Not wanting to state the obvious, but this has not been the easiest of election campaigns! I have been involved in more or less every election campaign – whether it be general or local elections, either as a candidate, an election agent or a volunteer – for the past 30 years, and this campaign is definitely the most difficult that I have experienced.
First and foremost, the election was fought against the backdrop of the biggest national political crisis in generations. It was inevitable that voters were going to be influenced by this, and I think the result tells us something about the national mood – more on this in a minute.
Secondly, since the last elections in 2015, the face of politics has changed significantly. Social media played a massive part in the campaign, and with this came ‘fake news’. Election rules strictly govern what can be said on election material, and any printed material has to carry the name and address of the person publishing it. Currently, the same rules do not apply on line, and anyone can say more or less what they want, under the cover of anonymity.
Going into this election, there was an expectation that turnout would be exceptionally low, with voter apathy and disallusionment leading to a lot of people staying at home. However, the turnout across Leighton Buzzard was around 30%, which is very much in line with expectations for local elections (remember, the last local elections were the same day as the General Election, resulting in a much higher turnout).
Over the 6 week period leading up to May 2nd, my colleagues and I knocked on over 3000 doors across LB South. In the early weeks, we did encounter some hostility as a direct result of the ongoing Brexit farce, but as we got closer to polling day we noticed a distinct shift, and we were receiving a much warmer reception on the doors. Whether this was to do with the areas of LB South we were campaigning, or if it was because Parliament went quiet on Brexit I am not sure, but there was definitely a distinct change for the better!
There were a lot of predictions made about the result
- it was expected that the Tories would lose seats (this was about the one prediction that came true exactly as expected, with approximately 25% lost nationally, 20% lost at CBC and about 30% on LLTC)
- it was expected that Labour would make ground (nationally, Labour lost about 10% or so of its seats, but did perform well in LB, taking one seat)
- there was an expectation that pro-Brexit parties (i.e. UKIP) would capitalise on the current national picture (as it turned out, UKIP lost about 75% of its seats, a worse performance than the Tories).
Perhaps the surprise outcome was the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats, who made massive gains nationally, and took 4 seats on LLTC. I suspect it may be the case that in the 2015 elections, the Lib Dems were punished for propping up David Cameron’s government. I do know that we have gained some very experienced Councillors, most of whom I worked with prior to 2015 and I know will be a valuable addition to LLTC.
I was delighted to see Mark Freeman re-elected as an independent Councillor – again, he is very experienced and brings a lot to the Council. We also have a new independent Councillor – Victoria Harvey – elected to both CBC and LLTC. As someone who truly believes in democracy, we will have to take note that Victoria received a signifcant majority in both elections and I am sure she will bring a new perspective to the Council.
We also lost some valued colleagues. Some chose to go and did not stand in these elections, others stood and were not elected. I would like to thank all of those who served in the previous Council and wish them well for the future.
So what should we learn from these elections?
Although the Conservative group is still the majority group on both Councils, we have suffered losses. These losses cannot be enitrely blamed on the national picture, and we have to take some responsibility locally. I hope that over the next 4 years Councillors of all parties and none will work together for the good of the communities they represent, with all Councillors helping to shape future policies.
And perhaps the elephant in the room is what does the vote nationally say about the national mood on Brexit? Well, I am by no means qualified to analyse the result in detail, but I think the following things are clear. The two major parties got a bloody-nose, pro-Brexit UKIP have been more or less wiped out, and the pro-remain Lib Dems made massive gains … read into that what you want! I think the one thing we can gain from this is that Parliament needs to sort this mess out and soon.