So last Thursday in the UK we had our local council elections. This marked the first election test for the main parties since the Brexit deadline was missed in March.
First thing to say about this was that the turnout was only slightly below what is the norm for local elections in this country, so not the stay at home protest most were suspecting.
Secondly it is worth noting that there were no elections taking place in Scotland or Wales so we are unable to judge the mood of the electorate in those two countries.
Thirdly and something I do consider to be a very important point is that historically the UK electorate has used local and European elections to show their disdain for the largest two parties in parliament. The ‘protest vote’ seems to be felt most keenly when these two elections come round.
Finally historically we do tend to see the party in power loosing seats during these elections, in a very similar way that mid term elections in the USA can see the party of the President loose seats in either the Senate or Congress. So the fact the party of power loss seats in this election should not be seen as entirely surprising (although the amount lost by the Tories is perhaps more significant).
Okay so might be worth at this point showing what the actual result are:
Conservatives lost 1335 Council seats
Labour lost 82 Council seats
The Liberal Democrats gained 704 Council seats
The Green Party gained 194 Council seats
UKIP lost 145 Council seats
Independents and smaller parties gained 662 Council seats
So to start with the party currently in power at Westminster the Conservative Party, they suffered their worst hammering in council elections since a John Major led party lost 2000 council seats in 1995. 2 years after this election Major would suffer a landslide defeat to a resurgent ‘New’ Labour under Tony Blair in the general election. This also led to many years out of government for the Tories until Cameron brought them back to power in the coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
I feel it is quite ironic that the 2019 Conservative Party should be drawing such parallels with the Major led party of 1995, and I think if you look you can see some glaring similarities between the two.
Firstly we have a perceived weak leader problem with Theresa May who has lost control of her party, that is being torn apart by huge divisions on the EU (as this is what Brexit boils down to). Major was seen as a weak leader who failed to properly control his party, and there were always commentators who stated his leadership was about to come to an end. There were also huge divisions between Euro Sceptics and, Pro Europeans who had been scrapping over the signing of the Maastricht treaty in 1992 as well as other issues.
Fast forward to 2019 and we have a weak leader failing to control her hugely divided party, who are scrapping over Hard, Soft, and no Brexit.
The Tories have been punished by Brexiteers and remainers alike. Brexiteers for their inability to successfully exit from the EU, and remainers for not either stopping Brexit altogether, or advocating a softer option.
Tories did come out and state this was not going to be about Brexit but local issues, however if history has taught us anything it is that local elections have been used for protest votes for many years so this should not be seen as a surprise to anyone.
May could very well end up being one of the most disliked Prime Ministers in history! Certainly since I became interested in politics, since either Major or Brown in my reckoning, however I do see this as being slightly unfair.
I will concede that May should go, and made one of the most monumental gaffs in history when she called unscheduled election and loss her majority (made on some very bad advice as to her popularity, and the lack of support for the opposition). It is also true to say that far from uniting her party to ‘get Brexit done’ she has succeeded in dividing her party to the point some have joined with Labour to forma new ‘centre ground’ party.
However I think she took on what seems to be becoming an increasingly impossible situation to deliver a Brexit that can actually pass a vote in the house.
The main culprit in all of this of course for Brexit in the first place David Cameron immediately retreated into the shadows as soon as his ploy to unite his party back fired so spectacularly with the referendum result. This has left May having to field all the flack and ill feeling from both sides since taking on the leadership role, while Cameron sits pretty in his mansion in Oxfordshire being able to deflect almost all blame for the mess we call a parliament at the moment!!
Now I am not saying May has done herself any favours with her stubbornness, and unwillingness to compromise to this point on virtually anything Brexit related, while all the while touting a deal that nobody in parliament can find a majority for. However I do think she was the only politician willing to take this thankless task on when Cameron washed his hands of it. Johnson, Gove and others all walked away from the leadership when it was there to be contested and May accepted the challenge that nobody else would, and whatever her reasons for doing it, she stood up.
This leads us on nicely to the Labour Party who as a perceived party of government in waiting should have capitalised fully on the capitulation of the Tories, however this has not been the case at all!!
Should Labour be a government in waiting then there should not have been a loss of seats in this election, but rather a net gain. Going back to 1995 as a point of comparison as Labours landslide general election victory under Blair was just around the corner, Labour gained 468 seats. A net loss of 82 in this local election does not fill anyone with confidence that Labour will conquer all come the next general election whenever it happens.
Indecisiveness over Brexit themselves and whether they will outright back a second referendum or not, as well as scandals involving anti – Semitism, and the fact a lot of the parliamentary party don’t like the leadership (Change UK anyone), shows us if anything Labour are as divided as the Tories are albeit on different issues.
To me another example of a weak leader who some see as revolutionary and others see as out of touch. The point with Corbyn though is I feel as though he is incredibly indecisive, but I can see why.
In my opinion Labour have in some ways an even more difficult job keeping their supporters happy than the Tories do. A large part of the heartland Labour northern support voted to leave the EU. Corbyn cannot seen to be endorsing staying within the EU as it could be a electoral disaster in Labour heartlands. By the same token in some parts of the south and London in particular there was a strong feeling to remain within the EU, and to be seen to endorse anything other than a very soft Brexit will loose support within the Labour supporting London borough’s. In many ways the Labour party is caught more between a rock and a hard place than the Tories are, however it is not exactly a performance you would be expecting to see from a future government.
In fact I did see a survey where it was claimed if the general election was held tomorrow and the votes in the locals reflected accurately then both main parties would receive 28% of the vote each, so another hung parliament.
The Liberal Democrats received a surge in numbers at the local elections, and their leader Vince Cable stated every vote for them would be a vote to stop Brexit (another example of a politician respecting democracy then!!! Yet again would be worth pointing out had the result been the other way around we wouldn’t be having these discussions, and remainers would be at best smug, and at worst dismissive).
My personal opinion of this is that the Liberal Democrats have always been the party of the protest vote, and apart from their time as the coalitions junior partner have never translated this into seats in a general election.
The survey had them on 19% of the vote, however if we look back at the 1983 election where the Liberal/SDP alliance almost got the same voter share as the Labour party under Michael Foot but virtually no seats, I cannot see this translating to many more seats in parliament at any subsequent election.
One thing I will say however is that if nothing else the Liberal Democrats are united under their belief the UK should cancel Brexit, and sing from the same hymn sheet something the larger parties in parliament could learn from.
I may not share the position of the Liberal Democrats but I do appreciate a party that has a united view point on Brexit, even if it does fly in the face of democracy, and to cancel Brexit without putting it in to law that all subsequent referendums would be politically binding makes a mockery of the whole political process (if you cannot tell already I take exception to anyone who stands above me like a rich land owner to his staff and pats me on the head like a child while stating ‘there there you got it wrong this time so we will try again until you give me the answer I want)!!
Sorry to disappoint those who voted Yellow at this election but to think they could achieve anything like the levels of MP’s in parliament that Ashdown, or Kennedy achieved is a pipe dream.
UKIP was no big surprise as they seem to have little actual direction under any leader other than Nigel Farage, and they have very much lost their way since the referendum achieved the parties ultimate goal.
I will not endorse any racist, or sexist positions that members of this party seem to take, as I find these positions abhorrent, but it seems nobody within the party seems capable of forming an effective position opposite to the Liberal Democrats that every vote for them is a vote for Brexit.
I would of thought this could have been a natural position for this party given the fractured nature of parliament at the moment, but this does not seem to be the case.
It would seem it has been left up to Nigel Farage to once again be the champion of Brexit, and I predict here and now his new Brexit Party will make inroads in the European elections on 23rd May.
A big shout out to all those independents who achieved seats in this election. To me this is where the protest votes should have gone for a couple of reasons. Firstly I don’t think any major political party is worthy of voters time at the moment, and I feel that a lot of members of parliament should hang there heads in shame for putting self interest and party politics above the will of the people, and the answer they gave to politicians when they voted to leave the EU.
Another big reason is that a lot of these people are local residents who truly know the areas where they live, and not too tarnished by being a politician for so long that a sense of entitlement is seen as some right, and not a privilege to serve the local community (I do not suggest for a minute that all councillors who lost their seats are this way).
Finally I do think that the influx of potential fresh faces into the political arena could be the start of the next generation of leaders, and who knows we could get another perceived Churchill, rather than a Major.
In the end my thoughts are the longer the Brexit issue goes unresolved the more the larger parties will ultimately suffer at the ballot box. This might not be an altogether bad thing as we may see the back of some of the stalest politicians in the world right now in favour another generation who we can only hope would be more decisive and innovative than the current crop at Westminster.
As always my opinions are my own and thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog.