You didn’t know there was an election in the UK this week did you? With all the excitement of the French Presidential race, Britain’s local elections have passed by almost unnoticed by the international media. Nevertheless, the results are an important indicator of people’s changing attitudes to the message of austerity. A dramatic swing towards Labour and away from the Coalition suggests the electorate are increasingly disaffected with the ideology of austerity.
Forecasts suggested that Thursday would be a good night for the Labour party with most polls expecting to them to gain around 700 council seats. The final results produced a gain of 823 seats for Labour with the Conservatives losing 405 and the Lib Dems losing 336. Of course the usual caveats apply; the incumbent party always performs poorly during mid-term elections and local elections are often fought on local issues rather than national concerns. Nevertheless, Labour leader Ed Miliband should be pleased with a decisive swing of public opinion in his favour.
David Cameron on the other hand continues to struggle through another week of terrible news for himself and his Government. The big economic announcement the day before the election came from the ratings agency Fitch, who announced that the Government’s austerity measures have undermined economic growth. This is terrible news for the Conservatives who have attempted to justify their cuts in public spending by claiming they had the support of the international markets. Britain can now put Fitch’s alongside the IMF on the list of international financial institutions which oppose their economic policy. Pile this on top of the announcement two weeks ago that the UK is officially in recession and the apparent corruption relating to News Corporation and Conservative Minister Jeremy Hunt, and it is hardly surprising the electorate decided to punish the David Cameron.
The real losers of this election cycle have been the Liberal Democrats. Since the General election in 2010 resulted in a hung parliament (no party won an overall majority) the Lib Dems entered a Faustian pact with the Conservatives to form a Coalition Government. As might have been expected, this decision has not gone over well with Lib Dem voters and the party now has the fewest City Councillors since its creation in 1988. Combined with the plummeting personal approval rating of the party leader Nick Clegg, it is not implausible to expect a change in the party leadership in the near future.
Although there sSome good news did emerge for the Conservatives did emerge from these elections; the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson managed to secure a second term in office (despite Labour winning a majority of seats in the Greater London Council). Johnson’s success can largely be attributed to his ability to separate himself from his party and the unpopularity of Labour’s candidate Ken Livingstone. (Incidentally, if you’d like to know how Boris Johnson was selected as the Tory Mayoral candidate, check out this picture which has been officially supressed by the British Government).
The message is clear: popular opinion is moving away from austerity. After two years of belt-tightening and with further cuts to come, the British people have had enough. The Liberal Democrats must separate themselves from the Conservatives while they still can and force a general election. The Tories have made a huge mistake with David Cameron and they must abandon their evidence free approach to economics immediately.