Naked Politics Blogger
Yet another set of local elections has passed by, this time with a significantly less usual result. Between the two main parties, 1416 councillors lost their seats, and control of dozens of councils was lost, to fall into No Overall Control.
The real winners of the day were the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, and hundreds of smaller independent parties across the country, as voters flocked from the major parties to looks for alternatives. So how exactly did the parties get here, and what exactly does it mean going forwards. .
Of course, we need to start with the main story of the evening. Losing over 1000 seats in a single night is quite the achievement, and not one that any party leader will want to be known for, especially one such as the current Prime Minister who has already earned a legacy of failure. Usually such a loss would mean that a party leader would be forced into resignation, deselection, or would be backed into a corner from which a policy change would have to happen, at the risk of the leader’s entire political career.
Once more, Theresa May seems to be the exception to political convention.
After losing a majority in a self-inflicted election, and holding the record for the greatest government defeat in Parliament, May agreed to step down if her deal passed. This means,
With a ticking time bomb already hanging over her premiership, there is no pressure that May can be put under by her party, as they can’t exceed the current threat she faces. As things stand, the Prime Minister has refused to countenance a change in policy, and personally I don’t expect things to change until May is forced out of office. Whilst a significant defeat should send a message that their current policy isn’t working, Theresa May has chosen her hill to die on. Her political career is tied to this Brexit deal, and as long as she remains leader of the Conservatives, there will be no change in policy. Combine this with pre-existing murmurs of yet another leadership challenge, it can’t be long until May’s unpopular reign is over.
Verdict: The Conservatives stay the course until the Party are forced to overthrow May.
The Labour Party
Although perhaps not the biggest losers at the ballot box, Labour still chose one hell of a time to have an identity crisis. Throughout Brexit, Labour have succeeded in the polls by staying on the fence. They’ve not made any significant gains, but they’ve had nothing near the losses of the Conservative Party since 2017. This was to be the first real test of the policy in the electoral arena, and it was a telling result. Labour lost around 100 seats, far fewer than the Conservatives, however they were clearly still unable to inspire any new voters.
Anecdotally, in the district of Lancaster, Labour didn’t lose a significant share of the vote (in fact gaining 4%), yet still lost control of the council, as the pro-EU Greens and pro-Brexit
Morecambe Bay Independents gained seats to steal away the majority. Votes that slipped away from the Conservatives went to parties with more defined policies on Brexit rather than Labour, meaning that even in some wards where Labour gained votes, they lost the seats.
As this followed a historic NEC vote on Labour’s People’s Vote policy, a significant aspect of the losses could be put down to the caveated nature of the policy, which demonstrates even more fence sitting. Going forwards, I believe this result will prompt changes in Labour policy, to either explicitly support a People’s Vote or explicitly oppose it. Hemorrhaging votes in this manner will be seen as unacceptable, and this is the specific policy area that currently faces the greatest scrutiny.
Verdict: A shift in Labour policy towards either of the extremes, more likely pro-People’s Vote.
The Liberal Democrats and Greens
These two parties had an ideal night at the polls, sweeping up where the two main parties had failed. The Greens and Lib Dems have taken a very clear stance on a People’s Vote since the very beginning of the movement, and in these local elections it finally paid off in terms of seats.
Both parties making triple-figure gains, and they benefited from two main factors. Firstly, the certainty on Brexit policy meant that voters knew what they were getting compared to Labour’s uncertainty and the continuous delays of the Conservative Party. Voters appreciate stability from their leadership, and with both parties having not flip-flopped on their Brexit policies throughout the entire process they can find such stability here, meaning that they were able to pick up plenty of floating Remain voters.
The second factor in the gains of these parties is the protest vote aspect. The two major parties had driven away their voters or simply stopped being as appealing, pushing the electorate back towards traditional protest parties. In combination with the anti-Brexit vote naturally gravitating towards these parties, they got a sufficient vote share to make these significant gains, at the expense of bigger parties.
Going forwards, I believe that for these parties, very little will change. They have been vindicated in their policy, and have proven that for them to run as pro-People’s Vote parties is working excellently. They would be insane to turn away from the policy that has brought them control of several councils and pulled the major parties down a few notches, so going into the European Parliament elections, I can’t see any major impending changes.
Verdict: Both parties to stay along the same path, and double down on People’s Vote.