Three thoughts on the 2017 General Election – Liam Booth-Smith

Author: Liam Booth-Smith   |  

Some quick reflections on today’s announcement and what I think it will mean for the local elections and policy.

  1. Brexit won’t be the only thing talked about during the election

I’ve consistently read this will be the Brexit election. No doubt it’ll be a foggy spectre lingering around every issue, but it can’t be the only issue. Theresa May’s government is trapped by the 2015 Conservative manifesto, fiscally in particular. The self-employed NIC shambles exemplified how a thin majority and an even thinner mandate would have made governing for the next two years almost impossible. So yes, those banging the Brexit drum are right, but the more interesting question is not how much, but what else?

Labour will play its default hand of the NHS, possibly ramping up social care (an issue Corbyn has held his own on at times). If he’s listening to wise counsel he’ll also talk up housing.

For the Conservatives it’s an opportunity to fill in the blanks big policy ideas like the Industrial Strategy have created. The Treasury needs some room to breathe, wringing the sponge for revenue is now yielding only tiny droplets. I’d expect some announcements which would free up the government’s revenue raising capacity. Particularly, for example, if Theresa May wants to follow through on her commitment to find a lasting solution to social care.

  1. Will this be a ‘fact checkers versus culture warriors’ election?

A refrain of the losing side in both the EU referendum and 2016 US Presidential election was they had brought fact checkers to a culture war. Brexit has made policy a less oblique instrument on which to play to cultural tensions. Immigration, executive pay, education, etc…

Even if this election gets flooded with policy ideas (I doubt this very much) how many will fit the mould of say, grammar schools? Where polling points to strong popularity but the available evidence and elite consensus says they don’t deliver what they promise? I think this election could be culture warrior vs culture warrior.

  1. Will general and local voting patterns align?

Centre for Cities’ Andrew Carter argues the mayoral and general election votes will now be “more aligned in the public’s mind”. It’s safe to assume there’ll be a bit of this, but I don’t agree with his view that it makes it more likely people will vote down ballot. Local elections are the voter’s release valve. Historically an opportunity to needle the governing party, only in recent years have they become less hostile to incumbent governments. If they were being held on the same day I could believe it, but (as far as we’re aware) they’re not and I don’t.

It’s more likely patterns for local elections will follow the recent trend of being less hostile to the incumbent governing party and the mayoral elections will be a more tribal affair, largely due to the personality politics of direct elections. (I wrote last year on city region mayoralties becoming Labour life boats.)