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By-election results: voting shifts at the local level

election

Unexpected election results

Depending which side of the political divide you are on, some may say that today’s by-election results were unexpected. For those new MPs, unexpectedly winning an election can be life changing, but a change in political representation can transform communities.

We are all familiar with shock Parliamentary election results, from Stephen Twigg defeating the then Conservative Cabinet Minister, Michael Portillo in 1997 to the recent shock wins by the Liberal Democrats in the North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham by-elections. However, not much coverage is given to shock council results where local authorities change hands.

In this special episode of political sandbox, Chamber UK’s Hal Arnold-Forster sits down with council leaders in three local authorities which not only surprised political commentators at the local elections on 5th May, but also have fascinating plans to transform their local communities.

Chamber UK spoke to the new Liberal Democrat Council Leader in Hull, Cllr Mike Ross, the new Leader of Barnet Council, Cllr Barry Rawlings and former Number 10 advisor and Croydon Councillor Mario Creatura on Jason Perry unexpectedly winning the Croydon mayoralty.

Not listening

Just like the by-election results in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honition, a consistent theme that all three Councillors highlighted as a reason for their unexpected local election results was that the incumbents had “stopped listening to local people.”

It is interesting that all three local government leaders raised the same point, none knew what each other was highlighting.

As you will see from the video, local politicians with their ears to the ground win elections. It really isn’t a difficult strategy. Local government elections are often won on small turnouts with people, often against something which is controversial in their neighborhoods.

While national issues came up on some doorsteps, it was interesting to hear how local people knew that local councils could only deal with local issues. According to our interviewees, it was interesting to hear how local issues were prioritised on doorsteps.

National issues had an impact

If these elections were being held in the US, these local elections would be ‘mid-term’ – a referendum of sorts on the government and its popularity.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, just like with today’s by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon, they candidates at the local election faced a referendum on their national performance. Although not brought up as much by Cllr Creatura, the Labour and Liberal Democrat council leaders suggested that due to the cost-of-living pressures and party gate, national issues were raised on numerous occasions.

Most commentators have suggested these local election results were heavily swayed by national issues and it is important to take these into account. However, when assessing the local election results in areas with an unexpected result, it is clear that local issues overtook national considerations. The interviews with the three council leaders answer some of the reasons why.

Final thought

Unexpected election results are all too often overlooked in political debate – especially local election results. These fascinating changes at a local level often have significant impact to the delivery of local services – from schools to the environment.

So, why do these results not receive the attention they deserve?

It may have something to do with the national news agenda, however listening to representatives of all the political parties represented in the video there seems to be something fundamentally wrong about our political system.

Local authorities have the ability to do so much, yet it is the lack of a local interest from a national media perspective which drives down participation and interest. The insight Hal received was fascinating. We found out what drove local people to switch their support for one party over another.

The consistent point is that high quality delivery counts a lot at a local election ballot box. The failures of the incumbents resulted in local people switching parties. The mismanagement of council funding at a local level in Croydon by the Labour Party is the starkest example. The demographic shifts, the unpopularity of the national government and the previous general election results should have seen a Labour Mayor elected in May – however, the resentment towards the incumbent Labour Council was stark.

The message for all levels of Government as they face the electorate in the coming years is that the public are not satisfied with a lack of delivery. Levelling up matters as much as good local government finances – politicians should watch and learn.

Photo Credit: BBC

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