For Whom The Bell Tolls

Local elections seldom make headlines as local politics is well, pretty dull really. I mean, people don’t really care whether Councillor A has a strong history of filling in potholes in his riding, or Councillor B is running on a platform of traffic calming. However, in last week’s local elections in England, the warning bell rang loud and clear for British politicians.


It has been very apparent that the British people are frustrated with the Conservative party over their handling of Brexit, and there has been concern over the potential impact to the party in the next federal election, which is scheduled for May, 2022 (however this could come sooner if two-thirds of he House of Commons call for an election, or there is a no confidence vote and is not reversed within fourteen days). The results of the local elections showed just how concerned the Conservatives should be.


The Conservatives lost 1,330 councillors in last Thursday’s election. This was a 27% decline. Labour had been expecting to win an additional seats in the elections, but instead lost 84. The Liberal Democrats, who campaigned for a second referendum, gained 704 seats. The other seats went to the Green Party and to independents. UKIP lost seats. The people have spoken, and what they’ve said is; we want a change to the status quo!
What makes this election result so important is that it may change the face of UK politics for the foreseeable future. History has shown that since the end of World War II, there has been effectively a two party system in the UK, with the Conservatives winning 11 of the of the 20 elections held, and Labour winning the other 9. It has been virtually unthinkable to consider a party other than these two in power at 10 Downing Street. Some still believe that the UK electorate would never take a chance on a third party.


We need look no further than Canada (a commonwealth country with a parliamentary system similar to the UK) to see how unfounded this belief may be. Canadian politics have also been historically dominated by two parties; the Progressive Conservatives, and the Liberals. Of the 23 elections held since the war, the Liberals have won 14 and the Conservatives have won 9.


In 1993, after being in power for nine years, the Canadian Progressive Conservative party lost to the Liberal party in a spectacular fashion. The leader of the party, Brian Mulroney, had become the least popular leader since opinion polling began in the 1940s (parallels can be drawn to Theresa May, who has seen her popularity plunge since the Brexit ordeal began). At the 1993 ballot box, Canadians voiced their displeasure with the Conservatives, and pushed them not just out of 24 Sussex Drive (the Prime Minister’s residence) but almost out of existence. The Conservatives went from having 169 seats in the 295 seat parliament, to 2. That’s right, 2! They were the fifth-ranked party in terms of seats. The Conservatives weren’t even the official opposition. In fact, the official opposition party was the Bloc Quebecois, a party founded on a platform of separation from the rest of Canada (if all of this sounds similar to the current UK situation, it should).


It took the Conservatives 11 years to return to official opposition status and to do so required them to join forces with a far right party in order to gain back the support they had lost. Canada has not been dominated by only two parties since that fateful 1993 election, as there have been three different parties (other than the Liberals and the Conservatives) to hold official opposition party status in the eight elections since that fateful night, each of them influencing policy.


Let’s now imagine the UK Conservative party suffering the same fate at the next election. The Lib-Dems may or may not win, but one thing is for certain; they will influence policy. What other party may rise to the occasion? Perhaps the Brexit party? What will be the long term fate of the Conservatives? If the local elections are a true reflection of the view of the UK electorate, then as was seen in Canada, the warning bell that has been rung may reverberate in UK politics for a long time to come.


Author: John Glover


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