May the 4th may well have been Star Wars day but it was a sad day for Labour politics. Jeremy Corbyn has called the results “difficult”. John McDonnell blamed UKIP voters swinging to Tories. These gloss over some very worrying trends that look extremely difficult to alter before the General Election on June 8th.
John McDonnell is right in one respect. The UKIP vote collapsed and almost holistically swung to the Tories. This shows a little short sightedness though as he has neglected to mention the Labour to UKIP swings in 2013 and 2015. Labour has simply been unable to capture those votes back. The fact that some life long Labour voters are now prepared to vote Conservative should be worrying for the Labour strategists. In fact, it should be downright frightening. Labour message is muddled, unclear and very often too nuanced to effectively communicate what we are about.
Drilling back down to the Lincolnshire vote, the Tories have made great gains at the expense of UKIP and Labour. UKIP are wiped out and Labour has had its representation halved. Grantham’s only Labour County Councillor, Charmaine Morgan lost her seat by 13 votes. That is an impossibly close result that can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. This taste becomes vomit inducing when you realise that only 25% of the electorate voted in her division.
Hard working councillors across the country have lost their seats. Influence has been affected; Conservatives have now been given carte blanche to enact their damaging policies. These are uncertain times and far from being “strong & stable” leadership, Theresa May is weak in the face of the stronger personalities in her cabinet. Conservatives, emboldened by these gains, will push home a harder form of Brexit, a form where no deal is more likely than any deal. A deal that embodies the current “us and them” rhetoric, treating our European partners as people who cannot be trusted or should be feared. If this is what people voted for in the local elections, then good for them. They won so that’s what should happen. I, however, have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t what was voted for.
In fact, 3 out of 4 people in Grantham South did not vote. Only 10,822 people in the Grantham Divisions did vote. Out of 37,249 people registered to vote in those divisions only 29% of people voted. The Conservatives won every seat in the South Kesteven area with only 18% of the electorate voting for them. The winner of the local elections on May 4th 2017 was apathy.
So, what do the other 70% of the electorate want? Why did they not see fit to vote? This should be the focus of our political analysis. More engagement with the political processes is vital to ensure that the majority voice is heard. To ensure the tiresome merry-go-round of low turnout and apathy is halted. Only then will local government be effective in ensuring that the needs of the many are met.