The good news for anyone thinking the UK has too little democracy is that there are going to be two rounds of major elections in May. Everywhere in the UK will elect members to the European Parliament on 23 May – unless by some miracle the PM gets her deal through and cancels the elections – which will be just three weeks after most of England voted for local councillors.
This is not good news for anyone trying to get a decision from local government. The rules of purdah, which stop councils making major decisions and restrict publicity, have already kicked in where there are local elections and will now apply nationwide from Monday. Councillors, as the backbone of their party election campaigning machine, will absent themselves from meetings to prod very reluctant voters to turn out in the largely pointless European elections.
Some committee dates will have to be postponed, and smaller councils will find their electoral officers under severe strain having to cope with a second unexpected authority-wide poll. And don’t even mention the possibility that there may be an early general election soon after…
Local election prospects
This year’s local elections are the round in the cycle where most councils which have all-out elections hold their poll. Increasing number of councils have given up on elections by thirds so now find themselves all up for election in May 2019, a time when British politics is in an exceptionally fraught and uncertain state.
Reports from all over the country suggest that morale is very low – especially among Conservatives who have many councillors defending seats won at the high tide of 2015. Canvassers report a very poor reaction on doorsteps, especially from people opposed to EU membership and who are likely to have voted Conservative in 2015.
The Conservatives are trumpeting that they’ve put up candidates in 96% of the 4600 seats up for election, against 77% by Labour and 55% by the LibDems, but don’t let that enthusiasm fool you – the great majority of candidates will be fending for themselves as activists stay at home.
Mood in Labour is more buoyant but not by much – Labour are finding things very difficult with Leave voters, and the more candid canvassers admit the Labour leader is very far from being an asset on the doorstep. Candidate lists show a surprising shortage of Labour candidates standing in rural wards. Labour is still likely to recover some ground, having suffered from a strong Conservative turnout when these seats were last fought at the same time as the 2015 election.
If neither of the main parties are very confident, who is likely to gain votes? There are no candidates for ‘Change UK’ (The Independent Group registered its party too late and does not have effective local branches yet). Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is bypassing the locals and concentrating its efforts on the Euro-elections, with their brand confused by the Tommy Robinson-advised UKIP party.
While the Liberal Democrats are also likely to recover ground, local byelections seem to indicate this only happens where they have substantial campaign bases. Opinion polls have also indicated a great deal of turbulence in support for each party. All in all, it would be a mug’s game trying to predict the results before the ballot boxes are opened after 10pm on Thursday 2 May. Next week: We try to predict the results!