The results of the 2014 local elections have provoked nothing short of hysteria in the media, which I can only explain as a need to create a story out of nothing. At the time of writing this post, with 159 out of 161 councils declared, Labour are first with 82 councils, followed by the Conservatives with 41 councils and the LibDems with 6 councils In fourth place, based on number of councillors, come UKIP (but with no councils, please note). And yet, anyone would think that UKIP had won, at least if they had listened or watched the UK media in the last 24 hours! Not once have I heard an acknowledgement that Labour came top of the table. Instead there has been lots about how UKIP have taken votes off the main parties. The ultimate exaggeration came from Nick Robinson, who described the result as a ‘UKIP Earthquake’. I preferred the description from a LibDem Euro candidate on Twitter as a ‘passing bus’!
But let’s be serious about the significance of these results. First, they were council elections, and second, they have occurred a year before a general election, in a time of recession, and for many people, a time of financial difficulty. Such conditions are ideal for a protest vote, which will actually make very little difference to anything, but which might grab some headlines and embarrass some party leaders. They have certainly achieved these aims!
But when it comes to voting in a General Election, I expect a different story. I expect a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives, with the LibDems hardly causing a ripple this time. It will be down to Ed Miliband and his team to convince the electorate that they can form a decent, fair government which will reverse the damage caused by the coalition during their tenure. Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen. I would be more confident of success had the other Miliband been elected, but Ed is well-meaning and has some good shadow cabinet colleagues. And UKIP will seem an irrelevance by then.
Of course, there are also the Euro elections, whose results are expected tomorrow. Whether UKIP do well or not remains to be seen. With PR they may get more MEPs elected. But even if that happens, I think it’s largely an irrelevance unless the Conservatives win the general election in 2015, and call an in-out referendum (which would be unlikely to take place before 2017). Then, if UKIP have the same level of support, it could be significant. But that’s some way ahead, and there are far more pressing issues to address before then!