Saturday, May 04, 2019

Could the local elections provide the impetus which leads to a Brexit deal?

One of the things which the EU referendum made all too obvious - though not everyone seems to have taken it on board is that the country is badly split into different tribes who have a very different take on reality, and few of us understand those in other tribes as well as we think we do.

The different takes which are being offered about the local elections is an excellent example.

Just about the one thing which almost everyone agrees is that neither the Conservatives nor Labour did very well. But many people are interpreting the results through the prism of what they already believed or want to believe, or of what seemed to be happening in their own area, and the trouble is that what happened in different parts of the country was not the same.
One group of people who are very strongly opposed to the referendum decision to leave the EU have convinced themselves - and in the minority of constituencies in the country which voted Remain they may even be right - that the partial recovery in Lib/Dem fortunes from a wipeout four years ago indicates that the bad results for both Conservative and Labour council candidates is because the Conservatives are trying to deliver Brexit and Labour isn't demanding a second referendum forcefully enough. they think - don't laugh - that hat these local elections were a vote to remain

Anyone who, like me, lives in one of the two thirds of constituencies which voted leave and spent any significant time campaigning on the doorstep in the last few weeks knows that, as a description of the position in the leave-voting majority of the country, that view bears no relation to reality.

There were hardly any UKIP candidates and no Brexit party candidates in the local elections on Thursday, and those who were furious about the failure to deliver Brexit - and I certainly met a lot of them on the doorstep didn't have a clear way to express that view - they either spoilt their ballot paper, stayed at home, or decided that they would still vote for the local council candidates they would normally support but took any opportunity to tell canvassers like me from the main parties that although our local council candidates had still had their vote this week that would certainly not happen in the European elections, if they take place.

Cumbria is a microcosm for the gulf between Remain and Leave areas. Former Lib/Dem leader Tim Farron in whose district of South Lakeland (the one part of Cumbria which voted Remain) the Lib/Dems made modest gains has suggested that this is evidence that the country is swinging towards Remain.

But in West Cumbria which voted Leave, the Lib/Dems only put up five Borough council candidates in the whole of the Copeland and Allerdale areas, none of whom came anywhere near to being elected.

It is perhaps worth looking at the overall picture of the number of councillors elected, remembering that these councils seat were previously contested four years ago on the best day the Conservatives have had for 27 years - four years ago and 27 years ago being the last two times we won an overall majority in a general election. This was the picture for English local elections:

Obviously losing 1334 councillors is a huge blow to the Conservatives, and a net loss of 82 seats instead of making hundred of gains on a night the governing party loses so many seats is a very disappointing result for the main opposition. But if you look at the total number of councillors elected the Lib/Dems are not back to where they were in 2010.

This is a net picture and if you disaggregate it into Leave and Remain areas I think we are seeing a polarisation - with voters in Remain seats punishing the main parties for trying to deliver Brexit and and in Leave seats for failing to do so.

I am more than ever convinced, even though I myself voted Remain, that failure to deliver what the electorate voted for has already done massive damage to British democracy by undermining trust in the political system which was already dangerously weak.

In the eyes of many people, especially in Leave voting areas, including a fair number (such as myself) who voted remain, the question of whether we remain members of the EU is no longer about the merits of leave or remain. It is now about whether politicians respect the democratic decisions of the voters or not.

There have been some suggestions from some quarters that the elections have given MPs a "kick up the backside" which might enable a Brexit deal to be done, possibly even "in the next few days."

I hope that is true because the longer this goes on the greater damage the uncertainty about our future and the loss of trust will do.

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