Only in a country led by serial liars, abetted by a chronically broken state broadcaster, could May 2019’s local government elections (LE2019) results be presented as a plea by a frustrated electorate to ‘get on and deliver Brexit’. Yet this was the immediate sound-bite from May and Corbyn.
With all the results now declared the hardest Brexit party – UKIP – have seen their councillors reduced by over 80% to a negligible 31. The Tories – overwhelmingly a Brexit party – have lost a net 1334 councillors (over one in four of seats they defended). Labour – whose Brexit position is ambiguous but who are led by a Brexiter – have lost 82 seats which is extraordinary for a major opposition party facing a governing party in total meltdown. The two unequivocal Remainer parties have gained 703 and 194 seats respectively – a doubling of elected councillors for the LibDems and a massive 280% increase for the Greens who only contested 20% of seats on offer.
With the Tories humiliated and Labour severely humbled, their respective Leaders just lied – plain and simple. To decode their statements, they said “We really don’t give a damn about trying to understand the mood of the people – we’re here to prosecute the coup, virus and fiasco of Brexit, and we’re just going to carry on as before…”.
For those of us not serial liars and Brexit apologists, what might the local elections actually tell us?
As ever, in a blog that has argued the terminal decline of representative democracy for much of this decade, the stand-out result from LE2019 is again the DNVs (did not vote). To put this in perspective, in the most politically polarised of times, if you are in a room with 100 fellow-citizens of voting age, about 12 of your companions will not have been registered. Around another 60 of them will not have bothered to cast a ballot. You will be huddled in the voting corner with 25-30 of your colleagues.
This is shocking for middle-England in general (London, Scotland and Wales did not have elections). But even worse when you consider that there were some strikingly new factors in some of the geographies that might have excited and engaged those who believe in representative democracy.
For instance, North of Tyne adults had the opportunity to vote for an elected executive Mayor of a new devolved administration. Of around 665,000 adults, 563,000 are registered local government electors, and an underwhelming 183,000 (32.33%) managed to drag themselves to the polls. So, the winning candidate received 62,034 first preference votes (under 10% of the adult population) which was topped up by round 15,000 second preferences to seal victory. With a mandate like that….
In the South voters had the opportunity to elect totally new unitary councils in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP); and in Dorset. Did these new councils capture the imagination of their burghers? Seemingly not. BCP limped to a 33.1% turnout with some wards at 25% or under.
Of the 30-35% of adults who bothered to vote it is really difficult to say anything very definitive about what this tells us about any ‘will of the people’ for the global and national challenges facing England.
First – these were local elections. Surely some of the voters and some of the abstentions were swayed by local issues and personalities?
Second, there was a profound lack of choice across huge swathes of middle England. In my ward in North Kesteven (NK) I was presented with NO parish election because there were not enough candidates; and a choice of two from a Conservative and two ‘Lincolnshire Independents’ for my two-councillor NK ward. There were no progressive and/or anti-Brexit candidates at all. As previously mentioned, nationally LibDems only contested around 50% and Greens 20% of seats. In NK the 43 seats were contested by only six Labour, two LibDem and no Green candidates.
Third – even where Brexit was a factor, these were not binary elections. For instance, was the massive increase in the Green vote an endorsement of their Brexit position, a reflection of recent profile for their climate change campaigns, and/or something else altogether?
In this respect the lens through which the BBC chose to interpret the results is particularly irresponsible, dishonest, and plain wrong. They imposed a ‘get on with Brexit’ narrative in highly selective vox-pops in a small number of places and through the prominence given to the May and Corbyn interpretations. Had the elections produced a surge in UKIP support, maybe there would be some justification in their narrative. Instead, they just air-brushed out the surge in Remainer support in their commentary – a broadcasting arm of the coup that will be the envy of Russia Today.
The European elections on 23rd May – if May and Corbyn are unable to prevent them taking place – will be more of a referendum about the UK’s place in the EU. But even then, one fears the turnout, disenfranchisement of huge swathes of non-registrants and young people, will give us a very imprecise sense of either the will of the people or what is in the country’s best interests.
And that’s about it.
The two major parties are led by desperate serial liars, with the collusion of the state broadcaster more interested in championing the personal ambitions of Farage and his Brexit party. Despite some encouragement for Remainers, no one has really caught the imagination in terms of democratic renewal. So, we limp on to May 23rd where we know, with absolute certainty, we shall be told the Farage-ists coming fifth or sixth will be the ‘big story’.
The UK seems finished as a construct with any integrity and any positive contribution to make to global and community challenges. We need an independent Scotland, a united Ireland, London and perhaps some other city states in England. OK – I concede it sounds fanciful. But certainly neither as absurd nor as dishonest as the bile the leaders of our two major English parties managed to utter yesterday in the face of their ignominious LE2019 debacles.