Thursday, May 3, 2012

Any predictions?

Predicting local election results is very difficult for obvious reasons: they are local and are affected by local considerations and individuals. Also, the turn-out tends to be quite low, which is unhelpful for those who like to see patterns.

The assumption is that there is a general and widespread dissatisfaction with the main parties, which these days means the Lib-Dims as well, and this will show itself in the vote. But how, is what few people know. Will there be a stronger vote for the small parties, for independent candidates or will more people simply stay at home, recognizing that local government in this country is a bit of a farce?

Then there is the problem of several cities having a referendum on whether they want a directly elected Mayor. One hopes that they will take one look at London and, especially, Tower Hamlets and vote against such a terrible notion in droves. But it is possible that they like the idea of having someone like Lutfur Rahman at the helm of an expensive but powerless body. If the turn-out remains as low as ever in those cities, then the chances are the proposal will go through and Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham will face London's problems: there will be another expensive layer of government that will not actually be in control of anything much but will be able to spend a lot of money irresponsibly and interfere with people's lives from time to time. A jolly prospect.

The Boss of EURef tells me that the suddenly revived Respect Party is likely to play havoc with the Labour-controlled Bradford council. I would be in favour of the big parties getting their noses bloodied if it were no Respect that profited from it.

Talking of which, what of UKIP? Hard to tell. For various reasons I have, as ever, been subjected to a barrage of over-optimistic predictions about that party's probable performance but that happens before every election and by-election and the necessary results have nor been forthcoming. Mind you, over-optimistic in this case means "we shall beat the Lib-Dims and come third". Even if that happens across the country it is hardly the most spectacular achievement after 20 years of existence, a goodish amount of publicity, a situation in which the Lib-Dim vote is, apparently, in free-fall with the electorate heartily sick of all major parties and the EU front-page news of the negative variety every day.

Almost twenty years ago at the Newbury by-election Alan Sked stood for the Anti-Federalist League, UKIP's predecessor and came fourth, something he pointed out forcefully when he made his speech. One would like to think there has been progress since then but, apparently, next to none.

I would prefer to see one of two results for UKIP: either a spectacularly good achievement, with lots of seats on councils and a number of votes across the country that would put them, if not first then close second or a result so poor that they would be forced to reconsider their policies, strategy and tactics (though it has been pointed out to me that nothing short of complete annihilation would make them do that). The chances are it will be neither but a kind of OK outcome with a few places gained and a few close misses with many more that can be called progression. There will then be much rejoicing and calls to "bring on the GE" as if they were on track to forming the next government.

There is talk that UKIP might win one or two places in the London Assembly but predictions for that highly expensive and completely powerless and purposeless body are hard to make for two reasons: most people have a very slender notion of its existence, let alone its activity and for good reasons as I know, having worked in the Great Glass Egg for nearly four years; and the voting is barely comprehensible with a Continental-style system of candidates from various rather large "constituencies" plus a top-up vote from lists.

The BNP will most probably lose its seat but what will happen to it and to other seats is hard to predict. I seem to recall that in 2008 most of the predictions for the Assembly turned out to be wrong.

Another complicating factor for UKIP is that somewhere along the line somebody made a terrible mess of filling in the required forms so UKIP candidates have been listed as "Fresh Choice for London". The ballot paper for the Mayor appears to have both names on it but I am not sure about the two for the Assembly. This may actually be something in their favour in that people who would not vote UKIP might put a cross against that fresh choice. Or it might confuse everyone even more.

One thing I can predict with a fair amount of certainty: if one or more UKIP (Fresh Choice for London) candidates do get into the Assembly, there will be an almighty row in the party within a couple of months and a split between those inside the Great Glass Egg and those outside.

Of course, what matters in London is the Mayoral election and that, practically speaking, boils down to a choice of Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone. According to the Evening Standard it is too close to call but their polls are not clear in their indication, again for two reasons. One is that, as Damian Hockney, erstwhile Leader of the One London group in the Great Glass Egg, pointed out in a letter some weeks ago, the assumption seems to be that the turn-out will be over 50 per cent. This has never happened before and is unlikely to happen now. The other problem is that second transferable vote. All predictions are based on first vote only and while Boris is leading the gap is not enormous. What will happen with the second vote?

There again, the predictions were misleading last time. On the basis of the first vote it seemed too close to call for a long time but the second vote gave Boris a decisive victory. However, that was not declared till Friday evening yet by then Ken's minions had cleared their offices and packed their belongings, having summoned the removal firms, presumably, on Friday morning. So they knew more than the exit polls had told the rest of us.

The next time I write about these elections I may well be in the position of having to acknowledge that I was wrong or nearly wrong. We shall see.


  1. A very balanced and reasonable analysis, as we have come to expect from you. As you say, we shall see.

  2. I think that you'll find it will be somewhere in between for UKIP as you expect, Helen. Personally I'm mostly happy with policies, but strategy and tactics leave much to be desired, to say the least. There are still far too many people in the Party who are completely obsessed with pushing the EU angle at the expense of all else - I have reached the point where I want to gather togather and roundly thump local branches that issue leaflets which actually contain the immortal words 'UKIP has a full range of policies' as a bullet point, instead of actually attempting to list them instead of making fifteen points about how bad the EU is. As Alexandra Swann said in her maiden speech, it's time to stop talking about the EU now. That argument's won, any votes to be gained from those who view it as the absolute overriding priority to the exclusion of all else are already UKIP's by this point, so it's counterproductive in the extreme to continually harp on about it. And as the Boss has pointed out on many occasions, people want to know what UKIP will do *next*.

    Carl Williams

  3. Thank you, Avril. :-)

    Carl, Did Alexandra Swann really say that? Well, well. The girl is stupider than I thought. So the argument has been won, has it? And on what does Ms Swann base that opinion? Election results? Government policies? Don't tell me: opinion in the EU is going our way. It must be that.