That’s the rehearsal election out of the way, now just five weeks to go as we wait for the real thing to happen. It’s very weird having a local election in the middle of a general election campaign. There have been time before (notably in the 80s) when local elections were happening in the knowledge that a general election was very likely to be called in the wake of them, but the last time there were simultaneous campaigns on was 1955, when the general election happened three weeks after the locals. That was a time when both local and national election campaigning was very different, and much less intense, than it is nowadays.
This time, we got to see the local elections being used as a test bed for the general election. There’s always an uneasy tension between national and local issues at local elections, with good local councillors from all parties losing their positions to what are sometimes just paper candidates because of a national swing against them, and this time we saw the Tories tilting that balance strongly towards the national. In England, several local newspapers in key seats had outside spreads extolling the virtues of Theresa May and her ‘local candidates’ to be strong and stable in the national interest, while in Scotland there was a very strong push to position them as the party against the SNP and a second independence referendum.
All of which is part of the extraordinary and febrile political times we live in. There’s a massive upending of the old rules of politics and elections underway, as we see the first Opposition ever to lose seats at three consecutive sets of local elections, while a party in its seventh year of Government makes extensive games. Meanwhile, rather than being slow to deflate, UKIP’s bubble has completely burst as they lost every councillor they got elected at the last set of these elections in 2013 (the one seat they now hold was actually a gain this year). Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are up in the projected national share of the vote by 7% to 18% (the biggest gain of all the parties) buit actually lost seats.
What appears to have happened is a big shift from UKIP to Tory, driven by the fact that the Tories have taken on the main issue of UKIP — not just getting out of the EU, but an antipathy to anything European — and coupled it with an aggressive nationalism to bring together a strong coalition of voters on one side of the divide. Meanwhile, the other side is scattered and divided, and not co-ordinated as effectively, as people get used to the new electoral landscape, and so the party that was the effective opposition to the Tories in the 90s and 00s might not be any longer. Any co-ordinated strategy for the General Election needs the parties to look honestly at the results of these elections and recalculate accordingly, not just assume the old patterns hold.
On that note, things have shifted quite quickly in the past twenty four hours, with news of three Green Party candidates withdrawing and endorsing the Liberal Democrat candidate in their seats. Richmond Park, Twickenham and Oxford West & Abingdon are the first beneficiaries of this new approach, and may not be the last. I suspect now the issue of the local elections is out of the way, it will help to concentrate minds on making deals, especially as people have seen the potential size of the Tory landslide that could be coming their way in June.
I’m expecting a surge in General Election activity over the weekend, so Election Leaflet Of The Day will return tomorrow later today, and soon another old favourite from 2015 — Obscure Party Of The Day — may also be returning, once we start getting news of candidates.
Thirty-three days to go, and after France votes tomorrow there are no more distractions…
Originally published at www.nickbarlow.com on May 6, 2017.