In May of last year, we had a set of local elections, as indeed we do every May. People don’t talk about the results of them much anymore for several reasons. One, once they come and go, people tend to forget all about the national results of local elections – even though, immediately afterwards, they read into them in ways that can only be described as absurd. But May 2017 is worth revisiting, just for a moment. The Tories gained 563 seats, while Labour lost 382. Everyone took this as a sure sign that the Tories were going to roll over Labour at the general election a month later – I hold my hand up as being one of those people. But they turned out not to matter that much – to a GE only a few weeks, never mind a few years later. Please bear this in mind when in early May, you will hear all sorts of reasons why the local elections do or do not definitely signify that Jeremy Corbyn will or will not ever be prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This is even more pertinent than ever given the backdrop of Brexit. In terms of whether there will be a Labour or a Tory prime minister in Number 10 after the next general election, it boils down to Brexit and Brexit alone – even though everyone will continue to deny it, even after the result. I think this is a pretty simple equation, one that Theresa May, for all her faults, understands: if we leave the EU in March 2019 and no one notices any difference in the six months afterwards, I figure the Tories will definitely win the next general election. This is why the hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are acting perversely: if they get what they want, they will irreparably damage their own party’s electoral hopes and increase the chances dramatically of a Corbyn-led government. If Brexit happens in March 2019 and it is in anyway a bumpy ride, then that opens up a lot of different possibilities. The Tories could still win, but so could Corbyn, or whatever is left of the smouldering heap of the centre-left in this country anyhow at that stage.
The same equation, to some extent, applies to the Liberal Democrats: if we get a soft Brexit that kind of comes and goes and nothing changes, I think they are existentially doomed. Again, it would be cruelly ironic for them were this the case, given they have campaigned so hard for a soft Brexit, but that’s politics for you. If we get a hard Brexit, a Lib Dem recovery is a long way from assured but is at least a possibility. It would be in the Lib Dems’ hands at that point, in other words.
So, to summarise, ignore the May local elections as a harbinger of elections to come. Even more than usual, they won’t tell you anything about who will be the next prime minister.
Paul W says
That the Liberal Democrats may be ‘existentially doomed’ is largely the result of making bad choices. If British liberalism allows itself to be defined by, say, electoral reform, decriminalisation of weed and an apparently uncritical devotion to the European Union, what can one expect? Take the issue of continued EU membership, for instance. Barring accidents, it is reasonable to assume that the UK will have left the EU on the morning of 30 March 2019. So why make continued EU membership your USP and why associate so much of your reduced political capital and identity with it? Investing all your hopes in continued EU membership pulling in sceptical voters at this political juncture is a bit like buying into Betamax video recorders in the early 1980s: superior technology, perhaps, but a product with a limited market appeal and no long-term future.
The Liberals / SDP Liberal Alliance / Libdems have repeatedly appeared to be ‘existentially doomed’ over the last hundred years, but they always hung on somehow. Sometimes they seemed to be reviving and starting to get somewhere, but they never really got very far. That is one of the tragedies of modern Britain.
Even the hardest of hard Brexits won’t produce much of note in the first six months. It’s not like ports are going to be blockaded, factories shut down immediately or aeroplanes turned back. The questions are things like whether we’re going to be poorer in twenty or thirty years than we would otherwise have been, whether investment that would have happened doesn’t happen.
So the question which will decide the next election is really (a) what will the economic climate be like in 2022 and (b) if it’s bad, can that be blamed on Brexit?
paul barker says
Of course the results of Local Elections tell us very little about the likely result of The next General Election but I disagree on everything else.
Local Election Results have always been important in the long run because Local Councillors form the bedrock of Political Parties in Britain, at least as much as MPs. Abig part of the reason The Libdems are so weak now is the massive loss of Councillors over the last Decade. If that is partly reversed on May 3rd that matters to Libdem recovery in the short & long term.
That would be true in any Year but this time there will be a one-off effect on Brexit. The better The Libdems do, the more Labour will move in an Anti-Brexit direction, the more sane Tories will get cold feet & the less likely Brexit is to happen.
The devotion of the Liberal Democrats to the EU is one of the main reasons for their decline and failure to recover – just have a look at their performance in the European Parliament elections. Once the issue is decided even they will have to keep quiet about it for a while and then there will be some chance of recovery. It is noticeable that in local government by elections the Liberal Democrats do better when there is no popular local Independent or local party candidate in which case they often beat the Lib Dems, meaning that voting LD is mostly a proyest vote.
I’ve had enough of this rubbish from you about Corbyn. He will be the next Prime Minister, whether you like it or not. You’re just too engrossed in your ‘Westminster bubble’ to go out and listen to people. They all tell me that that they’re looking forward to Jezz-dog becoming PM.
We are the centre now.
Paul W says
Centre of what dear?
Thank you for being patronising and calling me ‘dear’. Centre of the universe mate.
I honestly think the whole Brexit thing (whatever it is) has been hijacked by Conservative Central. It may have been pure hubris from Cameron, but the Tories have grabbed the opportunity to work this to their own long term advantage. So, we”ll get Brexit (whatever the hell that means) either delivered disastrously, or called off with ill feeling and recriminations all round. I bet you a pound to a pinch of s**t that the Tories won”t be in power when that happens. They”re driving this ridiculous clown car headlong towards a cliff and they”ve packed it full of their biggest liabilities Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Gove, Fox, Davies all “led in a strong and Stable way by Mrs May. This band of muppets will be merrily sacrificed by Tory HQ, but not before they hand the wheel of the car to a waiting Labour Government. There will be a GE before the whole Brexit fiasco goes belly-up, which will leave Labour carrying the can. Then the Tories will jeer and howl and blame Corbyn for all of Britain”s woes. Then they”ll get back into power and stay there for a thousand years, having shed their more embarrassing associates and demonised the left in the mainstream media. If that”s the goal, I”d say the whole project is being managed rather well