There is something almost ritualistic about local elections for Councils in England and Wales. Held every May, a proportion of council seats are up for grabs. The number of people voting is actually quite small (seemingly 32% yesterday). Labour do best in the big cities. Conservatives do best in rural areas. Thats their “natural constituencies”. The Parties ritualistically say that local elections should be about local issues. But everyone knows that they are a test of public opinion on the Government.
As the Parties all gear their thoughts to national elections anyway, it follows that the Government..whoever it might be……gets a ritual beating at the allegedly local polls. Classicly a Government comes into office, looks at the “books” and decides it needs to raise money or cut services (ignoring its manifesto). Most of its “soft” support deserts it in mid term local elections. In the last year of office, the Government then introduces a “giveaway” budget and hey presto comes back into office.
Thats how it is supposed to work. It is almost….. constitutional.
Yesterdays elections and the late night Election coverage on Sky News and BBC was slightly different. Harriet Harman (Labour), Lady Wazri (dont start me! Conservative) and a nonentity called Jeremy Browne (I think that was the Lib Dems name) were among those on “spin duty” in the TV studios.
So far so predictable. There were 5,000 seats up for grabs and the Tories were predicting Labour would gain around 1,000. Labour were predicting 450. Academics 700. This is about managing expectations of course. Labour “only” gaining 500 seats would be hailed by Tories as a success.
At 3pm Friday, Labour has made over 650 gains. Conservatives 350 losses. Lib Dems 200 losses.
Conservatives will see some comfort in the likely re-election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. They may not take any comfort in the Tory candidate for Mayor of Liverpool finishing SEVENTH, one place behind a man dressed as a polar bear.
Yet already the inquests are taking place. The Liberal Democrats may think they were saving the national interest by becoming a junior partner in the Tory led Coalition. Their members might see it that way but many of their voters feel betrayed. This is not what they voted for in 2010.
The Conservative back benchers are making noises that the Coalition is not “conservative” enough. That the Lib Dem tail is wagging the Tory Dog. They are losing some votes to UKIP, the Europhobic Party who are nibbling at the Tory votes. Enough to be critical in a General Election.
What next? Well the Parliament is scheduled to run until 2015 and the balance of probability is that it will. But the only way the Lib Dems can hope to save themselves from the revenge of their 2010 voters is to distance themselves from the Tories. The Coalition is likely to end with Lib Dems going into Opposition to a Tory minority Government. Would the Conservatives then “cut and run” and go for an Election.
Certainly I believed in 2010 that the Coalition would not last five years. I still believe that.