Wednesday, 4 April 2018
Will Brexit Affect the Local Election Results?
The 2018 English local authority elections are scheduled to be held on Thursday 3 May 2018. This includes elections to all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs (all seats in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle and a third of seats in the rest), 68 district/borough councils (where a third of seats are up for grabs, seven whole council elections and six half councils) and 17 unitary authorities (all seats in Hull and Blackburn and Darwen, a third in the rest). There will also be direct elections for the Mayoralties of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford.
These elections will be the last before Britain leaves the European Union (EU) next year, but have no direct connection to the Brexit process, as local government has no power to make national policy. Councils provide local services and collect a local council tax, and these issues tend to be at the forefront of voters minds when elections come around. Bin collections and dog shit in alleyways tends to be what arouses passions. Turn out is usually on the low side, with only about half of voters turning out compared to general elections.
But also, there is a tendency for voters to use local elections to send a message to central government. When these elections were last held in 2014, UKIP performed very well, winning hundreds of council seats. This made Tory MPs jittery about losing their Parliamentary seats and probably convinced David Cameron, then Tory prime minister to hold the referendum on our membership of the EU.
UKIP are likely to lose most of these seats now (if they haven’t already) as the party is in existential crisis, now that their flagship policy is redundant. It is likely that the Tories will win these seats, but this may well be a small consolation in elections that they are expected to do poorly in. This is put down to Remain voters wanting to make a point about Brexit, and in the areas being contested there are large blocks of Remain voters, especially in London. So much so that the Tories could lose control of iconic councils such as Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, which have been Tory for as long as anyone can remember.
To make matters worse for the Tories, EU nationals can vote in UK local elections (they are not allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections, the Irish being an exception), and these people can’t be too happy with the government. There has been a drive by Labour, Lib Dems and Greens to encourage EU nationals to register and to vote on the Brexit issue. Whether Labour’s pro-Brexit stance will impress these people, is another matter though. It is an opportunity for the Greens and Lib Dems to profit, with their unambiguous anti-Brexit positions.
This is a dilemma for Remain voters generally, do they support Labour, as they are usually best placed to beat the Tories, but Labour has been almost as bad as the Tories on the issue of Brexit. Might Remain voters, even if they think it is only of symbolic value, take the opportunity to make a clear expression of how they feel, and might they want to send a message to Labour too? A message that reads, ‘the Labour Party is not a clear enough alternative to the Tories on Brexit.’
The Tories are desperately trying to make the election about local issues, but this isn’t really their strong point either, given the huge cuts to local government budgets over the last eight years. And as I pointed out on this blog last week, Tory run councils have announced the biggest rises to council tax in thirteen years. Not a very compelling argument for voting Tory, pay more for less local services, it isn’t going to convince many voters to vote for them.
All in all the Tories should get a drubbing in these local elections, but who will be the main beneficiaries? These should be interesting elections, and do make sure you vote on 3 May.