Jon Bigger rounds up the local electoral drama and the jamboree’s implications for the various political factions.
For the last few months the local elections, taking place this Thursday, have been discussed as being vitally important to the future of Boris Johnson. This is part of a theme in UK politics as partygate fails to deliver a fatal blow to his career. It is more a case of death by a thousand scandals. The elections are much more likely to play into this narrative than to prove decisive. The ending of a prime ministerial term by local election results would be astonishing but there’s plenty to look out for on Friday when the results come in.
The obvious defence for Johnson, if the results aren’t looking good for him, is the usual line of governments not expecting to do well mid-way through a term. This is likely to be accompanied with the idea that Labour should actually be doing even better than they are. The media will take this line too. It is a little tricky for Labour in England at these elections because they did well when these council seats were last contested (under the Corbyn leadership). They could still take around 700 councillors away from other parties (mainly the Tories) but the public will be told they’re not on course to win the next general election. Labour should gain control of a number of councils and the Tories are predicted to stay around the same level. I have to say I’m not expecting them to win the next general election in any case. I feel the best they can hope for is a hung parliament where they are the largest party. In short, the media narrative on Labour is likely to be that they did well but not well enough. Meanwhile, on the Tories it will be that they did badly but not too badly.
When you have elections in so many different areas, using different electoral systems, you’re bound to get mixed results rather than a clear overall picture. In England and Wales local elections use the first past the post system used for general elections. In Scotland they use the proportional system, single transferable vote. Multiple stories will therefore emerge as the results come in. Add to that the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland and the track takes a potentially different turn entirely.
In Scotland, a strong showing for the SNP adds to the drip, drip of pressure on Boris Johnson. Their leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is committed to a second independence referendum, and this election could be a step towards that. Adding the Northern Ireland vote into the mix, this could be a milestone towards a double collapse of the union. Sinn Fein looks set to become the largest party for the first time at Stormont, and with it would lay claim to the role of First Minister in a power sharing government. At the time of writing the DUP is polling on similar levels to the centrist Alliance Party. Like the SNP, Sinn Fein is also committed to a referendum. The party is working towards reunification with the rest of Ireland and its strategy partially rests on being in power in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, where a coalition currently blocks it from government. Being the largest party in the north is going to send conservative voices on the news channels into a small amount of panic. Boris Johnson could yet be the prime minister who loses the United Kingdom.
This election seems to have his future running through it. I can’t see the Tories ditching him quite yet though. The situation is as it has always been: if he doesn’t resign, it is down to how many letters the chair of the 1922 committee receives from Conservative backbenchers, calling for a confidence vote in their party leader. Johnson’s calculation also remains the same: if 15% of Tory MPs want a vote of no confidence in him, he is banking on that 15% failing to secure enough votes to oust him. If they fail to reach a majority he is secure, and no further challenge is allowed for a year. There are rumours that in the event of a leadership challenge this coming summer, he is planning a general election in the autumn — assuming he survives that challenge. Another general election victory would secure his leadership, so the theory goes. With the Fixed Term Parliament Act now gone, he can call a general election whenever he chooses within the five-year term. I suspect he might wait until he’s more popular, but it is at least possible and the rumours emerged from Tories planning to unseat him as leader, so they provide an insight into the current mood and fears of part of the Tory Party.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on the election results and providing some analysis as they come in. I’ll be looking out for any bullshit from the media and I’ll also be interested in any radical candidates using the election to raise awareness or just for the sheer hell of it. Having stood for Class War at the 2015 general election I know that anarchists don’t simply avoid elections; the thrill seeking anarchist uses these moments for their own reasons. Follow the action via that bastion of free speech, Twitter @DrJonBigger. I’ll be online from 11pm on Thursday night with my DIY election night special.
~ Jon Bigger
Pic: Fields of Light Photography