AN ELECTION SPECIAL FROM THE GREEN BRAIN ON BEHALF OF BRITISH BIDS MAY 2014
This May (22nd) sees the national elections for the European Parliament and the local elections in much of England and Northern Ireland. The tradition is for local elections to take place on the first Thursday of May but this year they take place later to synchronise with the European election timetable. In this edition of View we will look at the detail of the elections, the current state of the parties and identify the trends to look out for. It should be noted that the local elections are largely concentrated in metropolitan England and do not cover the wider (largely Conservative held) rural areas (‘Shires’), and so the results will not reflect totally the moves in public opinion, particularly in the much reported and anticipated Conservative/UKIP conflicts. The European Election is of course a UK-wide poll however. We will also try to avoid making predictions being mindful of two famous political quotes: Harold Wilson: “A week is a long time in politics” Tony Blair: “I never make predictions and I never will” And of course predictions are only valid when proven correct with hindsight …
Direct elections are to be held for all 32 London boroughs, all 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 second-tier district authorities, 19 unitary authorities and various directly elected mayoral posts, all in England. Elections to the new councils in Northern Ireland will also be held on the same day.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_local_elections,_2014 -‐ cite_note-‐BelfastTelegraph-‐4
• • • • • •
In Greater London all seats in all 32 boroughs are facing elections In the 36 Metropolitan Councils a third of seats are up for election The District councils vary between a third (65), a half (7) and complete (2) ballots In the Unitary authority areas two have complete elections and the rest a third Additionally Mayoral elections are being held in 5 areas In Northern Island, there will be the first elections to the 11 new 'supercouncils' following a reorganisation. These will operate in shadow form for one year, with the current 26 councils existing in parallel
Current Representation: Electoral District Greater London Metropolitan District Councils Unitary Mayoral
No Overall Control 3
2 1 Independent
Conservative Labour Total Elected Councillors
Liberal Democrat 2
Liberal Democrat 2552
1) With Elections in 2014 (but not all council seats face election – see ‘Background’ above) Electoral Conservative Labour Area Greater 699 865 London Metropolitan 396 1713 District 5086 1739 Councils Unitary 1213 1166
Liberal Democrat 245
2) County Councils (with no 2014 elections) Electoral Area County Councils
Conservative Labour 934
Liberal Democrat 252
EURO ELECTIONS Elections to the European Parliament take place over the entire EU (our country and the continent) every five years electing 73 UK MEPs out of 751 over Europe as a whole. Using a partly proportional system known as a ‘closed list’ where parties chose the order in which their candidates are elected based on vote share. Only 34.3% of the possible electorate bothered to vote in 2009 Results in 2009:
Conservatives 4,193,706 votes (27.63%) winning 25 MEP’s UKIP 2,495,782 votes (16.44%) winning 13 MEP’s
Labour 2,375,361 votes (15.65%) winning 13 MEP’s
Liberal Democrats 2,078,723 votes (13.70%) winning 11 MEP’s
Green Party 1,302,705 votes (8.58%) winning 2 MEP’s
British National Party 941,491 votes (6.20%) winning 2 MEP’s
Scottish National Party 321,007 votes (2.11%) winning 2 MEP’s
Plaid Cymru 123,816 votes (0.81%) winning 1 MEP
Other Parties 1,340,174 votes (8.83%) 0 MEP’s
Conservative lead of 1,697,924 votes (11.19%) Recent Opinion Polls Recent polls show a fall in support for the Conservative Party almost completely to the benefit of UKIP. The latest YouGov poll for the Sun on Sunday (4th May) had: UKIP 29% CON 23% LAB 26% LDEM 10% There are a number of different methodologies employed by various polling companies and these have led to variances in the projected figures, but what is not in dispute is that UKIP is benefitting from the ‘a plague on all your houses’ feeling in the electorate in general; the Coalition partners are particularly suffering, the Lib Dems doubly so; and Labour is punching far below its weight for this stage in a parliament.
And now there is to be a parliamentary by-election in Newark to replace disgraced ex-Conservative MP Patrick Mercer and we will see how the UKIP bubble hold up; if it continues to damage the Conservatives disproportionately; if Labour are the beneficiaries of that split; or if a continued UKIP surge might see them elect their first ever MP. http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ Commentary on Political Parties Current Positions Conservative A generally well received Budget from George Osborne gave an enviable lift to the Conservative Party with positive reporting, a poll boost and improved morale. However as is so common in political machinations these all dissipated as quickly as they appeared, largely as a result of the outcry and fallout from the Maria Miller expenses row and its coverage. Research of member and supporter’s blogs and interest groups shows a party looking anxiously over its shoulder at UKIP’s advance and perceived movement onto ‘their’ territory. In a striking resemblance to Labour’s reaction to the advance of the Liberal Democrats in the post Blair period, Tory activists seem to be floundering on the most apposite response … to ignore them? or to move to further extremes to reoccupy the part of the political spectrum many believe to be theirs by tradition if not by practice. These elections may not deliver massive changes in control of the councils and may not be in the ‘Tory heartland’ – but party managers and activists, along with quite a few current MPs with slim majorities, will have their calculators out on May 23rd desperately looking for indicators to next year’s General Election. Labour Labour’s high command must be frustrated that at this stage of the electoral cycle (a more planned and predictable route now the UK has fixed term parliaments) that they are not much further ahead in the polls and in people’s hearts. Private polling still indicates a lack of both engagement and affection for the Labour leader and an inability for the public to disengage responsibility for the downtown and resulting austerity policy with the previous Labour government rather than the current Coalition. It does seem that it is partly the inability of Labour to discard the shackles of the public’s still fresh memories that holds back the necessary motion. However detailed polling shows there is an affinity felt for Labour’s leader from those already with affection for Labour’s policy platform, while the undecided are even more undecided when it comes to Mr Milliband.
As the local elections are largely in the London and Metropolitan areas, traditionally stronger areas for Labour Party candidates, there will inevitably be positives currently being polished and practiced to present to the pundits on election night and after. The messages for next year’s elections to the House of Commons may need a bit more analysis and could be harder to read. Liberal Democrats There must be a day due soon at Lib Dem HQ where they think that things can’t get any worse and they’re not proved wrong … sadly for them it’s not likely to be this May 23rd after the local and Euro elections. Having for so long been the ‘outsiders’ and the recipient of the nation’s protest vote it must be with an envious smile that they see UKIP rise in the polls as their own polls slip lower and lower. Although they have a proven cushion of credibility in the local areas where they have done well in the past, and they are the only truly pro-European political party, there is little to discourage the prediction of another ‘bloody nose’ for them on election night – or worse. Many thought that their inexperience in government if not in politics would be exposed as they entered the coalition, instead they have been seen to have performed government duties well – potentially too well as the public seem ever happier to blame them for the policies belonging to their Conservative partners rather than those partners themselves. As a party in government the Lib Dems seem not only to march towards the sound of gunfire but appear all too willing to actually stand in front of the guns aimed at their coalition colleagues … UKIP Although UKIP have been around for quite a long time now, they have become ‘the story’ for the media. Tory activists have known for a while that they pose a threat as their party failed to win a parliamentary majority four years ago and cannot spare a single vote in next year’s General Election. In the recent past many pundits and politicians have written off UKIP’s approach as merely populist only to find it has become not only popular but even fashionable in some quarters. The media can easily turn to party leader Nigel Farage for good copy, and do so again and again. The public having lost previous refuges for their protest/anti establishment votes – (Liberal Democrats in government and deeply unpopular; Greens never managed to mobilise policy support; BNP nasty and impossible to justify even to friends) see UKIP as a way to express the ‘plague on all your houses’ sentiment at large at the moment.
So, will this be UKIP’s year? Undoubtedly they will be ‘the story’ in the lead up to the elections and immediately after. But already the media who have helped build up the party are now turning round and questioning behaviour and searching for fault lines; recent coverage of UKIP’s Euro-expenses and some of the more ‘eccentric’ candidates may just be the start. There is a long tradition of the British press ‘building them up & knocking ‘em down’. Having said that, the populist fact-free stance of both the tabloids and UKIP are natural bedfellows. However the big question is, will the ‘plague on all your houses’ attitude of many voters translate into apathy or an actual protest vote. Undoubtedly the Tory vote will suffer but as the local elections are largely not being held in Conservative strongholds, and the European elections are held under a form of proportional representation, it may not translate into major headline changes. It will be worth looking closely at the total number of councillors gained and lost rather than councils that change control … Greens The Green Party must look at Euro-Elections with affection as for a short period of time (following the 1999 European elections) there appeared to be a sizable shift in their favour. Although they have managed one or two beachheads in local government and a single MP in Brighton, they have not managed to make the move into the bigger league that tantalisingly seemed possible if not probable. In many ways their fortunes may mirror the Liberal Democrats, with the real aim to defend as much as they can of what they have. Just like the Lib Dems it is likely to be their record at local level and action on the ground that will pay dividends rather than any groundswell of support which seems very unlikely to materialise this year. It will also be interesting to see detailed post poll analysis of how the disaffected left leaning Lib Dem vote shifts – one recent poll had them on 4th place ahead of the Lib Dems. Will that ex-Lib Dem support go substantially to Labour and buoy them up ahead of next year’s General Election, or find a more natural home with the Greens?
CONCLUSIONS Local Elections As the local elections this year favour traditional Labour areas (Greater London and the Metropolitan districts) it is unlikely to throw much light onto the issue attracting headline attention, ie UKIP vs Conservative support. However it is likely to see a further entrenchment of recent trends. Further falls in Liberal Democrat support partly ameliorated by local activism; a rising use of UKIP as a protest vote where the party’s anti-Europe policies have little impact – as in recent years’ districts and county elections. Conservatives hoping to hold on to their position but looking nervously over their shoulders, and Labour waiting to see any sign of anything other than a slow progressive improvement in fortunes. Inevitably it will initially be the councils currently with No Overall Control which will give the headlines if they move to any party in majority. At this point there is little to suggest momentous changes of power as in some previous local elections. European Elections The European Parliament election will be the main focus for those looking at political runes for next year’s General Election; a national election with all major parties vying for support and largely without the distraction of local issues affecting the results. However, this standpoint comes with warnings: with historically lower turnout, differential turnouts favouring those with stronger views on our nation’s engagement with Europe can distort and diffract. Let us not forget that even in 2009 when UKIP’s profile was much lower, they still attained second place in the national ballot, albeit narrowly by less than 1% above Labour, and less than 3% more than the Lib Dems in fourth place. The hope for UKIP and the fear for the Conservative Party will be for UKIP support and committed voters to rise to the point of taking first place from them. Although there are some indicators to say this is unlikely, it is neither impossible nor unthinkable. Labour will hope that Lib Dems do as badly as expected so they can portray the result as no different from last time, and that what we witness is a Tory/UKIP beauty contest for the hearts and minds of the reactionary right where Labour are simply bystanders. For the Liberal Democrats it is hard to predict anything other than another bad night, whether their policy of being ‘the only party that believes in Europe’ (which is to all intents and purposes an honest appraisal) brings more support than opinion polls suggest may be their only succour.
Official Party Websites: www.conservatives.com www.labour.org.uk www.libdems.org.uk www.ukip.org www.greenparty.org.uk Activist Websites www.conservativehome.com http://www.labournet.net/ www.libdemvoice.org News & Reports www.bbc.co.uk/news www.guardian.co.uk www.telegraph.co.uk www.politicalbetting.com