Commentary on the forthcoming local elections.
Today’s inspiration: Idea Exchange: How we became LGC’s Council of the Year
Today’s devo development: Labour endorses Jarvis as Sheffield City Region mayoral candidate
Today’s food for thought: Tim Allison: Public health directors should be key system leaders
There is some irony that an elector’s judgements on Theresa May’s government’s continuing austerity and Jeremy Corbyn’s electability will be important in shaping how many people cast their vote on 3 May.
The irony stems from the fact that LGC rarely meets a senior Tory councillor who supports the scale of austerity inflicted upon our sector; and there are perhaps even fewer who support the government’s restrictions on council house building. And we rarely meet a senior Labour councillor who is fully of the viewpoint that Jeremy Corbyn is fully sympathetic towards local government; leading councillors know that it is only through compromise and trade-offs that they can make a difference locally and are instinctively suspicious of the opposite outlook held by their party leader. It is wrong that many local leaders’ fates are so entwinned with those of a national leader whose policies they do not necessarily support.
That said, many rank and file council candidates may be more in line with their national party leaderships, especially those Tories who have never come close to having to make the tough financial decisions about what service to close that go alongside plummeting budgets, or those Labour candidates unused to the need for pragmatism required by office holders.
In generally heavily pro-EU London, continuing dismay that a Conservative government allowed Brexit to happen could be a big swinger in electoral behaviour. But, of course this is a local election, and most London Tory councillors appear far more worried about the impact of Brexit than, say, Jeremy Corbyn does. Further spice is added by the fact that the capital’s biggest newspaper has been churning out front pages for months talking up Labour’s chances of success, oscillating between thrill at the blow this would impose on Theresa May’s premiership and horror at Momentum’s potential influence on council chambers. We will leave it to others to speculate on the motivations of Standard editor George Osborne, architect of austerity, supporter of Europe and sacked by Ms May.
The rise of Momentum provides more legitimate grounds for determining voting intention in many areas: many new Labour candidates are likely to have been attracted to the party by Mr Corbyn. Of course, Haringey LBC could become Momentum’s poster child. Many local voters there may legitimately decide they do not like the Haringey Development Vehicle regeneration partnership with the private sector that provoked such outrage that moderate Labour council leader Claire Kober was forced to stand down. However, when the borough has a new left-wing council leader (as it surely will) they might well find their only other option is not to regenerate, at least not on the scale Cllr Kober envisaged. While the leading psephologists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher have not included the north London borough among the ‘councils to watch’ in their article for LGC this week – it surely will remain Labour – it will likely be the council to watch over the next four years. Both Tories and Labour moderates will watch the north London borough, awaiting any slip-up from its new administration.
As professors Rallings and Thrasher state, in many areas it is the collapse of Ukip – the party whose local successes were perhaps most heavily influenced by non-local issues – that might have the biggest bearing on 3 May. Labour and Tory candidates will both be looking to mop-up the declining anti-Europe party’s seats. We may hope that they triumph due to local issues as opposed to the merits (or more likely, fear factor) of Ms May and Mr Corbyn, although this may be far-fetched.
Nick Golding, editor