by Stephen Tall on May 3, 2012
With polls closed, here are my five predictions for the night to come…
1) I won’t win in Headington Hill & Northway, the Oxford City Council ward where I’m a Lib Dem candidate this year.
The old adage applies: where you work, you win. This year our resources have been too stretched to contest all seats with equal effort. That’s a shame for the party because it limits our potential for growth; and it’s a shame for residents, who are less likely to benefit from having active Lib Dem councillors representing their interests properly.
2) Boris will win in London.
As I now work in London (while living in Oxford), I’ve followed the race closely, and with an incredibly conflicted sense of foreboding. I have never voted Tory in my life. And yet, if I had a vote in today’s mayoral race, I think I would have had to have lent my second preference to Boris Johnson — after Brian Paddick — as the least objectionable of the two most likely winners. If Labour members had chosen Oona King or Alan Johnson as their standard-bearer they would almost certainly have got my hypothetical alternative vote. But not Ken. And for all the lack of vision for London which critics quite rightly point out Boris lacks, there is one essential truth: that 2012 has proven to be a referendum on Ken’s fitness for office has shown Boris isn’t the disaster many of us feared four years ago.
3) Most or all of the mayoral referenda will be lost. Alas.
Many of England’s cities today will decide whether they want their own mayoral system. When Oxford had its own petition-triggered vote, in 2002, I was on the side of the ‘antis’. Eight years as a city councillor changed my mind. There are two reasons I support a directly-elected mayor now. First, a full-time mayor with a democratic mandate would have the time, power and authority to make decisions and drive policies through: in too many councils today, the power is diffuse and council officers occupy that vacuum, sucking the innovation and risk-taking out of civic life. Secondly, our cities should — like the devolved cities and states in the US and in Europe — become centres where policies can be trialled, where the UK learns to experiment with social policy according to what works within the local context. Those ideas which thrive will be taken up by national government; those which fail will see their proponents chucked out at the next election. As it is, local government is stultifyingly risk-averse.
4) The Lib Dems are likely to have another bad night.
The mood music seems to be that things are ‘less bad’ than they were last year. The anger of 2011 — the sense of betrayal — has dissipated. That’s my experience, too, from my (admittedly limited) time canvassing on the doorstep. But that’s a world away from motivating the public positively to put a tick in the box next to the Lib Dem logo. Losses at or below 300 are bad but explainable; the further they creep above that threshold the more angsty Lib Dems are going to feel. It’s not simply the loss of good councillors that will hurt. It’s also the realisation that the more our activist base is hollowed out the harder it becomes to retain our current MPs, let alone to advance in the future.
5) There is one small (very small) consolation for the Lib Dems: this year (unlike 2011) it appears our Coalition partners, the Tories, will also take the blame for the unpopularity of the Government.
Well, it’s only fair. The Tory party made a major strategic error in the budget: they gave every appearance of wanting to manipulate tax-rates with the sole purpose of cutting the top-rate of tax for the wealthiest. Though the granny/pasty/charity tax all have their roots in justifiable aims (aligning tax-rates to treat equivalent people/organisations fairly) their execution has been botched, and the Tories hamstrung by the perception that they’re all being implemented to favour the richest in society. Perversely, of course, this dip in Tory popularity — combined with the Lib Dems’ flat-lining poll ratings — serve only to make the Coalition more secure.