As I blogged recently, I don’t follow the news very much on the grounds that I am better informed if I don’t. But there are some stories I make a conscious effort to keep up on, one of which is what is happening in politics. But I try to take a broad view. I want to know what is going on, not just what has happened and certainly not what an overpaid drunk with the attention span of a chipmunk that needs the loo thinks. So let’s have a look at the recent local elections in the UK.
First off, all the important parties will claim that the results have some good news for them. This is actually true for this particular set (except for the Lib Dems). The Conservatives didn’t do too badly for a mid-term government with a poor economic background. The headline is winning the mayor’s post in London, the biggest non-Westminster political job going. The Conservatives are nothing if not survivors and although no doubt they would have preferred to do better they have everything to play for.
Labour did the best mathematically but probably got the biggest psychological boost from the election and that is probably the biggest long term effect. Labour has a vision of a society that is fairer than the current one, and this is the thing that keeps the activists going year in and year out. This enables the party to endure long periods of lack of success and is a source of great strength to it. But everyone does better with a bit of encouragement.
UKIP didn’t have much to show for their efforts, but their large share of the national vote at over 10% (it was projected to be 13% when I last looked) makes them a serious contender for the first time and compels the other parties to include them in their calculations. This is good for the political debate. The European project is the big one and we should be talking about it.
The Greens can also point to a breakthrough in London where they finished in third place. This is a stunning achievement. Again, the environment is a huge issue that British politics does not take anywhere near seriously enough. The Greens should now be able to inject a bit more urgency into the debate.
The Greens’ success in London was helped greatly by proportional representation. This is of course the signature policy of the Liberal Democrats, though it seems to have done them absolutely no good at all. I have a feeling that in the long run the Lib Dems are the party that has most to fear from PR. The Conservatives, Labour, UKIP and the Greens all have political ideas that matter to them. If you support those ideas you will stick with them regardless of the ebb and flow of the political cycle. Election results matter, but you don’t abandon your worldview just because your team didn’t score highly enough in the most recent match.
This is the real weakness of the Liberal Democrats. What exactly does it mean? Nearly everyone is a liberal of some kind, and nearly everyone is a democrat. The party’s history shows that its origins are in the needs of a group of Westminster politicians in the 1980s. They really only exist because they exist, they don’t represent anything in particular. So uniquely among political parties in Britain they simply have to win elections consistently. So although they will no doubt be around for a bit longer, they will have been hit hard by their poor showing. It is hard to see them ever getting back to where they were and even harder to think of any reason why anybody might want them to. Ultimately I think their days are numbered.
So overall, I am pleased with the election results. Local election results are soon forgotten, but this set has promoted a couple of parties that have something to say, kept both the big parties on their toes and made a step to clearing out the dead wood. Thanks to everyone involved.