British Ruling Party Prepares for Local Election Losses

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives face competition from the left and the right.

British prime minister David Cameron in Riga, Latvia, February 28
British prime minister David Cameron in Riga, Latvia, February 28 (Flickr/UK in Latvia)

The next electoral test for Britain’s coalition government is unlikely to deliver a verdict on their performance. Instead, the battles to come early next month turn the contest into a bitter warmup for the 2015 general election in the constituencies where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fighting each other.

Complicating the struggle is rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party, fielding nearly as many candidates across the United Kingdom as the Liberal Democrats. In the last three months, it has gained over thirty councilors through by-elections and Conservative defections.

Many right-wing voters see the Euroskeptics as representing the common man where Prime Minister David Cameron’s party is not. The Telegraph‘s Fraser Nelson reported earlier this month that meeting of UKIP voters in Worcester, England “felt like the Tory Party conference in the days when grass roots members actually turned up.”

There were young couples, families and a chap in his thirties who said he’d come because it would be “better than watching EastEnders.” Something about UKIP had pricked his interest and he decided to attend a political meeting — an event that doesn’t happen much in Britain. I met two pearl draped women who said they were Tory converts. Their complaint with David Cameron was “lack of progress” — any kind of progress.

It seems there is the potential for the Conservative and perhaps even Labour vote to seriously unwind in UKIP’s favor. Nigel Farage’s party might finally break through nationally.

Conservatives, who control 29 out of the 34 county councils and unitary authorities that are up for election, are already preparing for heavy losses. When the seats were last contested, the Labour Party was embroiled in scandal. Now the left is resurging and a strong UKIP closing the gap. The right is still fielding the most candidates but expecting to have majorities cut and seats lost.

Labour’s message seems to be less about what it’s for than what it’s against which is the “nasty” Conservative Party. Despite or maybe because of this, it is likely to see a strong showing due to ruling party midterm blues.

The Liberal Democrats, who have traditionally done well in local elections, appear to be fighting a hopeless battle. 2009 was the last time their vote increased. Since, it has been in free fall.

The liberals are hoping to stave off disaster by taking on dissatisfied conservative voters and emphasizing local issues. But many of its leftist voters still disapprove of Nick Clegg’s coalition choice and might opt for Labour instead, if only to express their discontent.

Overall, it seems there are less and less “safe seats” in the country given the rise of UKIP and disillusionment with the three established parties.

A final note: the British National Party is fielding just one hundred candidates, less than a quarter of their number in 2009, meaning that for better or worse, the trade unionists are fielding more candidates in this election than the far right.