In most of the country we have now got two election campaigns under way. Naturally enough, most attention is being paid to the General Election on June 8th. But there are still a couple of weeks to go till the local elections – including the county council elections, local election in Wales and Scotland, and various Mayoral contests.
What will be the implications?
Of course it will be a strain for all political parties to run two campaigns at once – not to mention that huge number of constituency parties do not yet have candidates in place, further increasing the feverish workload. Then there is the fatigue of the electorate. Some voters might feel that with the General Election in the offing, they can afford to give the locals a miss.
But I think the schedule will particularly hurt Labour. All councillors and council candidates are inclined to stress that local elections should be about local issues – rather than a protest vote on some national or international affair. Labour councillors fighting to defend their seats will be particularly keen on this theme. On the doorsteps they will have been repeating the refrain that this is a Council election and “nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn.” They will still try to do this but it is harder for the message to resonate when they are simultaneously canvassing for the General Election.
Loyal Labour supporters who regard Corbyn as a disaster have been able to continue to vote Labour on the basis of some uncertainty about the leadership – that the “problem” might be “resolved” in some way. When they were looking at 2020 they could regard Corbyn as some sort of theoretical abstraction. He must now be faced as a real and present danger.
So Labour losses will probably be even greater in the council elections than they would have been anyway. That will further dent Labour morale – which is hardly in a robust state as it is. At least with dire opinion polls there can always be the response that the polls get it wrong. A drubbing in real elections is harder to dismiss.
By contrast the Conservatives will get a boost. Even if campaigners are tired, the experience of winning tends to motivate a return to the fray.
What of the other parties? The Lib Dems have been trumpeting their anti-Brexit credentials. But is that necessarily a plus in some of the places they want to gain in the Council elections? Cornwall and Devon are traditional areas of Liberal strength. But the anti establishment, independently minded people of those counties delivered a Leave vote in the EU referendum. Still I expect overall large Lib Dem gains in council seats which will buoy them up for the General Election.
UKIP will probably fall back in the local elections – the number of candidates they are running is sharply down. They will find the organisational challenges of a dual campaign especially difficult.
While the SNP will make gains in the local elections due to when the seats were last fought, the timing will be tricky for them. That is because the Scottish Conservatives are also set to do well and thus establish themselves as the main Unionist alternative. The local results will surely be used in various seats that the Conservatives hope to gain from the SNP to plead for tactical votes in the General Election.
So there will be assorted complexities and local variations. But the close timing of the elections will certainly make the terrible prospects for Labour even worse.