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The local elections: back to boring

British politics has returned to its factory setting. Time for another populist revolt.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

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Historic.’ ‘Seismic.’ ‘Monumental.’ These are some of the reactions from a jubilant UK Labour Party to the early results from yesterday’s elections. The huge, double-digit swings from the Tories to Labour in both local-council elections across England, and in the Blackpool South by-election, seem to all but confirm a Labour landslide is coming at the next General Election, handing Keir Starmer the keys to 10 Downing Street.

I can’t be the only one who’s unmoved by all of this. After all, these results were so predictable – the polls have consistently shown a more than 20-point lead for Labour for the past 18 months now. But mostly because we all know, deep down, that this is not going to lead to a sea change in our politics. Few voters are enthused by the prospect of PM Starmer, and even fewer expect any meaningful political or economic change to result from a Labour victory. Indeed, Labour has tried to make a virtue of its caution and conservatism.

Just as significant as the Tory collapse and Labour gains has been the abysmally low turnout. Blackpool South returned a Labour MP thanks to a 26 per cent swing from the Tories, but only 32 per cent of eligible voters actually cast a vote. This is the first time turnout has ever fallen below 52 per cent in this constituency. Voters are clearly more demoralised by the Tory incumbents than they are excited for the Labour alternative.

And why wouldn’t voters feel demoralised? Analysis by Sky News shows the Tories’ heaviest defeats (so far) are concentrated in areas that voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. Notably, as well as being battered in the Blackpool South by-election, the Tories went from having the most seats on Hartlepool council in 2021 to losing all but one of them last night. Both Hartlepool and Blackpool voted 70 per cent Leave. These northern, Brexity, traditionally Labour seats took a punt on the Tories in 2019 – and in Hartlepool’s case, in 2021 – not just to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and over the line, but also to fundamentally reshape British politics around the priorities of the public. Yet now the party they put their trust in is led by Rishi Sunak, a consummate technocrat. (While the Tories have clung on to the mayoralty in Tees Valley, one of the most Eurosceptic regions in the UK, this seems to be down to the personal popularity of Tory mayor Ben Houchen.)

If the local-election results represent any kind of shift, it is a shift away from the Brexit era, that all-too-brief period, following the EU referendum in 2016, in which politicians were forced to take voters seriously. Now the political order is returning to its factory setting. We are back to having two technocratic parties dancing on the head of a pin. Back to the dreary days of Cameron vs Miliband. As if to rub this in, both David Cameron and Ed Miliband now play prominent roles in their respective cabinets. Both parties are offering more of the same. The only reason Labour is riding so high is because of the collapse of the Tories, following 14 years in power, a pandemic, a war in Europe and the demoralisation of the Brexit electorate. Meanwhile, precisely no one is excited about the Labour Party outside of SW1.

The story of the local elections? We’re back to boring. Back to technocracy. Back to politicians pursuing their agendas over the heads of a demoralised public. But our elites shouldn’t get too comfortable. With a political class this smug and self-congratulatory, it won’t be long before voters find another cause, another party, another moment, to give the elites another bloody nose.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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