Polling commences tomorrow, this is when it is anticipated that the first postal vote ballot papers start hitting door mats. Whilst the focus is on May 22nd, the ten per cent who vote by post will start making their choices very soon. Since postal voters usually have a 70% turn out, and local elections can attract as few as 20% turnout overall, it is pretty obvious just how significant tomorrow is. Modern polling lasts three weeks.
On the eve of the start of polling I thought I would commit my view of the campaign so far. Being immersed in campaigning I cannot pretend to have either a dispassionate or remote view, and so what follows are my impressions gained with all the narrowness of perspective and with attendant bias.
There are three full candidate slates; Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat. There are two conclusions to be drawn from this: one is that the other parties do not have the capacity to achieve a full slate. The second is that the three main parties are the only ones ambitious enough to try to represent the whole borough.
Whilst there are a couple of places where UKIP and an Independent are both on ballot papers, it does look like some sort of avoidance strategy has been going on.
Some put great store by the number of posters on display. This is a mixed picture; as far as I can tell Labour has the most on display, with the Independent Group second. I have seen a few Liberal Democrat posters, but almost none for the Conservatives. I have seen no UKIP posters at all, anywhere. I would not read too much into this, except that it used to be a feature of Tory campaigns to plaster the town in posters. They have either changed strategy or (more likely) their supporters are reluctant to show their colours in an unfavourable electoral climate.
UKIP have the only billboard I have seen. The local media appears to be showing some bias to the Independents and UKIP, but this is likely as success for them is a bigger story than if it were to be true for either of the major parties.
Leaflets, ah leaflets. UKIP, as far as I have seen, appear to be relying on national ones, having nothing localised. They are also absent from doorsteps. This means that they are relying on Farage and lingering anti-politics sentiments. If any were to be elected they may have managed this without any campaigning – which would leave those of us out in all weathers all-year-round somewhat bemused.
Leafleting by other parties is patchy. The resources of the major parties suggest that they are doing stuff in most wards, although I have yet to see a Lib Dem leaflet in the east of the borough. Some households, those in wards where the result is not seen as a foregone conclusion, will see much paper descend on them.
Hustings? I now know of three. Manifestos? Just ours. The letters pages in the local press – well, let’s just say some candidates have suddenly found a voice. Nastiness – not much in evidence, although there is an alarming tendency for some candidates to make some very exaggerated claims. Labour plays with a straight bat, but it is noticeable that some clearly desperate individuals making all sorts of nonsense claims. I suspect this is a strategy that can only backfire. One expects the Independents to jump on any passing bandwagon, but the Tories are being especially creative this year.
And the big debating points? Judging from the literature I have seen almost everyone is desperate to be seen as ‘local’, as if anything else were possible in borough elections. It is evident that some party candidates are playing down their party credentials. As for policy, it seems that some see the way the Council runs itself (by using the Cabinet system) as more important than anything else. More important than cuts, housing, library services, schools, litter, etc. This demonstrates a number of things: a thirst for power above any ideas about what to do with that power, a lack of ideas, shyness about their real intentions. Blabbing on about ‘your priorities are my priorities’ or being opposed to party politics actually says nothing about what they will do if elected. A failure to produce a manifesto or anything resembling a cohesive plan may well mean that they will have to fight amongst themselves to make any progress, before tackling any opposition they may encounter.
The best campaigning team? Need I answer that one?