It has been so busy over the week so lets start with last Thursday as that was the day of the local elections. With 35 councils, 2 Mayoral Elections and a Bi-Election all being contested, it was certainly going to be interesting to see what the results would be. It just so happened that I was working that night, running a dinner at the National Army Museum. What a fantastic venue to hold a dinner in, the Art Gallery was superb. A five course meal for 24 people with a string quartet playing. I had guests from a wide variety of backgrounds such as academia, health, police, sport, industry, charity and the civil service.
The dinner did over run and the Boss told his driver to take me to Waterloo, which meant I didn’t get home and to bed until about 1.30 am, it could have been later if I hadn’t been dropped off at the station. Because it was so late I was told to have the Friday off, good news for me as it meant I could watch the election results on TV. My wife thinks I was particularly sad for spending most of the day watching the results, but I found it interesting. I certainly wasn’t surprised to see the Coalition parties getting a bloody nose and I think I predicted on my Twitter the day before that the Tories would lose 325 seats. As it turned out they lost 335 so I wasn’t far off. It was a shame to see the independent Peter Davies lose the Mayoral election in Doncaster to Labour after 2nd preference votes.
The main surprise was how well UKIP did in the elections and they certainly stole Labours thunder. I know Labour did ok, but it certainly wasn’t as good as they had hoped or even expected. No matter what Ed Miliband says, he will be disappointed with the results. The reason why is simple. Normally in these elections, the governing party will take a beating with the protest vote going to the other two major parties. However this time Labour should have done exceptionally well because the protest votes were against both the Tories and Lib Dems and Labour should have been the beneficiary of these protest votes. Unfortunately for them they hadn’t taken into account the UKIP factor and that the country in economical difficult times tends to lean more to the right. Coupled with the fact that we are still 2 years away from the General Election and Labour will not go firm on any policies, they also suffered at the hands of UKIP. Yes Labour are correct by saying UKIP took votes and seats directly away from the Tories, but they also indirectly took votes and seats away from Labour. If UKIP had not existed then Labour would have had probably have gained over 100 more councillors than what they did. They therefore indirectly lost seats to UKIP.
What remains to be seen is will UKIP be a force at the General Election. With the way our voting system works, even though they ended up with a national projected share of 23% they still would not get many MPs. This is the argument the Lib Dems have had for years. What is certain is this has to be a defining moment for David Cameron, who has tried to own the centre ground, only to discover the country has moved to the right slightly. Are we going to see the same thing happen to the Tories that happened to Labour when the ‘left’ split and the SDP formed in 1981? I doubt this is going to be a split of that calibre.
The real issues that won UKIP votes were the EU and Immigration. The Queen’s Speech yesterday announced new bills on Immigration and if the Coalition can get tough on immigration over the next 2 years, then those UKIP votes may well come back to them. The easiest but riskiest way to gain back votes is for David Cameron to bring forward the ‘EU In/Out’ Referendum to April 2015. The problem at the moment is there is a trust issue, people think if the Tories win then they will change their mind and cancel the referendum or delay it 4 or 5 years. Be brave call it referendum early, you may not like the result but you could win the General Election off that back of it.
I did briefly mention the Queen’s Speech and there are some interesting Bills such as Immigration, Anti-Social Behaviour, National Insurance and Defence Bills. I was very interested to see the Communications Data Bill had been vetoed out right by Nick Clegg. Cutting your nose off cliché comes to mind. This bill has to be very carefully put together because our civil rights are sacred, but the intelligence services do need to have the tools available to them to monitor and gather intelligence on terrorist and major criminal networks. We all know there is a fine line between our civil freedoms and public safety, but to veto the bill outright is stupid. The Bill should have been kept and then Nick Clegg could have fought to ensure it was created correctly so that civil liberties were at the heart of it. As it stands now, the Lib Dems are unlikely to be in Government again in 2015 and then they will be able to do nothing about it in the future. After listening to Alan Johnson the former Labour Home Secretary it seems like there is general support within Labour for the Bill, as long as it is structured correctly. To make changes in Government you have more power if you are on the inside!