For the Tories, yesterday’s local elections were always going to be an exercise in damage limitation. Slumped in the polls, party split – with a good portion of their foot soldiers on strike – an electoral drubbing was inevitable.
If anything, Labour have fared even worse, particularly in their traditional heartlands. Whilst their haemorrhaging of seats might not be as heavy as the Tories, for a party that’s been in opposition for nine years, Jeremy Corbyn would have hoped for better.
The temptation to use these results as a litmus test of the national picture will prove irresistible for pundit and activist alike, and much will be made of the resurgence of the Remain backing parties.
However, the real takeaway of the last 24 hours is the increase in the number of independent candidates being elected. With neither the Brexit Party nor Change UK fielding any of their recently accrued flock, and disillusionment in the current political offering high, this comes as no surprise. It will though have repercussions on the day-to-day running of our councils.
For all its faults, the party political system gets things done. Members of a party have shared ambitions, ideologies and resources (albeit, as recent months have shown, these can be severely strained), and the whipping of votes, even at a local level, ensures a majority is usually reached on important decisions. Of course, not everyone involved in that process might wholeheartedly agree with the direction set, but a mixture of camaraderie and collective responsibility will often see people fall into line behind the party machine.
By contrast, independents can be alluringly free-thinking. This is undoubtedly a big part of their attraction, but it can sometimes leave voters short-changed, especially when there’s multiple independents, all with divergent views, sitting around the same table. In such cases, consensus will be hard fought.
Independents have no senior member breathing down their neck. No national policy to promote and deliver through action on the ground. Their sole responsibility is to themselves and their constituents, not to a wider body.
Time and again, councils have coughed, spluttered and faltered when made up of multiple individuals with no party affiliation. The planning system in particular feels the strain, with little incentive to build much-needed, but often controversial, development. Housing schemes won’t be approved, vital infrastructure will be delayed. Rightly or wrongly, and as we are now seeing with Brexit, difficult decisions are kicked into the long grass when hard-headed individualism flourishes.
This can all sound depressingly pessimistic, but like any decision-making body, there has to be a certain level of compromise and utilitarianism if things are to move forward. People working on their own, and not part of a team, don’t pull in the same direction.
Much of the UK has voted for change, but conversely, the first casualty of this week’s elections will be progress.