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LOCALLY SPEAKING

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LOCALLY SPEAKING

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.

WHERE?

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.

May and Corbyn campaigning.jpg

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.

Potholes.jpg

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.

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New Year, new beginning? Well not in Scottish politics.

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New Year, new beginning? Well not in Scottish politics.

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.

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#GE2017 - 4 Weeks to Go...

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#GE2017 - 4 Weeks to Go...

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.

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Budget 2017: spreadsheet Phil turns showman

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Budget 2017: spreadsheet Phil turns showman

Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer unveiled (probably) the last ever Spring Budget saying “our task today is to take the next steps in preparing Britain for a global future… (a thinly veiled Brexit reference) equip our young people with the skills they need, support our public services and build an economy that works for everyone.” His key message was that economic growth was not an end in itself, and the Government’s aim was to support “ordinary working families.

Despite his reputation as a spreadsheet nerd not a showman, Hammond didn’t pull any political punches, with several bruising attacks on the Labour opposition. But his team seemed surprisingly unprepared for the fall out over changes to National Insurance that broke promises from the Conservative 2015 manifesto. We've collated some of the latest stakeholder reaction so you don't have to... 

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