The London media seem to have largely forgotten about them in their eagerness to crown the May Queen but next week we have an actual vote to dissect rather than opinion polls. In four of the nations of the UK – rural England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall – there are local elections on Thursday. Let’s look beyond the Westminster bubble to these more pressing elections. More specifically, what do the nominations at the locals tell us about the state of readiness of the byways of British politics, the margins, the extremes, the bizarre, those beyond the familiar be-suited landscape of the Westminster humbug centre?
Ukip is faltering. Their main policy objective apparently achieved and many of their policies now adopted by the Tories, they’ve lost direction. If the latest polls are anywhere near accurate, their support is collapsing fast. Ironically, Ukip, having set out to inject change into the political system, has served merely as a bridge from voting Labour to voting Conservative. The number of Ukip candidates in the local elections in England has fallen by a third since these seats were last fought in 2013, while their intervention in Scotland and Wales is feeble. We shall have to wait until May 4th, but it’s very likely that they will lose over half their current crop of councillors.
In terms of candidates, they’ve been overtaken by the Greens, who have increased their challenge at the coming local elections by almost 50%. With less to lose and everything to gain, they may come out of the local elections with increased morale. Nonetheless, this snap election will have caught local Green parties unawares. As a result they are most unlikely to contest anything like the 573 seats they did in the 2015 general election. Expect both Greens and Ukip to be nearer 300 than 500 candidates, with Ukip taking the opportunity not to challenge Brexit Tories and the Greens using the ‘progressive alliance’ as a cover for withdrawing from seats.
More generally, at the general election the broad pattern of growing numbers of minor party candidates since the 1980s, peaking in 2010, will be very abruptly reversed. Given the extremely short time to decide on candidates and raise the cash, plus the fact that parties are concentrating on the locals (something the May Queen no doubt took note of before making her decision) it’s likely that numbers will fall back from over 1,800 to under 1,000. The majority of those will be Ukip or Greens.
Few of the smaller parties are likely to put up as many candidates as last time. If the local elections are a guide, then TUSC numbers will fall dramatically, as the Socialist Party and its fellow travellers throw their limited weight behind Corbynite Labour. The state might not be withering away, but the left parties are. Respect has apparently disappeared, the Socialist Labour Party is disappearing, the Communist Party of Britain lingers on life support and the number of Scottish Socialist Party candidates in the local elections has halved since 2012. (Although Scottish Solidarity has increased its numbers to partially make up the deficit in Scotland.)
Meanwhile, on the far right, the BNP looks unlikely to rise from the dead any time soon, having watched both its electoral support and its activists being swept away in the Ukip tide. Ditto for the English Democrats. Between them, these two parties can only raise 15 candidates for the local elections, compared with 142 the last time around.
There are a few new kids on the block. The Scottish Libertarians are fielding 22 candidates in the local elections north of the border. The Womens’ Equality Party (WEP), with its celebrity supporters, is getting some media attention. But there are only three WEP candidates standing in the locals, plus another contesting the Liverpool City Region combined authority mayoral election.
Finally, the appearance of English regionalist parties in 2015 began to fill a gap hitherto only sporadically and quixotically occupied by the Wessex Regionalists. The Yorkshire Party is only standing two candidates for the 72 seats on North Yorkshire County Council. But its main support is in the urban areas of West and South Yorkshire, where there are no local elections this year, with the exception of Doncaster, which is out of sync. The party is putting forward five candidates there and fighting the Doncaster mayoral election. The North East Party is also building on the base established in 2015. It has 14 candidates competing for Durham’s 126 seats, someone up for the combined authority mayoral position in Tees Valley and a newly designed, more professional website. Nevertheless, it seems confined to south of the Tyne, with no candidates at all standing in Northumberland.
Nonetheless, both these parties will be hoping to make a breakthrough in the local elections and get their first elected councillor, something that would be a big boost to any general election exposure.