What do the local election nominations in England tell us about the state of party politics in that country? The most obvious conclusion to draw is that a multi-party system is now well established, despite the quaint voting tradition of first past the post designed to maintain a Victorian two- party framework. Both the Greens and Ukip are contesting over half the seats available this year and are now closing on the Liberal Democrats, whose steady slide continues. TUSC manages to find candidates for more than one in ten of the seats, while Independents and a variety of local residents and other community groups maintain a fairly stable presence on the ballot paper.
The above graph illustrates the transition from the three-party system that was still in place as recently as the turn of the century. However, the rise of Ukip, Greens and, to a lesser extent, TUSC overshadows a decline in the number of candidates from a multitude of smaller parties that were active in the mid-2000s. For example, on the left the Respect Party is absent, while the Socialist Labour Party and the Alliance for Green Socialism have virtually disappeared. The number of Liberal Party candidates continues to fall, from 65 (contesting 2.6% of seats) in 2000 to just 19 now, virtually all of them in Liverpool.
But the most spectacular rise and fall has been that of the BNP. That party can now be seen as paving the way for Ukip, which has hoovered up its supporters. The BNP’s 11 candidates in 2000 expanded to 526 in 2008, more than Ukip and almost as many as the Greens, but then fell back to 126 in 2012. This year, the number of BNP candidates has collapsed to just seven. On a smaller scale, the English Democrats have also experienced the same rise and fall, although managing 15 candidates this year. The BNP is now the third party on the British/English nationalist right, having one candidate fewer than the National Front.
And is the promised dawn of English regionalism finally visible on the horizon? Yorkshire First is putting up 15 candidates for the 312 seats available in Yorkshire. This is a solid, though unspectacular, start, one enhanced by a candidate in the Sheffield Brightside parliamentary by-election taking place on the same day. The North East Party has just a sole candidate in Sunderland. It remains to be seen whether these parties can establish themselves as permanent players in elections in the north of England or whether they’ll prove to be temporary flashes in the pan, like many local community groups have been before them.