What to make of the local elections?

May 10, 2013 by

What to make of the Local elections? In Broxtowe, turnout was down about 8% on 2009 (which coincided with European elections). Despite a double-digit national opinion-poll lead, Labour won one seat. Tories increased they share of the vote in Nuthall . Lib-Dems saw a swing from Labour in Kimberley. UKIP took 20% of the vote, without winning a seat and less than their national 25%

The national talking point is UKIP. Is it a new, here to stay, force in British politics? The unusual recipient of a mid-term protest vote? Or is there something more complex at work in the national psyche?

Here to stay? In the short-term, certainly until ‘Europe’ is resolved. UKIP has reignited the issue amongst Tory ranks which has smouldered for the last 25 years. It has effectively forced a commitment from Cameron to a 2017 referendum. It would be no surprise if this was brought forward in some guise. Just as New Labour needed its ‘Clause Four’ moment for Blair to make it electable, a referendum will prove seminal for the Tory party. The party needs to move on.

Once the nation has spoken, what’s left for UKIP? Beyond ‘Europe’ and associated issues such as immigration, it has no credible policies. The Times last week calculated that its commitments would cost a whopping £140 billion in extra borrowing. UKIP will fade away, it’s just a question of when.

A protest vote? That’s usually the role of the Lib-Dems but they’re not currently available, being part of the Government. It is unusual in this country for a right-wing party to be the recipient on this scale. UKIP is certainly much more acceptable in the mind of the voter than the BNP ever was. If voters wanted to make a protest, who was left? The Greens?!

Something more complex? Rachel Sylvester, writing in Tuesday’s Times, suggested that UKIP taps into a nostalgic emotion. A yearning in mainly older voters for a bygone age which can never return. ‘It holds out the prospect of a return to the Britain of the 1950s (when the country was whiter and less relaxed about homosexuality). It promises to restore national pride and autonomy, to bring back grammar schools, fluttering Union Jacks, and smoking in pubs’.

More generally, it surely reflects disenchantment with the political classes? In particular, the rise of the professional politician which is much more prevalent today than in previous eras. Cameron, Milliband and Clegg all struggle to connect with the populous. All have have similar academic backgrounds. Not one has done a proper job for very long before entering politics. Their PR awareness has made them homogeneous. UKIP has had the benefit of this ‘anti’ feeling.

Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Ken Clarke, irrespective of their politics, are seen as ‘characters’ which makes them popular because they contrast with the greyness of the current crop of party leaders. Like her or loathe her, there was nothing grey about Mrs T’s politics or style. Uniquely, Cameron can speak for the Nation when the need arises, an ability the other two do not possess.

Will any of this matter come the next election? ‘It’s the economy stupid’. Whoever found themselves in power after the 2010 election was going to impose unpopular cuts. As a reminder, Labour was committed to cutting £7 for every £8 the coalition is implementing. Given the amount of money this Government has pumped into the economy, Labour’s clarion call to borrow more to stimulate growth has no credibility. It’s leader and economic policies, or lack of them, were fully exposed last week by Martha Kearney on the BBC’s World At One programme.

The local election results show that that the electorate are not daft, and are not ready to trust Labour, for good reason. The three Labour Governments in my lifetime have each left behind a mess. Well intentioned social programmes have ultimately proved unaffordable in economic downturns. The global banking crisis was a major factor this time
but national and individual debt were out of control well before the 2008 shock-wave.

Whatever the failings of this Government, these are unusual times. The effects of the crisis in the euro-zone would have hit us, whether we were in or out of the EU. The world economy has been much slower to recover than in previous recessions and has coincided with a rise in most commodity prices affecting food and energy costs. As a result, we have been much longer in the economic doldrums than anyone ever expected.

World stock-markets have recently hit all time highs and are said to anticipate the real economy by six months. If that turns out to be the case and there is wind in our economic sails, it will be good news for the coalition parties and bad news for Labour.

The Tory party would be mad to overact to UKIP and lurch to the right. The party does need to resolve the European issue once and for all, but marginal seats like Broxtowe are simply not winnable with a right-wing agenda.

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