A comment on the 2023 UK Local Elections

Nigel Smith

The local council election took place across most of the UK on May 4th. The results are now complete and the conclusions to be drawn from these results are clear. However, it needs to also be born in mind that turnout for the local elections is modest. This time the turnout was generally between 18% and 30%. Turnout in local elections continues to decline, as voters become more and more alienated from local politics because of the austerity policies that the local authorities be they Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat have imposed upon them. 

Voters behave slightly differently in local elections than in national elections. The Liberal Democrats tend to be much more successful and independents play a more significant part in the make-up of the councils and therefore candidates running for office. Some minority parties are also more inclined to run in general elections, rather than council elections and visa-versa.

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Over all the election results were poor for the Conservative Party. The independent candidates also did badly, losing a total of 80 seats, about 10%. Resident association candidates also did badly, losing 24 seats, about 20%. The vote for the Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) appears to remain modest, although TUSC hasn’t reported yet. 

The votes therefore tended to be shared between the main parties, with the Greens picking up a significant level of support and winning their first council, Mid Suffolk. Although the Greens have held control of other councils this is the first time they have achieved overall control – a breakthrough moment for them. However, when in office, as they were in Brighton, they have proven to subscribe to the same austerity agenda as other councils. In spite of good results, nationally it is interesting that in York, for example the Greens lost all three of their council seats and the Liberal Democrats lost overall control after four years of backing the Liberal Democrat’s pro-austerity budgets. The argument of lefts in the Green party, who decided to support their sharing power with the Liberal Democrats was that they could influence the local authority in a positive way. Instead they were the Liberal Democrats stooges.

The Green Party won an additional 241 seats taking them to 481 – a 50.1% increase. Labour picked up an extra 536 seat, taking them to 2674 – a 20.0% increase. The Liberal democrats picked up an additional 405 seats, taking them to 1626 – a 24.1% increase. The conservatives lost 1061 seats, taking them to 2299 – a 46.2% decrease.

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These percentages should be sending a shock-wave through the Conservative Party. It is a huge loss of support, which is not surprising following their attacks on wages and a pro-austerity approach. The Conservative’s have proven to be unpopular, but they will take some comfort from the fact that gains for the Labour Party are less than for the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. The right-wing policies of the Labour Party have not been tested on a national level, but Labour councils remain unpopular and so does the Labour Party and the Starmer elite amongst workers. 

Voter demographics are also beginning to play an increasing role. For the first time ever voters, had to prove their identity in order to vote. There are many British citizens who do not carry any form of photo ID, especially the poor. This is a further disincentive for young people and people from a poorer background to vote. If one examines the data on voting it is clear that more prosperous areas have higher participation and older people are twice as likely to vote than younger people.

The City of Hull is a good example of the mistrust of Labour that persists in poorer areas. Hull is one of the UKs poorest cities but has returned a Liberal Democrat council with a very low voter turn-out.

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It remains problematic, that voters do not have a credible, anti-austerity alternative at the ballot box. The growth of support for the Greens shows that people are beginning to look for a viable alternative to the three main parties, but they offer no significant alternative. As mentioned earlier, TUSC has failed to break into the mainstream consciousness, despite its policies being popular. 

Jeremy Corbyn, the trade union leaders and Labour lefts have hung on the apron strings of the Labour Party for too long and ordinary people’s wants and needs have been side-lined. Most of the community facilities and projects that used to enliven British life have been closed down or privatised and the arts in particular have been trashed. Youth clubs and provision for the elderly has deteriorated and schools struggle to provide teaching materials and adequate levels of staffing to meet pupils needs. The list of provision that used to be made and is no longer available is endless.

Based on these election results it looks as though at a general election, we would probably see a Labour government, but possibly in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. However, under Keir Starmer, Labour has now moved to the right of the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats have for example clearly identified wages as a small factor in inflation and would support greater pay increases than Labour if they were in government. They also are less overt in their approach to patriotism – a sickening aspect of Starmer’s approach.

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The left remains all at sea, in spite of the heroic and continuing struggles of public sector workers. There is no new political force on the horizon and no immediate prospect of one developing. It appears that the trade unions and lefts in the Labour Party are opting for the lesser of two evils. They are hoping in vain for a better world under the new, New Labour. The brave new world will not materialise under Starmer, who will support austerity at a local as well as national level. 

There are discussions taking place between those on the left about where we go from here, but there is much suspicion amongst different factions and scepticism about attempts that were made to build a new party that previously didn’t materialise.  We are however in a critical time for capitalism and the possibility that a new force could emerge from current struggles and organisations cannot be discounted. If it does it would need to be open, democratic and inclusive. It would need to bring together those striving for a better world and take on the Labour Party head on. 

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