A Post Election Analysis | Sarah Stook
Final Totals in the 2019 Elections:
Conservative- 93 (-49)
Labour- 60 (-3)
Lib Dem- 18 (+12)
UKIP- 0 (No Change)
NOC/Other- 77 (+43)
Conservative- 3,559 (-1,335)
Labour- 2,020 (-86)
Lib Dem- 1,351 (+704)
UKIP- 31 (-145)
Other- 1,463 (+862)
Local elections are always interesting. The ruling party historically does badly, whilst the main opposition usually scores well. That’s not just in the UK, it’s a common part of the US midterms. In 2019, the pattern went a little topsy-turvy. As expected, the Conservatives were decimated- they’d predicted that it would go badly, but it was probably worse than even the most cynical expected. Labour, however, also received a bit of a shock. Both its members and the general populace expected a gain, especially at the expense of the Tories, but instead experienced a loss. It was nowhere on the scale that their rivals lost on, but it was bad enough.
Flip that on its head and you have the other parties. The Liberal Democrats managed to suck up both Labour and Conservative voters to gain many councillors and take over a number of councils, including formerly very blue areas such as North East Somerset. For Vince Cable, it was probably the best news he could have asked for. Even the Greens managed to do well, which is something else considering how they’re more of a punch line than an actual party. Independent candidates also soared, people tired of voting for parties when they could be voting for someone they believe in.
People have been debating about WHY the major parties have done so badly and the minor parties so well. If we’re honest, it’s pretty simple:
Both major parties are hideously incompetent, don’t listen to anyone and have made a mockery of the power that we have given them.
For the Conservatives, it is mainly due to them dropping the ball on Brexit. Though the MPs lean more towards Remain, the grassroots itself shows a strong faith in leave. Even those who were remainers in the initial referendum have accepted the result and wish for the party to get on with it, though that is by no means a representation of every Tory. We were supposed to leave on or by the 29th March 2019, yet the ball has been kicked down the yard of October 31st. Even that is not a certainty, nobody knows where we’re going- Theresa May certainly doesn’t. If you check social media, it shows that a fair portion of voters spoiling their ballot, clearly angry at the lack of action on Brexit.
It’s also due to the fact that they’re also not too great on non-Brexit policy. As we remember 40 years since Margaret Thatcher’s triumphant 1979 victory, we all imagine a real conservative government- low taxes, liberty and small government. Instead, the government is taxing everything that’s actually interesting, banning fun and encroaching on all areas of personal life. It’s basically a slightly right wing Labour at this point, including terrible leader. Members increasingly throw their hands up in despair, yet Theresa May and Philip Hammond continue to ban everything like it’s going out of fashion. Whether it’s on policy or party actions, the members are ignored. They quite frankly deserved the kicking they got.
Now onto Labour. Now, they did actually gain some seats but they also dramatically lose in safe areas like Sunderland and Bolsover, home of Dennis Skinner. On the doorstep, some reported that Jeremy Corbyn had a very big influence on their decision- like Theresa May; he is really not popular with voters. Otherwise, it’s also a simple case of Brexit- but in a different way. In the Labour heartlands of the North, the party lost a lot of support. Remember that these areas were extremely pro-Brexit to the point where they have become target seats for UKIP and The Brexit Party. Then you have the pro-Remain Labour group, such as those who may be swayed by Change UK. The spell of Labour has also broken for some- many have loyally voted for them for years as a supposed party of the working class and out of tribalism, but now they are just royally fed up.
It is clear that both major parties have lost a lot of support. Outside the Momentum Bubble and CCHQ love fest, both Corbyn and May are seriously unpopular. For Corbyn, his mixed signals on Brexit, his constant controversies and lack of effective opposition make him toxic. For May, her mixed signals on Brexit, her lack of leadership and dim vision make her toxic. The idea of potholes over Brexit was one that the councillors tried to push this election, but it failed. The general populace cannot disconnect the issues, seeing it was punishing the parties for their weaknesses. It is a fair point, as fewer votes indicate the lack of support for a party. It is not like a general election, where the voting directly influences the choice in PM, but many still act as though it is. It’s really hard not to blame people for being very annoyed with the PM and Leader of the Opposition, or politicians in general for that matter.
Local elections have a historically low turnout (the English average is around 35%) and whilst we do not know what 2019 has brought, it is not likely to be too high. It’s understandable in that most feel more connected to the politicians they see on the television than the councillors who stand in the road, looking sad about roundabouts. The parties are extremely deserving of the losses, simply because they have lost the faith of the people. Council taxes increase as the quality of public services decrease, parks are full of graffiti, dog waste lines the street and rubbish bins overflow. Outside of local politics, Brexit is in shambles, politicians are inept, mental health issues are soaring and people are locked out of the housing market.
Party membership across the electorate is very low, 1.3% when last checked in 2005. If we take a numerical approach to this, it is rather simple. Say that 2% of the electorate is member of a party, of any party. That leaves 98% out of it- some may be supporters, but they are not devoted enough to actually join up. In that 2% who are members, some half may be angry with their party and its leaderships. They will not necessarily loyally vote for the party, perhaps even tactically voting or crossing the ballot next to a rival. The UK is not a hugely politically engaged nation, and that lack of engagement shows in the anger against the main parties.
At the end of the day, the average Conservative supporter is despondent, the average Labour member is slightly disgruntled, the average Lib Dem activist is elated and the average Green Party person is pleasantly surprised. The non-partisan class is clearly both despondent and disgruntled, to the surprise of no one.
If the main parties want to see success in the future, they must take into account what they have learned. For the Conservatives, it is more than about Brexit, as it is for Labour. If the Lib Dems and Green Party want to see an exciting future, then they need to continue tapping into the angry voter who is willing to vote for change. Whether it’s a fudged up Brexit or lack of weekly bins, it’s clear that the local elections are a hugely important indicator into the national mood. I don’t have much faith in the parties listening to this, but it is something that we can certainly hope for.