see here. Being different helped too – different in standing as an independent and on a platform that overturned some of the basic conventions – such as campaigning to win rather than campaigning to raise awareness and put people in touch with other parties.

We made ourselves available

Using social media and continuously commenting and analysing things meant that there was this constant stream of material for journalists to use. It also made it much easier for them to get in touch as and when they needed to, rather than having to make the efforts to do the research themselves. In that regards, I was also a bit (well…a lot) of an attention seeker. How many other candidates from other parties in wards safely held by other parties made the effort to reach out to the mainstream media?

We went to the places and events journalists went to

For example (and I use ‘we’ as in ‘me and Puffles) went along to a number of council meetings and hustings, commenting publicly in debates but from a different perspective. In the local news media that in itself can become newsworthy because it’s different to the things that normally come up.

The novelty value of Puffles the cuddly toy

It makes for funny photographs that you don’t normally see in politics and with politicians.

Being personable to as many people as possible – and not caring about what the wider world thinks of you

Some people found what I was doing was making a mockery of democracy and making a fool of myself. Understandable points of view. But at the same time, if you are doing something positive and constructive, are nice and friendly about it and also stop caring what random strangers think about you, a huge weight is lifted off of your shoulders. Take feedback from family and friends by all means – in particular where they strongly justify and evidence what they are saying. But if it’s just angry shouty ranty people, why bother? Especially if the feedback you’re getting from everyone else outnumbering them is much more positive.

“Final thoughts?”

For those of you active at a local level, I summarise my advice as this:

  • try new things (because if it’s not new, it’s not ‘news’)
  • make yourself available online & go where the journalists go offline
  • be nice – even when others are not nice back

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