Local Elections 2019: Are we finally seeing the first signs of disruption in mainstream politics?
With the results coming in from local elections in England and Northern Ireland, Peter Hogg, UK Cities Director at Arcadis, shares his thoughts on the newly emerging political landscape.
As the final results come in, the headline is clear; the electorate is dissatisfied with mainstream politics and have said so at the ballot box. Neither the Conservatives nor the Labour party can claim the results were anything other than a bloody nose, with each punished most in their traditional heartlands. With no elections in London or Scotland, Labour would be wise not to be too relieved by doing less badly than the Conservatives. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats enjoyed a strong resurgence, though only time will tell whether this signals the end of their spell on the electoral naughty-step or merely the benefit of being a palatable choice for protest votes.
The Green Party’s performance is interesting and gives pause for reflection. Again, are they simply benefiting from being “none of the above” or is there more to it? It would be unwise to discount the possibility that the impact of climate change is now sufficiently real to influence voting habits. It also looks a safe forecast that the Green Party will continue to grow in popularity.
UKIP’s failure to attract protest votes, especially from those frustrated with the main parties’ handling of Brexit goes some way to demonstrating that, when given the choice, the electorate will shift to the centre-ground rather than political fringes. Or could it be that UKIP’s champagne will never fizz again without the Farage bubbles?
Perhaps the greatest paradox of these elections is the apparent split between nationally and locally influenced decision-making. On the one hand, many voters have given short shrift to councillors and candidates irrespective of their local performance and commitment, choosing to vote or abstain on the basis of activity hundreds of miles away in Westminster. And on the other, there has been a strong swing towards showing from Independent candidates who typically have capitalised on genuinely local concerns about housing, social services and the demise of town centres.
An unprecedented willingness to back an individual rather than a party really does take us into new territory. As society becomes more citizen-centric and individuals become less willing to accept anything generic, it is logical that this is reflected in politics. It is always wise not to read too much into local elections but, that said, we might – just might – have seen the first, unmistakeable sign of significant disruption in politics; we should be ready for a citizen-centric society delivering citizen-led politics.