This is, sort of, a post about the General Election, but it’s not going to be a partisan one, so I don’t think I’m breaking the spirit of my resolution not to write about it. It’s also more about local than national elections.
On Thursday, there are council elections in much of the UK, and there are also elections for the new devolved Mayors in many parts of the country that don’t have council elections.
Now, I always think it’s a good idea to vote in local elections — in many ways the council has far more influence over most people’s day-to-day lives than national government, and your vote also makes more difference in council elections than nationals, as the electorate for each ward is tiny (and the turnout is very poor — it can easily be as low as ten percent — multiplying the power of your vote even more).
There’s also the fact that council elections are, overall, slightly more democratic than national elections — in Scotland they’re run by STV, which is the single best voting system I know of, and throughout the UK EU citizens can vote in local elections even though they can’t vote in the generals. The latter might be especially important this year given the whole Brexit nonsense.
So I would always encourage people to vote in council elections *anyway*, but many people — even many of those who do vote — only care about national issues, not local ones. I have a fair amount of sympathy with this attitude myself — I’m very glad that campaigns to keep the local swimming baths open, or to protect that little bit of grass behind the ASDA from being developed, or whatever, exist, but I can’t bring myself to be particularly worked up about those things in the way I can national issues. (That is not — *NOT* — to suggest that these issues aren’t important. They clearly make a massive difference to people. Just that we all have our own focuses.)
However, this year those of you who only care about national issues should still *seriously* consider voting where you can. Because we’re in a near-unprecedented situation, where the local elections may affect the nationals in multiple ways.
For the first time in thirty years, we have local elections coming shortly before a general. Every general election from 1997 on has been on the same day as the locals, while 1992 had the locals coming a month after the general. And even the 1987 and 1983 elections were a different situation from the current one — both the general elections were called by Thatcher *after* she saw that the Tories had done surprisingly well in the locals. I’ve looked back at least as far as 1959, and I’m beginning to suspect that we have literally *never* had a local election happening before a general election that had already been called.
So this means a few things will be different about these local elections than would otherwise be the case. Firstly, there is currently a set media narrative for the general election — we’re going to get a 100-seat or so Tory majority, Labour are going to collapse in the polls, the Lib Dems will make modest gains but be lucky even to get back to their 1992 levels, the SNP will lose a few seats to the Lib Dems and Tories, but remain largely unchallenged in Scotland, UKIP won’t get any seats at all, the Greens will hold their one seat but not make any gains, and no-one in the media cares about Wales or Northern Ireland so they go unmentioned.
That narrative is so firmly embedded at the moment that one might think that there was hardly any point even bothering to have the election at all, since everyone’s so sure what the result will be. But that could all change once we have results from the local elections. Imagine headlines such as “Shock Labour Win: Corbyn Takes 100 Council Seats From Tories”, or “SNP Collapse: Down to 25% in Scotland. Is Indyref2 Doomed?” or “Lib Dem Fightback: Farron’s Party Top Poll!”
Those things *could* happen on May 4, and they would change the whole narrative of the election instantly. And given that these elections are almost all very, very, low turnout — and are likely to be even more so this time as people don’t particularly want to vote twice in quick succession — your vote is likely to influence that narrative disproportionately.
But there’s a more concrete, immediate, difference your vote may make. Because the parties will be looking at the votes coming in, on a ward-by-ward basis (in fact they look on a ballot-box-by-ballot-box basis). And this general election is an unusual one in that parties are making deals all over the place, to stand down or not campaign in favour of other parties. Lib Dems have stood down for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion, and Labour have said they’re not going to campaign there. The Greens have put out a leaflet in Lewes saying that in the general it’s between the Lib Dems and the Tories. Labour have voted not to campaign (though to stand a candidate) in one Lib Dem/Tory marginal to help the Lib Dem win (I can’t remember which one and Google isn’t helping), and the Greens aren’t standing in Ealing (and somewhere else I can’t remember) in order to give Labour a free run.
And on the other side, UKIP have said they’re not going to stand against several Brexit-supporting Tory and Labour MPs, so as not to split the vote in places like Vauxhall.
But more of these decisions will be made — and some will be revised — based on the data of which parties actually have a reasonable chance in which seats. Which we will understand much better after the local elections. So if you actually want your preferred party to put up a fight *at all* in your constituency, go out and vote so they know there are people there who will vote for them.
And even where no tactical-voting decisions will be made, there are still decisions to be made about how hard to fight and where the parties target resources. A handful of votes in a council seat could make the difference — especially for smaller parties like the Lib Dems or Greens — between standing a paper candidate, not standing at all, or fighting to win with central party help and funding.
So if you can vote on Thursday, whether for a council candidate or a Metro Mayor (and why have none of the main parties stood anyone called Goldwyn for those? Honestly, what a missed opportunity…), get out and vote. You may make more of a difference to the national picture than you expect.
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