The prediction game

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 2, 2013

Polling day dawns sunnily upon us. Amidst a crescendo of resounding disinterest and seeping anomie, about one in three of us will, or already have in the case of postal and second home voters, cast our vote for the next bunch whose task is to legitimate the great sale of Cornwall. Many thanks to that dwindling band of cognoscenti out there who’ve bothered to read my increasingly rambling diatribes on Cornwall’s past(y)che of a democratic ritual. I can now return to more productive activities than political blogging for a bit.

However, one task still tempts the unwary blogger. How will this faraged farrago pan out? What’s the likely result of this charade? What’s the composition of the board of Cornwall plc for the next four years? The BBC warns us that the ‘political make-up of the new council is anyone’s guess’. Only an idiot would try to second-guess the results in Cornwall, something made even trickier by boundary changes since 2009. So, as a paid-up member of that particular guild, here goes.

Rallings and Thrasher (no, not another micro-brewery but experts on English – though not Cornish – local elections, based at the dreaming spires of the University of Plymouth) predict that overall the Tories in England are likely to lose around 310 of their 1,452 seats and the Lib Dems 130 of their 481 seats in these elections. Labour will double its representation, adding 350 or so to the 245 they hold, while the others will gain 90 to take them to over 300.

‘Others’ of course include Ukip. But a ComRes poll of the areas actually voting today suggests a strong rise in Ukip support since 2009. (Although as usual this is exaggerated by not comparing like with like – polling intentions now and actual share of the vote then. Last time around Ukip only contested a quarter of the seats so their vote share in 2009 is an understated). Nonetheless, while Ukip and Labour are predicted to expand their vote share by 17% and 11% respectively, both Tories and Lib Dems are set to fall by similar amounts (13%)

UK Polling Report suggests that, on this basis of this poll, Ukip might gain up to 250 seats rather than the 100 implied by Rallings and Thrasher.

But what’s likely to happen in Cornwall? If we take this poll and apply the changes to the Cornish wards we get the following possibility.

  • Conservative/Lib Dem austerity coalition 59 (29 down on last time – 20 loss for Tories (30 seats) and 9 for Lib Dems (29 seats))
  • Independents 37 (gain of 5)
  • Ukip 13 (gain of 13)
  • Labour 9 (gain of 9)
  • MK 5 (gain of 2)

The Greens are claiming they’re likely to get their first councillor elected to Cornwall Council but they may be denied by the Ukip surge and their hopes are restricted to St Ives.

Of course, this may be complete rubbish. Maybe in this as in other aspects, the Cornish voter will display ‘difference’. Labour, which should pick up seats in Penzance, Camborne-Redruth and Falmouth, may not do so well and has to recover from its truly appalling results in 2009. The poor quality of many Ukip candidates, some of whom are not even leafleting, may work against them. Local issues intrude and Independents offer an alternative. Our antiquated and outdated voting system may well result in an outcome that doesn’t reflect voting patterns.

Moreover, there’s other potential recipients of the protest vote that the media have decided to earmark for Ukip. The Greens and MK offer coherent, progressive alternatives to a party that looks like a cross between Italy’s Five Star Movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo and Britain’s own, home-grown BNP.

But Ukip is no threat to ruling interests. The Tory press, including for many years the Western Morning News, has long used Ukip as a useful foil to push the Conservative Party even further to the right. The media’s Europhobic message chimes well with the Little Englanders of Ukip. Cynical Westminster politicians and the London-obsessed press and TV have encouraged a mindless protest vote by treating these local elections as mere dress rehearsals for the next general election, postponed to 2015. So the real issues have been entirely sidelined, drowned in vacuous popularity contests, populist promises and the familiar politics of fear (vote X or you’ll get Y).

Even otherwise rational folk are voting Ukip this time. They don’t necessarily agree with their policies (even more austerity, dismantling the welfare state, globalisation) or are even aware of them. They’re just ‘sending a message’, although what that message precisely is, other than an inchoate wail of despair and alienation, is rather tricky to read. Is it really a simple get those nasty foreigners off our backs, stop immigration and we’re not getting enough of that lovely austerity?

Uncertainties abound. But one thing I can predict with confidence is that the new council won’t be much of an improvement on the old one. Indeed average IQ may well fall. Another thing is that the Lib Dems will fight tooth and nail to avoid going into coalition with the Tories so that their role in the cuts can continue to be hidden. What’s also guaranteed is that we won’t get enough of the councillors we need – those who put Cornwall and its communities first, those with the ability and the will to question the officers, and those with sufficient fire in their bellies to demand special treatment for the special Cornish case.

Rant over, I’ll now toddle off to the polling booth to exercise my democratic rights. Faced by a choice between an Independent who thinks building lots of open market housing is a really cool idea, Labour – who when in power thought suburbanising Cornwall at a rate 50% faster than even Cornwall Council wants was an even cooler idea, and a Ukip candidate who hasn’t been seen within eight miles of the ward, I’ll have to spoil my paper.

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