Number of candidates
*There were 15 by-elections in Scotland.
**There were 14 by-elections in Wales, seven of which were contested by Plaid Cymru.
***There were multiple independent clashes this year.
****There were multiple clashes in the same contests.
Overall 540,212 votes were cast over 303 individual local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. Fractions are rounded to one decimal place for percentages, and the nearest whole number for averages.
With the polls all over the place at the time of writing, it's poetic that the summary of this year's local council by-elections almost have the two main parties on a dead heat. Though one should look at the trend. The first half of 2014 had Labour in the lead consistently, with the pendulum swinging the other way as we approached year's end. Confusingly, this is at odds with this week's polling that shows modest to strong swings to Labour. In other words, there's a lot of volatility about at the moment.
Yet these results don't reflect much of that at all. Compared with 2013 the swing to the Tories from Labour is very modest indeed. And look elsewhere. In the year UKIP supposedly swept all before it their by-election points have increased less than a percentage point. And while poll after poll has the LibDems pirouetting into the abyss, consistently they have done better in actual flesh and blood elections. Look at the nationalist parties too. They've stayed rooted to the spot. Not surprising in Plaid's case but the SNP's? 15 contests, same number as last year, and seemingly little impact of their surging poll numbers. The average is static too. The shape of things to come?
After the Tories, the biggest winners are the Greens. They have had a very good year, and Natalie Bennet deserves full credit for skilfully navigating the ship toward the sunlit uplands of electoral radicalism while avoiding the swamp of Brighton Council. But how soft is this vote? While their numbers here are lower than reported polling scores, it's worth noting that if their contest average was played out across as many seats as the Tories contested they would be on 11% of ballots cast, assuming all seats are equal, of course. Which they are not.
One of this year's unmitigated goods has been the final collapse of the BNP. Contesting just three by-elections is a proper poor showing. Never say never in politics, but it's almost impossible to see how they can make their way back to the menace they presented in 2009. I'll be keeping an eye on them in the New Year, but as far as the results table are concerned they're going to be relegated to the 'Other' division.