However, the Council and Mayoral elections taking place on May 3rd are an important milestone for all the national parties. In a political and media world that seems obsessed with mimicking the drama and dynamism of the American system, the 2012 elections have taken on the character of the US Midterms- with important implications for how the results will be processed by those in the Westminster village.
There has been a noticeable surge in backbench unrest among Conservative MPs. Today, Nadine Dorris launched a blistering attack on the “arrogant posh boys” (David Cameron and George Osborne) running the country, while another unnamed Tory sneered that Cameron seems to be “putting the school run ahead of the national interest.” These comments can be legitimately dismissed as the bluster of a few loose cannons, but they conceal a deeper malaise in the Parliamentary Tory Party. Badly bruised by a mishandled Budget and suffering the worst polling since 2008, some discontents have been publicly sharpening the knives in a show of defiance toward No. 10, egged on by a press eager to witness a big upset.
There is no suggestion that there will be a leadership challenge any time soon- if at all. However, it is possible that those Conservatives who have been put off by Cameron’s wishy washy social agenda and perceived capitulation to the Liberal Democrats on issues like Lords Reform and internet surveillance are trying to ‘talk down’ the party in the run-up to the elections. Why? So that they can use a bad result to force the Prime Minister down a more Conservative path, by claiming that Tory voters are deserting Cameron’s party because he is not conservative enough.
What about Labour? England’s ‘mid-terms’ will serve as a useful indicator of the party’s revival in the South. Labour’s next majority cannot be attained without the help of at least some of those seats wooed by Tony Blair in 1997. A strong result here could act as the green light for the party to begin rolling out a more detailed policy plan and tell the nation just how it would do things differently. There have been glimpses here and there of Labour’s plans, fromenergy companies to the NHS. A resounding win on May 3rd would give Miliband the momentum he needs to really press how Labour would govern in 2015 and beyond.
However, the knives haven’t been sheathed for him, yet, either. A failure to topple the Tories nationwide, and a Livingstone defeat in London, could throw the polling gains tortuously won over the last few weeks out of the window. The press will emphasise that even after all the Coalition’s failings, Labour are still not capable of winning back the people’s trust. Miliband himself will be blamed for failing to articulate a clear message to win back votes, and the vultures will begin circling again. One rumour doing the rounds is that a Labour defeat on May 3rd will prompt an attempt by disgruntled MPs to push Yvette Cooper forward as Miliband’s successor. Naturally, this is all hearsay and smokescreen. What is certain, however, is that the forthcoming elections will be used by anti-Milibands and pro-Milibands alike to push their own agendas on the leadership.
Will the Council and Mayoral Elections be for Britain what the Midterms are to America- namely, a political gamechanger? Obama has certainly had to change his tune since losing the Senate to the Republicans. Perhaps Cameron will have to obey the more hardline elements in his party in the wake of a defeat. Miliband must also be wary too- a big win will place big expectations on him that he might struggle to fulfil, while a loss will bring the old naysayers out of the woodwork again. For both parties, it’s all to play for.
Louie Woodall is Assistant Editor of the Young Fabians Blog