As a General Election kicks off and “normal” business in Parliament is suspended what can policy advocates do during the next six weeks of hectic campaigning? Is it still possible to influence the manifestos that are due to be launched imminently? Generally if you are asking this question for the first time it means your are thinking too little, too late about engagement. Really this is a conversation you need to have started months ago. But for those who like to leave their homework to the last minute, the Atlas team sets out the manifesto process for each of three national parties.
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As businesses around the country prepare for a no-deal Brexit their advisors need to come clean about the questions they cannot answer. Any advisor with integrity would admit that they simply do not know what is coming next, and clients should judge us on that.
Atlas Director Charles Napier offers his reflections from the Labour Party conference 2019. The Leadership will not have been able to believe its luck as the Supreme Court ruling papered over the cracks from what would otherwise have been seen to be a pretty dismal trip to Brighton. .
As everyone’s favourite B word dominates the airwaves, behind the scenes the nitty-gritty of politics continues. And nothing is more nitty-gritty than local elections. On Thursday many voters in England will go to the polls to elect their local councillors. An event that may not have always captured the imagination, but could actually be quite exciting. Well, for some of us at least.
In this blog, researcher Mike Hough will discuss where the elections are taking place, what we should look out for and what it tells us about the bigger picture of politics.
So firstly where are these elections being fought? Pretty much everywhere in England, barring London. This means there will be elections in the Tory shires, elections in Labour heartlands and elections in key battleground regions.
And who is fighting them? Well, the usual suspects. The Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP will all be contesting a number of the seats. The new kids on the block will not be making an appearance. Alas, the nascent Brexit Party and ChangeUK were not created soon enough to be allowed to put forward candidates. The Electoral Commission are such spoilsports.
SCORES ON THE DOORS
In total, there are 8,425 seats in play. The last time many of these seats were contested was in 2015 on the same day as the General Election. A pretty good day for the Tories. This means the Tories start from a high base and are defending 4,906 seats. This compares with 2,113 for Labour, 647 for the Lib Dems, 176 for UKIP and 71 for the Greens. It also means turnout then was much higher than anyone expects to see on Thursday.
WHICH ISSUES MATTER
The national mood and national politics is always relevant, which further suggests it will be a difficult night for the Tories. However, it is important to remember in local elections voters cast their vote for a number of different reasons. For some this is the best opportunity to register what they think about bin collections, potholes, police services, women’s refuge funding, libraries, the arts transport services, council tax and a wealth of other local political issues. Parties will be and are campaigning with this in mind. See Labour’s latest pledge to reverse cuts to 3,000 bus routes in England for example.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?
OK, so onto the actual results. Where could we see drama?
BRIGHTON AND HOVE
Brighton and Hove Council is fascinating, at least for the nerds amongst us. No party has had overall control of the council since 2003, and excitingly all council seats are in play on Thursday. The Tories are currently the largest party but both Labour and the Greens have a significant presence. If the national mood turns decisively against the Tories you would expect them to lose seats here. On a good night Labour would expect to do well and probably take control of the council. However, don’t rule out a strong performance from the Greens who have a solid local base.
STOKE ON TRENT
Stoke is normally Labour land. Yet in 2017 on an otherwise bad night for the Tories they seized a parliamentary seat in Stoke South. The local council is now also no longer in Labour hands but is run by a coalition of Conservatives and City Independents. Labour would expect to make gains on Thursday. However there is a caveat, Stoke is also Brexit land. If Labour Brexiteers are angry with the party’s constructive ambiguity on the topic closest to their hearts we could see it play out in Stoke. Whether Labour can in pro-Brexit areas will be an interesting dynamic to monitor.
BATH AND NORTH EAST SOMERSET
Last but not least, Bath and North East Somerset. The council was taken by the Conservatives in 2015, but this could now be under threat. The Conservative councillors will come under attack from all sides on Thursday especially from the Lib Dems as they have traditionally performed well here both at a council and a national level. If the Lib Dems are ever to realise their much promised #LibDem fightback they need to make gains here. Their aim is to win enough seats to ensure the council moves from Conservative control to No Overall Control. And if that isn’t a metaphor for the beleaguered leadership of Vince Cable I don’t know what is.
THE BIG PICTURE
Prediction time. Drumroll please. So come Friday what will we all be talking about? We predict losses of upwards of 500 Tory councillors and more than 300 Labour gains. A good result for the Lib Dems with over 100 gains which will set the stage for Sir Vince’s much heralded exit and a forthcoming leadership contest. There should be considerable gains for the Greens as Sir David Attenborough, our carbon guilt and Extinction Rebellion have seen the environment climb back up the political agenda.
There is one final issue. Trust (you can read our wider views on trust here). Trust in our politics and politicians is at a low ebb. This is likely to materialise through voters staying away with turnout expected to fall from the already low 2018 numbers. So whilst we all dissect the results, it is important to remember most voters probably just won’t turn out which is something for all in politics to reflect upon.
WHERE DO WE END UP?
So where will this leave politics when all is said and done? We think these local elections will capture the headlines for a day or two but then the story will move on. The narrative will return to Brexit and the European elections and their implications (examine our latest thoughts on the European elections here).
Yes, the elections will be another nail in the coffin for our depleted Prime Minister’s career. But no, it will not be the final one. Unfortunately Mrs May will have to suffer a few more wounds yet. So I suppose regardless of the results you might say nothing will change.
While both Labour and Tory defectors in the new Independent Group appear seemingly united, underpinning their rationales are two very different parties, with very different problems. New Atlas researcher Sophia looks at whether the TIGers can mobilise the centre ground and offer more than an anti-Brexit movement, or whether their inevitable differences will be too strong to overcome.
The creation of the Independent Group is understandable but also puzzling, as Britain’s two main parties find themselves in very different circumstances. While Labour has been consumed with allegations of antisemitism and bullying, many have been left wondering why three Tories have left a party that is trying to fulfil its manifesto pledge of pursuing Brexit.
If you separate the Independent Group’s policies beyond Brexit you will still find, at heart, Labour and Conservative MPs. Despite both main parties being split, they are of course ideologically separate. Umunna still supports greater public spending, and Soubry still supports the austerity agenda driven by the Conservative Government. While ideological differences with their native parties have brought them together, ideological differences may yet tear them apart as buried beneath the surface lie very different views on the role of the individual and the role of the state.
So can the Independent Group unite around more than disillusionment with the leading parties? More than slowing -even preventing- Brexit? Their statement of independence is worryingly empty: void of distinct policies and consisting more of vague statements that nobody could really disagree with. On the other hand, (highlighted here in a previous Atlas blog), a moderate (even if somewhat vague in TIG’s case) middle ground for the politically homeless is welcome at a time when politicians (and people) are so deeply divided.
CHANCES OF SUCCESS
Last week a YouGov poll placed the Independent Group at 18 percent, despite their lack of manifesto. Although the usual caveats around the reliability of polling applies, to put this in some context, Cameron called a referendum when the UK Independence Party polling at just 10%. This latest polling suggests that the electorate to some extent shares TIGer’s disillusionment with the main parties and simply favour a change -any change- from May’s shambolic handling of Brexit and the hard-left of Corbyn.
These considerations are now more poignant as the Group's character shifts from an SDP-esque Labour splinter movement, to a political grouping with the potential for electoral influence. The First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system has historically smothered small parties before they even get started, and this will surely be no different. Once the novelty of their creation has worn off, whether they have the potential for electoral success is yet to be seen.
One option on the table is to facilitate some form of merge with the Lib Dems, however this comes with its own baggage and further dilutes the possibility for consensus as a third party enters the mix. The extent of agreement within the Group on Lib Dem involvement is already contentious, with some avoiding the question and some seemingly suggesting they’re all welcome.
Regardless of how you look at it, it’s bold. To cross the benches and collaborate with your opposition on forming a new parliamentary group takes some guts. But once the novelty wears off, will they unite and change political history, or be remembered as an idealistic but ultimately hollow faction? We will be watching with interest.
Well, in the end, conference 2018 for Labour did focus on the three predicted themes but only one of which had any impact beyond the political bubble. That of course was Brexit and despite seeming to tie themselves up in knots as to whether they would be open to having another in/out referendum, most members left conference feeling in a better place than perhaps they had been at the beginning of the week when it came to Brexit.
Remainers were encouraged by Keir Starmer’s open acceptance of a second referendum if Brexit negotiations fell apart and Leavers were pleased that that policy didn’t appear to become official. It certainly summed up Labour’s policy of obfuscation over Brexit which once again served them well as it managed to neither offend nor please anyone greatly. In the end the whole argument was trumped by Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to support the Government on Brexit if they could guarantee a customs union, ensure an open Irish border and keep to a bunch of promises on jobs and sustainability. Finally it seems that Labour had a clear position on Brexit albeit a near impossible one for Theresa May to deliver. A cunning ruse in that they have at least stated some sort of position but one which is also vacuous in its lack of deliverability.
The other two issues that we and most others had predicted would be central to conference was the row over anti-Semitism and internal party changes to enable the Left to maintain power. There was some focus on anti-Semitism but Corbyn’s condemnation seemed to broadly shut the issue down even though not everyone was convinced by its sincerity. As for the internal changes, Tom Watson can feel pleased that his strong support for a second (female) deputy so unnerved the Left that they promptly withdrew the idea.
Overall, the whole conference seemed to work well for the leadership and the idea that the party is ‘ready to govern’ genuinely seems to have got cut-through. Corbyn’s visit to see Barnier the day after the conference was a masterstroke (despite a lack of Euros) as it gave them an extra day of largely approving headlines which focused on the professionalism of the party giving it that ready to govern feel.
Delegates and members, whether they agreed with the leadership or not, recognised that real policy which actually made sense to people was being proposed on an industrial scale. It was almost as if the longed-for general election was actually due to take place soon and the battle lines were being drawn. It seems to have rattled the Tories, many of whom have admitted that Labour’s policies and ideas appeal to more than just a minority of the population.
The party definitely smells blood as the Government attempts to get Brexit over the line, hurdle after hurdle. If this week’s Conservative gathering in Birmingham is as bad as last year and the subsequent Brexit negotiations and eventual vote in Parliament are lost then that pressure to have a general election, unlikely as it seems currently, will grow ever stronger and Labour will feel that they can turn the gains of 2017 into an outright victory. Of course, it’s all very well being prepared but unless the Conservatives do decide to commit a collective hara-kiri then a general election does seem a long way off and all the talk and look of being ready for govern will mean absolutely nothing.
This article was first published on the 18th January by Pagoda Porter Novelli.
Viewers of the Andrew Marr show will have seen the First Minister defiantly keep alive her hopes of calling a second referendum before the 2021 Scottish elections saying she will make her decision – based on her assessment of the Brexit outcome – in the autumn.
The most recent YouGov opinion poll (conducted between January 12 and 16) gives little succour to the First Minister’s hopes. It reveals that not only has support for independence fallen to 43%, with the No vote rising to 57%, but those who thought that a further poll should take place in the next five years has fallen to 36%.
And, more worryingly for the First Minister, the poll shows that at the 2021 Holyrood election, the SNP could lose 10 seats; even with a projected 10 seats for the Greens that total falls 2 votes short of a pro-independence majority.
The news for Labour is not much better. Support for Labour has fallen by 2% in both the constituency and regional list. And its new leader, Richard Leonard, has a negative rating of 15 when respondents were asked if he was doing well or badly. To be fair he was elected in early December and most folk pay little attention to politics over the festive period so he has little time to make his mark.
But Leonard’s perceived alignment with Jeremy Corbyn has also proven to be a negative factor. Corbyn has an approval rating of minus 3 compared to plus 20 just three months ago. Factors which may have affected Leonard and Labour’s popularity include Corbyn’s indecision on how the UK should leave the EU; Labour’s position on tax increases; the party’s ongoing promotion of federalism at a time when the electorate want to talk about services; and his loyalty to London giving the impression that Labour no longer has a distinctive Scottish voice and is back to being a “branch office”.
The Scottish Conservatives have marginally increased their support at Holyrood in the constituency and list vote. They may have benefitted from their position of not wishing to increase income tax, while all their opponents wish to agree some level of increase. The taxation issue will continue to be a dividing line right up to 2021. Depending on the nature of Brexit and its effect on the Scottish Conservative Party, tax increases may well be at the top of the political agenda when the election rolls around. And if the Conservatives remain the only party wedded to leaving income tax levels where they are, they should benefit.
So what will 2018 bring? Ongoing criticism of the SNP’s failures in education, the NHS and Police Scotland in particular; a continued growth in support for the Scottish Conservatives and the ongoing marginalisation of Labour, at least in Scotland. Oh and no second Scottish referendum.
As Kezia Dugdale steps down, friends of Atlas, Pagoda Porter Novelli, assess where the Labour Party can go next, and why GE2017 proved to be a fake victory for the Party North of the border.
With the general election now over, and normal business resuming, the big issue now for the new ‘Corbynite’ Labour party is how to position themselves on Brexit. Of the 262 seats they won on June 8th, 162 of these voted Leave in 2016, with 70 of those seats voting to do so by over 60%.
Theresa May's aim was to secure a strong and definitive mandate for her premiership, ideology, and negotiating position in the upcoming Brexit talks. This morning’s results left that aim in tatters. She moved quickly today to try to cement her position, using the onset of the Brexit talks as an excuse to plough on. Brandishing a new working relationship with the latest power brokers in Westminster - Northern Ireland’s DUP - as her way of creating a majority, without anyone spelling out what exactly this means for either party. Cue a huge spike in google searches across the country as people asked 'who are the DUP'. The Institute for Government has written about the leverage of the smaller parties in the new Parliament and what that means for forthcoming Brexit talks.
So, once again politics proves itself the pre-eminent force at springing surprises. As in 2010, we have a hung parliament but, unlike seven years ago, it seems there is little prospect of a formal coalition.
With the Conservatives still the largest party but short of a working majority, this morning's speculation centres around a future minority Conservative government, propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party. We've already started analysing their manifesto to see what they proposed but one clear policy was their support for Brexit. As we have said before - the only thing that is certain in the next little while is uncertainty. Get in touch if you have questions.
As we approach June 8th, Atlas will be sending through a Friday round-up of news, anecdotes, and current polling to help you keep abreast of the latest campaign trail developments.
It’s that time of year again, so Atlas co-founder Charles Napier has dug out some old guides for lobbyists on party conference behaviour to provide essential top tips for surviving the season.
For those who might not have kept pace with the Labour leadership news, as resignation followed resignation over the last 24hrs, we've prepared a quick update here.
We expect further developments to break after the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting tonight. At present, it looks like a stalemate between rebel MPs and Corbyn's supporters stubbornly sticking to his grassroots mandate. Unless John McDonnell gives Corbyn a final (private) push, it may be that only a poll of the full membership can settle this...