So, following the elections yesterday the results are now mainly in. They make for an interesting picture: some expected big losses for the two parties in government (though this masks some (very) minor gains, in particular for the LibDems in their usual strongholds), including the loss of overall Council control for the Tories in a few places; the continuing apparent rise for the UK Independence Party; a mixed result for Labour, with a good growth in numbers of Councillors but only re-taking overall control of 2 Councils, they’d surely have hoped for even better – although the majority of Councils with elections were in the Tory dominated southern half of the country; small gains for the Green Party, which from the social media comments I’m picking up they seem to be spinning very positively but I would guess will bring some disappointment behind closed doors that they couldn’t make greater strides forwards, given the large number of voters who seem currently willing to abandon the more established parties.
The results nationally also seem to raise the usual question that British elections frequently throw up, given the way we do things. That’s the question of how we can have a system in which a party gets somewhere in the region of 23% per cent of the vote nationally higher than the Liberal Democrats, make what feel like big gains, and yet still end up with just 6.22% of the seats available. Now, these were local elections, the strength of the UKIP vote will have varied from Council to Council (the same as every party), and they weren’t standing a candidate in every Council ward (there wasn’t one in ours, for example), but you might still think that given their national popularity they might have managed even more seats than they did. Personally, I’m quite happy that UKIP didn’t make larger gains, or gain control Councils – although if they had maybe they’d have quickly shown the nation they’re a one-trick pony and we’d all be better off in the long-term!
But despite all this, it is the local side of politics that really interests me in this election, seeing as they are local ones. One of the most interesting things for me is the number of Independent Councillors we have on Cornwall Council (Cornwall is a Unitary Authority, so while it is thought of as a County the reality is that Council should always be referred to as Cornwall Council and never as the County Council – because it isn’t one!) The BBC say that in the 34 County and Unitary Councils that had elections today there are now 165 Independents. That’s an average of just under 5 per Council. In Cornwall we now have 37! (To make things even stranger, the Council’s official figures, as opposed to the BBC’s, give two kinds of independent – “Independents” and “Unspecified”, whatever that might mean!) This means there are more Independents (combining the Council’s two categories) in the Council chamber than there are of any single political party. (There are 123 seats on Cornwall Council, it is a big Council.) And far more Independents than there are from Independence parties, both of the UK variety, who have 6 seats, and the Cornish variety (Mebyon Kernow), who have 4.
And the very local picture also flagged up some of the negatives of local politics. Firstly, our own Cornwall Council ward only had two candidates, so after all my fuss about leaving the LibDems I ended up with the choice of giving my vote to them or the Tories – I think most folk can guess where it went, though reluctantly! Still, that was better than the Town Council elections. In Saltash only 1/4 of the electors were even required to go to the polls, since 3 of the 4 multi-member wards didn’t have enough people stand to require an election. We were amongst the 3 quarters of Saltash folk not given a choice over our representatives on the Town Council. Both situations are a symptom of the fact that feelings of disenfranchisement result not only in low turnouts (suggestions are that the turnout may be an historic low), but a reduced willingness to put oneself forward – which is problematic since the only way we will rescue ourselves from the presumed “all the same”-ness of party politics is to have more people put themselves forward.
So, while not necessarily bringing the excitement of a general election, these elections have brought plenty of interest for those, like me, who have a deep interest in politics and the analysis of election results, especially the intriguing specialty of Cornish politics. However, now, with the results of the voting known, comes the important part, as the true results of the elections show themselves in the work of Councillors and Councils over the coming months and years!