National parties are a bit behind reality – think what has been happening in East Devon for the past three years. – Owl
In terms of the issues dominating the campaign trail, there is nothing unusual about the battle taking place to win seats on Berkshire’s Bracknell Forest council in May’s local elections. Potholes, council tax and sewage are among the hot topics on the doorstep.
Michael Savage www.theguardian.com
Yet a closer inspection of the candidate list in the Tory stronghold reveals an odd quirk that some political pundits believe is unprecedented – and has also led to furious accusations from party leaderships that the local parties involved have “gone rogue” in their quest for electoral success.
You won’t hear any local party figures broadcasting it – in fact, none are prepared to talk about it publicly – but Bracknell Forest has emerged as the unlikely scene of a de facto progressive alliance between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, attempting to make gains on a council where the Conservatives hold 37 of 42 seats.
In 12 of the council’s15 wards, only one of the three progressive parties are standing candidates. None of the 15 wards features Labour candidates taking on the Lib Dems. “It’s not unusual to have alliances between two or three parties at local level,” said local election expert and Tory peer Robert Hayward. “To have it as total as it is in Bracknell Forest is very rare, if not unique.”
To believe that this arrangement is the result of some bizarre coincidence stretches credulity, yet when asked how it came to pass, local party figures clam up. “You might think that,” said one party figure. “I couldn’t possibly comment.” Several people said a combination of the struggle to raise enough candidates and cash, together with the local knowledge of where they have the best chance of winning, had led to the unusual election choice.
While the local party bosses admit to “getting on well” with each other, they insist there has been no secret meeting to carve up the council contest between them – something they all know would lead to fierce condemnation from party headquarters.
“It’s not like we came together in a dark room saying, ‘you have this one and I’ll have that one’,” said one local party figure, on condition of anonymity. “It’s really a story about how to make the best of it in a borough which is heavily skewed [towards the Tories]. Focus your attention on where you’re going to win. And that’s what’s happened.”
It is frustration at the Tory domination, as well as a desperation to improve the diversity of the council, that has fuelled the unusual set up. “We’re just all fed up with it,” said another. “We’ve had really good people with something to offer – a real commitment, intelligence, capacity, insights and the knowledge to make a big difference. Instead, Donald Duck with a blue rosette gets voted in.”
While the frustration is understandable, the development will anger officials in Labour and Lib Dem headquarters, who oppose any local arrangement with other parties over where candidates run. The Labour party has already spent a lot of time clearly stating it would not do any deals with other parties – be it the SNP or the Lib Dems – in order to win power. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems need to win over traditionally Tory voters in many seats, and any suggestion it is standing aside for Labour is seen as damaging to those efforts.
“This was a decision taken by a single local party, which doesn’t reflect our position nationally with the highest level of candidates since 2007,” said Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper. “As our stunning byelection wins have shown in recent years, voters know who to vote for to get the Conservatives out, and in many areas across the country that is the Liberal Democrats.”
For anyone hoping that Bracknell Forest could lead the way in showing that progressive alliances could work across the country at a general election, pollsters and political scientists are not encouraging. Apart from national parties hating them, Hayward said history suggests they simply don’t work. “In terms of a progressive alliance as such, I don’t think it’s a precursor,” he said. “Both because of the general approaches of national parties and also because, when it comes to national issues, there are marked differences between the political parties involved.
“On a psephological basis, there’s very clear evidence that ‘progressive alliances’ don’t work. If you look at the way people transfer their votes on occasions like police and crime commissioners elections where they have the opportunity to transfer a vote, it has not gone wholeheartedly well for parties that people want to describe themselves as part of a ‘progressive alliance’. So there is no reason for believing that it will work now when it hasn’t worked previously.”
A Labour party spokesperson said the party “hasn’t done any deals and is not in the business of doing so … Voters aren’t fools, they don’t need parties to do deals – they need politicians who will put them first and improve their lives.”
Like to see more of this in East Devon elections again this time. Give some younger new faces a chance.