So you think you know political facts?
The Elections Centre website is a treasure trove of electoral data. One of the team behind it, Professor Michael Thrasher, writes exclusively for Liberal Democrat Newswire about it.
History shows that Liberal Democrats like a challenge. Well, I have several that should test readers’ knowledge of local electoral history in Britain, particularly in respect of the Liberal Democrats and its previous incarnations (Liberals and later the Lib/SDP Alliance).
Our website, www.electionscentre.co.uk, features a new application that allows users to view each council’s political composition. The data extend from the 1960s in the case of London boroughs, and early 1970s elsewhere, to 2015. Each council in existence over that period is included, apart from the City of London and Isles of Scilly. That gives a total of more than 600 local authorities, although of course a fair number of those are no longer in existence.
To find a particular council a user simply types in the council name (afraid it’s not clever enough to cope with places like West Derbyshire that altered its name to Derbyshire Dales in the late 1980s; such authorities are listed under the current name). If the text string is unique to an authority it will bring it up. For example, typing ‘ply’ immediately finds Plymouth. In other cases, especially when compass points are incorporated into the name, the user may need to be more specific.
The result produces a year by year count of council seats held by Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats, as well as nationalists and a catch-all category of ‘Other’. Also listed is the party that had control or alternatively, ‘No Overall Control’. The data ignores casting votes when describing majority control.
This is not a dataset that we have used extensively and so it contains errors, some of which we have discovered for ourselves and will eventually correct; others we are hoping users will spot and report back to us. The file does not monitor councillor defections although it does get updated annually with by-election changes.
So, here are the challenges.
There are only three local authorities where Liberal Democrats have occupied more than 90% of council seats in any year. Name these authorities and identify the council where Liberal Democrats have dominated to this extent for the longest period.
There are a further five councils where Liberal Democrats held more than 80% of the available seats at any one time. Which are they?
I suspect that such questions are not much of a challenge to hard-core party activists, many of whom may well have campaigned in these places. A slightly more difficult task, therefore, is to consider the places where Liberal Democrats have failed to establish any electoral presence over the past forty years or so.
Our records show that there are 42 councils where a Liberal Democrat has never been elected. There is some double counting in this number since a council appears twice in the list if it is both part of an old structure and reappears within a new structure – Orkney Islands for example. In most cases the absence of Liberal Democrats is because these areas eschew candidates sporting party colours and all councillors are classed as ‘Independents’. Scotland and Wales dominate the list, therefore.
But there are three English councils amongst the number that may be regarded as perennially ‘Lib Dem free’ zones. Which are they?
And finally, there is a local authority where the party once held more than 70% of council seats but where it currently has none. Painful though this might be, can you name it?