Initial impressions of an election night to forget! 

My first impression has nothing to do with the results themselves and more to do with just how long we all had to wait to find out what those results were in Bristol – seriously, how can it take until 3.30am to verify votes when some other councils had declared all results, packed up and gone home by then? What is the sense in doing the count in the evening if it is going to take that long? Why not go back to Friday counts, when candidates, agents, media etc have had a chance to sleep? The whole process seemed to be just ever so slightly shambolic……. again. This needs sorting out before the general election next year and goodness knows how they’ll cope in 2016 when we have all council seats and the Mayor up for election at the same time!

I’d like to say that it was an exciting night of local election results, but actually it wasn’t. Sure there were a few surprises, but overall it was rather dull and mostly predictable and I can’t quite believe that once more I found myself awake and listening to it all for most of the night. Clearly after 8 years of being a local councillor, and many more of campaigning, you can never quite shake off an interest in local politics. I’ll no doubt be awake listening on Sunday night as the Euro results come through as well. It seems most pundits were predicting the Liberal Democrats would lose seats and Labour would gain them, with some quieter mumblings about the Greens maybe picking up one or two and let’s not forget UKIP, they just might pinch a couple. So perhaps the biggest surprise was that the Conservative share of the vote held up reasonably well (only down 4%) and the Labour share didn’t increase as much as people thought (up 2%). Not surprising, however, was the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote (down 17%) or the rise of UKIP (up 11%) and the Greens (up 8%) – entirely predictable. For more statistics on what happened, who got elected where, and what the turnout was see the Council website.

The overall impression from these results is a bit depressing really. Of course it’s difficult to predict patterns for future local or even a general election, as locals combined with Euro elections tend to bring out the ‘anti’ vote, so the trends may be more pronounced than they might be next year. They do on the surface at least seem to show that Labour is just not appealing to traditional Labour voters on the outer estates of Bristol, or they just didn’t get their vote out, whereas UKIP are appealing to people across the city particularly in the more traditional Labour heartlands and they seemed to be able to mobilise their vote – they came second in Whitchurch Park, Kingsweston, Avonmouth, Southmead, Brislington East & West – and of course they won their first Bristol Council seat in Hengrove. A further trend would seem to be that disillusioned Liberal Democrat voters are turning to the Green Party rather than Labour, with an increase in the Green vote and two new seats secured in Bristol West – this may also have been an option taken by some Labour voters across the city.

I listened to a lot of the coverage throughout the night on Radio 5 and Radio Bristol and what struck me most was the gradual dawning realisation that we might just have to take UKIP seriously as a party that appeals to the British public – there’s something about Farage and the messages he spins that appeals to people. Yes he might be playing on people’s fears, but it’s also true that to many he comes across as a normal bloke down the pub talking about all the stuff that people are concerned about. Yet somehow this isn’t true of Labour or the Lib Dems – they seem to have lost their way and been out manoeuvred by Farage and UKIP. To my mind Labour are too focused on trying to match the Tories on their policies and have lost sight of what a Labour Party should be about and the Lib Dems, I’m afraid, have just lost their way in a Coalition government dominated by Tory policy. Maybe eventually we’ll get used to the idea of Coalition rather than majority rule, and realise that compromise is essential in coalition politics until then the Liberal Democrats are in trouble, as is any other Party that enters into a Westminster Coalition as a minority. It’s just not something we are used to in this country, but I have a feeling we might well be getting a lot more practice at it. Depressing really! Also depressing is what this means for the Euro elections – I think the predicted upsurge of UKIP is obvious and maybe the only positive will be a few more Green MEPs?

A couple of mentions in relation to individuals in Bristol – I was surprised that the Liberal Democrats lost Brislington West but hung on to Whitchurch Park, keeping their Leader Tim Kent but losing a longstanding councillor in Peter Main, who did such a superb job as Lord Mayor. I was pleased to see the Greens do well, picking up a couple of extra seats and holding onto another, this hopefully bodes well for the European Election results, where the Greens may well just pick up that 6th seat in the SW. And finally, to Sam Mongon who won Windmill Hill from the Lib Dems, turning over a massive majority to win by 7 votes, impressive result.

However, the question I am left with is, does it really matter, other than to the individuals elected or not elected, what difference will this actually make now Bristol has an independent elected mayor, who has responsibility for taking all the decisions anyway? It certainly puts a different perspective on election day for me, as an outsider looking in, the excitement has gone and the meaning attached to results reduced. Perhaps one of the key question now is whether or not the political parties should participate in George’s cabinet and to what end? Maybe for another year it is worth it, to try and at least push party agendas, but in the run up to the 2016 full council and Mayoral elections, how does that work and what would be the benefit of being too closely associated with the decisions being taken by the Mayor? There’s also a big decision about scrutiny of the Mayor and how ineffective this seems to be at the moment – this is perhaps something that Labour and others need to get to grips with and provide more effective and consistent challenge to decision processes? Whilst I’ll watch with interest over the next week or so to see who helps George to form a cabinet and what positions different individuals take up, the gloss and excitement of local elections in Bristol has all but disappeared – until 2016 that is, when the people of the city get a chance to vote for who will be the next Mayor!

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Britain – A Land of Opportunity or Despair?

As the Tory Party conference draws to a close and Party conference season ends, what will we remember about any of them in a few weeks time? Did we get memorable announcements or just the same old politics? Could we have predicted much of it? I’m left feeling slightly confused and irritated – the middle ground of politics is well and truly crowded, with all 3 main parties vying for control, trying to appeal to everyone and only minimal differences showing between them.

I was looking for Labour to be more socialist, the Tories to show their true colours and the Liberals to break away from the constraints of coalition politics and show us what they are made of. And to be fair we got some of that, Labour showed they are the only party with an interest in reducing inequalities and providing opportunity for all, but didn’t go far enough on some of the issues that really matter, such as the railways, environmental policy and the Living Wage. The Liberal Democrats were a bit of a let down, with little substance to show us what difference they would make if they were in government for longer (except ban carrier bags!). And as for the Tories, well I guess they did actually show what they are about – penalising people who are out of work and characterising them as lazy scroungers, supporting big business and sticking to Plan A on austerity because it is clearly working!

The Prime Minister talked about Britain as a Land of Opportunity but is that what we really have under the Coalition Government and is it what we would get with Labour in Government? I have my doubts, there are policies across all 3 main parties and those put forward by the Green Party that would get my support but sadly overall no single party goes far enough.

No one made real commitments to adopt a minimum wage that is a Living Wage – why is that? How are people expected to live on a minimum wage that doesn’t cover living costs?How do we achieve a decent standard of living for all if the basic concept of paying people properly for the work they do cannot be implemented and doesn’t have the backing of all the main parties?

I’m no clearer now on how we are going to tackle energy policy to ensure we have both environmentally sustainable and secure energy supply for years to come. There were Tory commitments to fracking and nuclear power, Labour promises on energy price freezes and some talk of renewables, but overall, no convincing energy policy from any of them.

Housing was a key area of policy discussion, which in itself was pleasing, but again not entirely convincing. Promises were made about building more homes and helping people to buy, but I didn’t come away with the view that politicians have actually really understood why we have a housing crisis and what is needed to solve it. The discussions were often single focused, which really doesn’t help. You can’t solve the housing problem by just talking about housing. You have to consider our Industrial Strategy, our business focus, regeneration, regional policy, infrastructure decisions etc. All will contribute to solving the problem that we are not building enough homes in the right place at the right price. The constant focus on either the development industry or the planning system is not the answer – yes these are part of the problem, but so is our regional policy and industrial strategy, so are Government decisions around infrastructure spend. Until all these matters, and more, are brought together in a proper housing strategy the crisis will only get worse.

A land of opportunity or just muddling through? 

 

Fickle, Floundering or Functional?

As the Liberal Democrat conference comes to an end are we any clearer about what they stand for and what difference they have made, and will make, to the Coalition Government? The Conference literature says “stronger economy, fairer society” but what does that mean in reality?

The first announcements were populist but marginal – we got proposals for a ban on free carrier bags and a commitment to make school uniforms cheaper – hardly the top of most people’s list of priorities. But as the conference got going, the debate warmed up and began to address the big issues. The key debate was about the economy, with left leaning Lib Dems proposing a change to economic policy and the Leadership sticking to the Tory Plan A, fiscal austerity. Whilst there was some significant dissent the motion to continue with the coalition’s deficit reduction plan was carried with a comfortable majority, enabling Nick Clegg to breathe a big sigh of relief. Continue reading