Thursday, May 5, 2016

Local elections are hard to predict

Predicting the outcome of a general election is considerably easier than that of various local ones, particularly as different local elections take place in different years. I was very proud of telling everyone very firmly that the Conservatives would win in the last general and UKIP will have one seat. So it came to pass. But I am a little wary today.

Will the Labour row about the anti-Semitism in that party (something that many of us have known about for some time but has now become front page news) affect votes? Maybe. Then again, turn-out in local elections tends to be so low and rock solid Labour supporters tend to be so impervious to any facts or arguments that one cannot be absolutely certain. As the numbers of suspended councillors multiplied in the wake of Naz Shah's outrageous tweet (no, it was not a criticism of Israeli government policy of which, I suspect, she is completely ignorant) and our Ken's bizarre performance, I was astonished to see the number of people who talked about "dirty politics" and "smear politics", pointing out that many of those statements and tweets are several years old (though there is no evidence that there had been any change of mind or heart) and darkly blaming the Tory media (always a good bogey) and Lynton Crosby. These people, one assumes will vote Labour, no matter what and no matter who. But there are others who might have done so. Will they still do so? Will they turn out at all?

I doubt if the coming referendum and the whole argument about Brexit will have any effect. UKIP are, as ever, prancing around, telling all and sundry that they will do extremely well in the locals. Every now and then one reminds them that they said the same about the general election but water off a duck's back is the best way of describing their reaction. This time, they maintain, it will happen; this time we have captured the public mood with our emphasis on immigration rather than the EU.

UKIP in London (the place where I have followed events reasonably closely to the point of catatonic boredom) the EU makes barely any appearance in UKIP electoral literature and if it does, only in connection with borders. In fact, the Mayor of London has zero power over borders and that will remain true even if Brexit triumphs on June 23.

The UKIP mayoral candidate, Peter Whittle, is a considerably more attractive personality than his predecessors or most of his colleagues. [Declaration of interest: Peter is a friend of mine and has been for some years.] He has managed to garner a good deal of publicity and has been level-headed in his predictions. No, he is not going to be Mayor, he tells journalists but if he does well (and he has been doing well in opinion polls) that may well bring in UKIP members into the Assembly from the party list. He is top of the list so the chances are he will get in with possibly the next on in line. Peter is talking about three members but that sounds unlikely to me. Apart from publicity value, it will make no odds. I know enough about the Assembly, having worked there for four years as researcher to UKIP/Veritas/One London to be absolutely certain that it is a completely pointless and highly expensive institution.

The last time UKIP had Assembly members they very swiftly fell out with the leadership and there was a split and a fairly bloody civil war. At present, it looks unlikely that Peter Whittle will follow that line, seeing that he has allowed the Dear Leader, a.k.a. our Nigel to muscle in on the campaign in a very big way. When the collection of election manifestos arrived on  my doorstep I was amused to see that one party produced a picture of its mayoral candidate together with its Leader. I am sure my readers even if not Londoners will have guessed which one. Furthermore, the candidate's manifesto was not allowed to stand as his statement. About half of it was by the Leader who endorsed the candidate and, incidentally, actually referred to the EU in the last sentence, in connection with border control. (See above.) Will this emphasis on immigration actually be of any use in London? And will Farage's muscling in have the usual effect of putting people off? We shall know late this evening.

Meanwhile, what of the two main candidates? The accepted wisdom from opinion polls is that Sadiq Khan will win. Of course, polls have been wrong before and Khan himself seems less certain: on Tuesday he was calling rather loudly on Jeremy Corbyn to get a grip on the anti-Semitism scandal in the Labour party, though why Corbyn should be able to do so between Tuesday and Thursday having done nothing about it before, seemed a mystery. Nevertheless, one has to admit that so far Khan has been a teflon man and all stories of him making comments about moderate Muslims being Uncle Toms (has he read that book?) and him sharing a platform with some very unsavoury characters have done him no harm with a good many people yapping about Tory tricks, smear politics etc, etc.

Personally, I am not sure everything is over bar the shouting as much depends on the turn-out (usually fairly low) and what is known as the Bradley effect:
The theory proposes that some voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would nonetheless tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for the non-white candidate.
That is America but, given growing British reluctance to tell the truth to opinion pollsters, it is not to be excluded here either. After all, we definitely have the Shy Tory Factor, which may also work in Zac Goldsmith's favour.

As we look across the Pond and watches the political antics there we can be thankful that however unpleasant and harmful some of the people we elect today will be (and some, including the socialist control freak Sadiq Khan, will be harmful) their power and control is very limited.

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