Cllr Gareth Lyon is a councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.
Whilst it would be foolish to deny that this election is, to an overwhelming extent, being seen on the doorstep as a choice between the two party leaders, there are a number of other issues which keep coming up and are themselves coloured by perceptions of the protagonists.
From having knocked on doors in six very different constituencies, across the South East, certain themes stand out more than is being reported. Social Care is one of these.
The impact of social care on both the 2017 and 2015 elections is well documented. This explains the reluctance of all the central campaigns to focus on it too much. Yet the reason it proved to be such a powerful weapon in those campaigns is because it is becoming an increasingly important issues for millions of people across the country – both those considering their own future provision and those concerned for elderly relatives.
People I speak to do not necessarily expect parties to have a completely worked out solution – they recognise that the issues are challenging and complex. They do, however, expect senior politicians to acknowledge the scale of the challenge before us and to show that tackling it will be a priority for the next administration.
In this light, the Conservative Manifesto pledge to set up a cross-party commission to search for a consensus on the issue makes a lot of sense. Yet the clear dissonance between the statesmanlike cross-party tones in which such a commission would operate, and the hyper-partisan nature of elections, makes it harder for such proposals to cut through the immediate media noise.
What is interesting though, is how this issue – and other issues which keep coming up on the doorstep – police and anti-social behaviour, schools, housing and benefits – are now being seen through the prism of people’s perceptions of the party leaders. So Labour’s policies are being seen as hopelessly unrealistic and not based on any proper understanding of either people’s values or the economy. The Liberal Democrat policies are being seen as nakedly opportunistic and lightweight, whilst an appreciation of the Conservatives’ policies is shrouded (I believe unfairly) in distrust.
All of these are qualities which the same voters will ascribe to the party leaders.
On one level therefore, it is tempting, as an association with a well run local council, to celebrate the fact that local politics is now shaping national campaigns, in the same way that national campaigns have all too often impinged on our local messaging when they coincide with national or European elections. But to be honest we would be kidding ourselves. This election is, I would argue, rightly, about the stark differences in political philosophy embodied by the party leaders.
So in areas with well run Conservative local councils we are seeing opposition parties trying to move the focus away from local issues entirely; whilst in failing opposition-run council areas, we are seeing the other parties attempting to pin the blame for local mismanagement on national decision-making – with the woefully underchallenged narrative of “austerity” being bogeyman in chief.
Overall though, the signs are encouraging. Certainly, in traditional Labour areas it is looking like the elastic has finally snapped – and voters who have been taken for granted for decades are finally voting for a party which will deliver for them.