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As the opinion polls narrow, local elections will show what’s left of Labour

As the opinion polls narrow, local elections will show what’s left of Labour

🕔09.May 2014

Opinion polls, as my colleague Chris Game argued here a couple of weeks ago, should be viewed against the changing trend in voting intentions that they portray.

And with the local government and European elections a fortnight away, the national trend is undeniably shifting slightly away from Labour towards the Conservative Party. We are getting used to seeing more polls depicting a Labour lead over the Conservatives of one or two points, and at this rate it cannot be too long before Labour’s advantage disappears completely.

It remains to be seen how this plays out in Birmingham, where matters are complicated by the historic poor showing of the Conservative Party in elections for the city council.

It is also impossible to predict what will become of the Liberal Democrat vote, which seems certain to plummet compared to 2010 when the seats being contested this year were last fought.

Will Lib Dems transfer their support to Labour, or Conservative, or possibly even UKIP, or perhaps simply not bother to vote at all? No one can be sure.

I still expect to see Labour making gains on the city council, although the likelihood of national factors impacting on local elections is strong.

The Conservatives are putting all of their energies into campaigning against the so-called garden tax, the £35 charge imposed by the Labour-run council on householders who want their green waste removed. This, it is claimed, has led to an outbreak of garden rubbish being dumped on pavements across Birmingham.

Perhaps the Tories are right to concentrate on grass roots issues, if you’ll excuse the pun, but they should also recognise that their candidates can benefit from favourable publicity generated by an improving economy.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has declared the recession over with growth returning to 2008 levels earlier than expected, stock markets are rising, wages are finally beginning to tick up, unemployment is falling (although not everywhere in the West Midlands), the conditions are in place for an outbreak of the Feelgood Factor.

For Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, this is a bit of an inconvenient fact. Mr Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls keep banging on about a cost of living crisis, but voters may not see it this way. Mr Balls has, at least, discontinued his rather annoying flat-lining of the economy hand signals.

None of this may matter as far as next year’s General Election is concerned, for Labour’s advantage thanks to an inequitable distribution of parliamentary constituencies is so great that the Conservatives will need to be polling into the 40 per cent-plus level to win an outright majority.

Historians may in the future have much to say about David Cameron, but it can hardly be denied that his failure to persuade the Liberal Democrat half of the coalition to support boundary reviews will go down as a cataclysmic tactical disaster by the Conservative leader.

The day that Nick Clegg said his party wouldn’t vote for boundary reviews was almost certainly that day that the Conservative Party kissed goodbye to winning the 2015 General Election.

Chamberlain Files has reported how a strong UKIP presence at the Birmingham council elections could skew voting patterns for the main parties. But there will also be an unprecedented display of unity by the hard-left, where 13 Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidates are standing under the banner of Birmingham Against the Cuts.

Not only has the left come together, putting aside historic internecine disputes, the group has even issued a manifesto which asks “what’s the point of Labour?”,  given the city council’s “tame” implementation of Government cuts.

The document makes predictable promises about standing up to the Government, but doesn’t say how this would happen or indeed what the left would do if Commissioners were sent in to run Birmingham after the city council set an illegal budget.

There is, though, a clear hatred of Birmingham Labour Party running through the manifesto: “We ask what is the point of Labour? They offer no resistance to government cuts, and if elected they promise to continue them. Taking working people for granted they have left us defenceless, so we need our own candidates.

“We say it is time to call a halt to the destruction of our services. Elect councillors who will stand up for Birmingham by demanding the government repay the £1 billion they have stolen off us since 2010 and restore the local authority grant to 2010 levels adjusted for inflation.”

The council elections in Birmingham on May 22 will be fascinating on all sorts of levels. Will Labour continue its rise towards 80-plus councillors, or will the Tories make a come back off the back of wheelie bins and garden waste? Are the Lib Dems facing wipe-out?Can UKIP’s 30 candidates win enough votes in marginal seats to skew the result? Will Birmingham Against the Cuts candidates eat into Labour support in any meaningful way?

Chamberlain Files will be bringing you all of the results as they unfold in the early hours of May 23.

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