In a general election dominated by tactical voting, split decisions, and unintended consequences, the constituents of Lancaster and Fleetwood have shared in the quiet political consensus of the country. Despite bucking the trend of conservatism by electing a Labour MP and mainly Labour council, local voters were led to their result by the very same thoughts and inclinations as the rest of the UK, and have shown a certain political wisdom in times of confusion.
Lancaster’s new MP, Cat Smith, far from defying national trends, epitomises the country’s uncertainty towards party politics. Smith commands a majority of 1,265, which is enough to deter LUSU from holding a “1265” campaign in 2020 but not nearly enough to secure Labour’s future in the region. The figure neatly reflects Labour’s modest performance around England – wildly underestimated by the media at present – where the party lost marginal seats by only a few hundred votes, but repeatedly. Lancaster has also typified the election by mustering an almost perfectly average turnout and by marking out the Liberal Democrats as the constituency’s lowest-scoring party.
Another surprising feature of the election to replicate in Lancaster is tactical voting. In a climate of tiresome desperation and self-doubt, people around the UK are starting to make do with second best, voting for weak candidates in order to shut out catastrophic ones. The Sun and Daily Telegraph tried to convince UKIP drones to vote Tory, and The Times pushed Tory loyalists in certain constituencies to vote Lib Dem and, so, shut out Labour. Cat Smith embraced this tactical fad and put up adverts around town bearing a graphic depiction of the tiny Green vote in Lancaster after 2010, and I have no doubt in my mind that Smith would have lost the election without a large chunk of this year’s Green roots.
As a public servant to the region, Smith may do alright. Her influence in the party has grown now that Labour has lost many of its back and front benchers, and her distinct left-wing principles may encourage her to vote with her conscience in Parliament more often than with the fragile party line. Smith is also unlikely to become complacent; Lancaster is by no means a safe seat and changes hands almost on a rota.
The remainder of the North West is a more obvious demonstration of the national trend. Morecambe and Lunesdale reinstated their Tory MP with a majority of 4,590, while Wyre and Preston North returned their Tory with a generous 14,151. Subsequently, our constituency is surrounded by Conservative holds, our only cartographic escape the slightly lighter blue of the Irish Sea.
City Council results were, without being pedantic, identical. The leader of Lancaster City Council remains Labourite, and Labour remains the largest party by seats, but they are two seats short of a convincing majority, and the City has gained a Green mayor in Jon Barry. If the local Labour club have any manners, they’ll now repay the Greens’ tactical loyalty by re-entering a deal with them to take control of the council.
Our very own University ward returned two Labour councillors and one Greenie, so nothing new there. Turnout was higher than many feared, despite troubles with electoral registration among students, probably due to recent boundary changes: this is the first year to return results from the “University and Scotforth Rural” ward, where previously many of the students voting in Barker House were outsiders. Alexandra Park was segregated down East Avenue and Graduate Lane, meaning the University ward ended at Thirlmere and the remainder of campus belonged to the mainly Conservative village of Ellel.
The greatest casualty of results night was Jack Filmore, our Green councillor of one year, who lost his seat by some way. This could be punishment for the student “burn book” he published in October, or, considering the hundred-vote lead of winning Green councillor Sam Armstrong, this could be some venture into local tactical voting. But even in local government, when student democracy is involved, we can’t discount the disappointing possibility that Armstrong simply had more flat mates.