Local Elections 2018 – The Countdown Predictables in an Unpredictable Political Landscape
An entire textbook could be written on the UK political landscape for the years 2016 and 2017 alone, which have perhaps been the most political disruptive years in living memory.
If the British electorate thought the election carousal had passed, the 6-month countdown is on until the Local Elections 2018. With political lactic acid causing electoral fatigue among constituents and campaigners, some speculate that voter turnout could be at a record low.
However, the importance of the Local Elections on 3rd May 2018 cannot be understated. Whilst the media and politicians invest time and resource on the juicy, headline grabbing stories such as the progress of Brexit negotiations, the rate of climate change or the impact of national infrastructure projects, these can sometimes be perceived as having limited immediate impact on the average voter in a ward.
After all, a national agenda for clean oceans makes little difference to the voter whose had uncollected rubbish in his front garden for three weeks. Or a new billion pound investment on roads connecting major cities makes little difference to the voter who has an uneven road she has to drive down every day. A good or bad trade tariff deal following Brexit is irrelevant to the voter terrified to open his front door due to local levels of crime. It has been said that “proximity is power” and the Local Elections matter because they mark the occasion where the conveyance of power is provided to individuals who are vested to make decisions which impact on the overall day to day well-being and quality of life for thousands.
The next six months will be akin to a political gymnasium, where each of the parties will need to capitalise on their key strengths, demonstrate stamina in refining the skills demonstrated at the 2017 General Election and compartmentalising any weak spots. There is everything to fight for, not least because the election fight on a local level will be a significant indicator as to how each of the parties are progressing on a national level. It will provide an opportunity to assess whether political parties have learnt the lessons from the 2017 General Election and provide a feedback mechanism to campaign managers, party leaders and Government in preparation for the next General Election. As polling day fast approaches, my predictions against an unpredictable political backdrop are as follows.
Irrespective of any tension or disputes which have occurred within local political parties, I expect parties to (at least look) unified with key council positions being consolidated. In little over one year, there has been some interesting changes to Council leaderships. On one hand, Cllr Sarah Hayward in Camden, Mayor John Biggs in Tower Hamlets and Mayor Sir Robin Wales in Newham faced tight leadership challenges. Whereas Sir Steve Bullock in Lewisham and Cllr Chris Robbins in Waltham Forest were replaced with new leaders. All too often, leadership challenges and change can lead to instability and inefficiencies which in turn could be detrimental to how the party is being perceived by the electorate. Consequently, with only a matter of months left until the Local Elections, one can expect any fault lines within parties to be patched up and roles and responsibilities to be consolidated.
Grass roots campaigning through local political associations and groups is the keystone to winning locally. The 2017 General Election witnessed the impact of the Left’s Momentum whose campaign efforts no doubt assisted with the gains made by Labour. Whilst Momentum supporters were able to mobilise themselves to target constituency seats during the General Election, it is questionable to what extent they can repeat such a mobilisation strategy on a ward level. Nevertheless, candidates and campaign managers will have commenced their analysis of how best to engage grass root supporters to assist with the campaign efforts. Wards can expect to see an increase of councillors and candidates attending community events, cultural festivals and organising coffee mornings in a bid to engage supporters between now and May 2018.
The youth engagement in politics is at one of the highest levels ever. Consequently, the smarter campaigners from all political parties will consider how best to target the youth vote. On a policy level, the coming months could see an increase in meetings between councillors and council officers to assess how a local area could develop more affordable housing, better leisure facilities as well as vocational and academic resources. Some parties may even go as far as creating “youth manifestos” in a bid to reaching out to young local voters. Whilst the 2017 General Election saw a surge of engagement with the youth via social media, the same is unlikely to be seen towards the lead up to the Local Elections. Whilst social media is particularly effective on broad national campaigns, posts may have limited amounts of traction on more local and targeted campaigns.
It is no secret that Councils have had to make unpopular decisions in a bid to operate more economically in light of reduced funding from Central Government. As polling day draws closer, one can expect Town Hall committee rooms to be the arena for Council leaders and their cabinets to assess how they can temporarily reverse unpopular cost cutting policies in a last minute bid to win over voters. Therefore, the New Year could witness incumbents adopting quick win strategies with key policy changes in a bid to squeeze more votes from the electorate.
The Local Elections in May 2018 are going to be among the most important ever. Whilst predictions can stretch as far as 2 May 2018, the results of 3 May 2018 is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, every constituent is encouraged to engage with their local councillors and candidates to improve the local area and provide a mechanism by which politicians can provide a better service. After all, recent history has taught us that there is no space for complacency for either the politician or the voter.