By Paul Goodman
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Has anyone else pointed out yet that our electoral cycle this year will be different from usual?
The norm is that elections take place in the spring and the party conferences in the autumn. The political parties are judged to have done well or badly in the elections; the party leaders are then judged to have done well or badly at their conferences. The elections and conferences thus provide a framework for Britain's political year.
Two sets of polls in 2012 will tear up this calendar.
First, elections for 41 police commissioners in England and Wales will take place on November 15. (These were originally planned in May, but our wonderful Coalition partners insisted that they were put back until the autumn.) Second, elections for up to 15 city mayors will take place on the same day (if local voters approve this plan in referendums this May).
Consider the consequences:
- This spring's elections will still compel attention – how could they not be, when Boris "Bozza" Johnson and Ken "Bonkers" Livingstone are going-head-to-head in London?
- But the autumn's elections will do so too, as those both within the Westminster Village and outside it try to work out which parties have done well and which badly. A party could perform well in the spring but have the shine knocked off it six months later. For example, Livingstone could lose the London Mayoralty but Labour could do very nicely in the autumm, thank you. Or Boris could lose and the Conservatives bounce back in elections which, after all, will contain lots of Tory voters in big rural or semi-rural areas.
- The party conferences will surely become showcases and springboards for Commissioner and Mayoral candidates – altering their timetables and formats accordingly.
Then again, why assume that these elections will take place along conventional political lines? Are they not more likely to throw up a mass of independents – and semi-independents, as the political parties manoevre to line up behind new candidates who are not the usual members of the political class? Candidates will surely include:
- The wonderful. Today's Sun reports that Simon Weston, the Falklands hero, will take on the Labour MP Alun Michael in South Wales. It doesn't reveal whether Weston is aligned to a political party, but the choice of placement for the story will lead some readers to suspect that he has Conservative backing. Remember how the party released during the conference season the news that that Colonel Tim Collins wants to stand in Kent.
- The wild. Aaarrrggghhh! John Prescott is considering standing as police commissioner in Humberside.
- The wacky. I was asked by a Tory friend if I'd consider putting my name forward for the police commissioner post in the Thames Valley. The idea is unlikely to have been CCHQ-approved. It would clearly be unsuitable for all concerned. Today's Birmingham Post reports the continuing Mayoral aspirations of the former Labour MP Sion Simon.
All in all, voters and commentators may look for a clear outcome this autumn, but I doubt they will find one. Some independents are bound to win. Maybe quite a few. Some of whom will have backed by one party or another. Or perhaps more than one. Some of the winners will row with Chief Constables. Others will gang up with them against the Government.
Others, too, will turn out to be manifestly incapable of doing the job for which they have been elected. Some will be brilliantly and unexpectedly successful. The turnout figure will be watched closely. By the way, I see that Collins's claim that he can do the job part-time hasn't gone down well with everyone in Kent. Wait till journalists and voters get their teeth into pay and expenses.
Variety, difference, successes and failures, new ways of doing things – that's localism for you! Let the dice roll.