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What the recent elections tell us about British society

Written By: - Date published: 11:31 pm, May 17th, 2021 - 35 comments
Categories: Brexit, electoral systems, First Past the Post, Jeremy Corbyn, leadership, local government, uk politics - Tags: , , , , , ,

Originally posted on Nick Kelly’s Blog

In a nation that has suffered over 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, one may be somewhat taken aback to see the latest YouGov Poll where The Conservative Party enjoy a 15% lead over the Labour Opposition. 17 months after the Conservatives won the 2019 General Election, it would be easy to conclude that the Government are still enjoying the support they gained during this campaign. The last year and a half have been anything but normal with a pandemic creating the greatest social and economic crisis in decades. As we are still living through this crisis it is too soon to really understand what the long-term consequences of it will be, however, the recent elections in the UK do highlight some important trends and issues.

After the 2018 council elections in England I made the following observation in a blog post:

The downside to Party Political council elections is that the media interest is primarily what the impact of local council elections on national politics. This has included projections for how many seats each party would get in the House of Commons based on these results, despite the fact that not all councils were up for re-election. More importantly, while some will be voting on party lines, many others are likely to vote on local issues. Someones vote in council elections may not reflect how they would vote in a general election.

English Council Elections – 5 May 2018

It remains true that too much emphasis is made on how local election results may translate to voting intentions in a general election. Many people when they vote, are doing so based on the performance or lack thereof of their local councillors or mayors. However, many do use these elections as a chance to send a message based on the performance of party leaders nationally. And in 2021, the gains made by the Conservative Party, in particular, Labour losing their majority on councils like Durham were part of a national trend.

Of course, there were not just council elections being held on Thursday 6 May, but also the Scottish and Welsh assembly elections and the Hartlepool by-election.

Elections 2021: Guide to 'Super Thursday' as Britain heads to the polls - LBC

Voting took place across the UK on Thursday 6 May 2021 for council elections, the Hartlepool by-election and the Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections.

Hartlepool saw the Conservatives win in a constituency Labour had held for 57 years. The official response from Starmer’s leadership team was that Labour was still suffering from the result in 2019 where the Party had lost its ‘Red Wall’ seats and implied that the fault lay with the previous leader Jeremy Corbyn. Labour held Hartlepool in both the 2017 and 2019 general elections, and in 2017 Labour’s majority actually increased. Two major factors at play in Hartlepool were a) voter turnout falling to 42% whereas in 2019 turnout was 57.9% and b) in 2019 the combined Conservative Party and Brexit Party votes were ahead of Labour meaning in 2021 much of that Brexit Party vote went Conservative.

Another problem for Labour, and one which highlights the current poor decisions being made by Labour’s current leadership, was the decision to select former Stockton South MP Paul Williams, from a shortlist of one, as their candidate. Williams, a vocal remainer was an odd choice for a constituency where support for Brexit was high. Williams was also forced to apologise early on in the campaign for an inappropriate tweet sent a few years earlier. When running for Labour Leader Kier Starmer tweeted that Labour needed to be “more democratic” in the way it selected candidates and should end “impositions” from the national leadership. Yet Paul Williams was ‘imposed’ and voters responded accordingly.

The current success of the Conservative Party is certainly in part due to the vaccine rollout. Unlike the expensive Track and Trace system that did not deliver, the NHS has rolled out a successful COVID-19 vaccination programme, which has significantly reduced transmission and hospitalisation of this virus. Added to this has been the British media gleefully highlighting the problems the EU have had rolling out the vaccine, confirming to those who voted Brexit in 2016 and/or the Tories in 2019 that getting out of the EU was the right thing to do. Despite the pandemic, the Government made a point of delivering the promise to “get Brexit done.” Whilst this has not helped political stability in Northern Ireland it keeps a promise made in 2019 which plays well with a strong section of English voters.

The re-election of the Scottish Nationalist Party, despite the recent controversy over Alex Salmond, will have disappointed those opposed to Scottish Independence. Any thoughts that Scottish Labour’s new leader Anas Sarwar would improve the fortunes for the party, that once dominated in Scotland, were dashed with the party coming third and only holding marginal seats like Dumbarton due to tactical voting by Tory and Lib Dem voters to stop an independence candidate winning. The media, particularly in England, and the Westminster establishment make much of the claim that having failed to win an outright majority there is no mandate for another independence referendum. This says more about the ignorance of the political and media establishment within the London bubble than about Scottish nationalism. The proportional voting system Scotland uses makes a party getting an outright majority highly unlikely. That the SNP were one seat shy of this is impressive. Further, the Scottish Greens also ran on a pro-independence platform, meaning there is a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. Independence is still far from certain in Scotland, but as I wrote after the 2019 general election the calls for independence have and will continue to get louder.

The results were not all bad for the opposition Labour Party on 6 May. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham was elected with 67.3% of the vote to the Tories 19.6%. Andy ran on a progressive platform of improving buses and public transport in the city. He also has been given the nickname ‘King of the North’ after standing up to the Government in late 2020 calling for greater support for the region during the lockdown. In Wales, Labour was re-elected with their leader Mark Drakeford claiming the Welsh Governments response to COVID-19 helped them stay in power. In London, Labour retained control of the Greater London Authority and Mayor Sadiq Khan was reelected. Khan’s majority was small than his 2016 result, with many voters dissatisfied with his handling of transport issues in the city.

The picture these results paint is one where the Conservatives won largely as it was their voters who had greater motivation to vote. Those satisfied with or at least more forgiving of the Governments response to COVID-19 were more likely to go to the ballot box and vote Tory. The polling data shows the combined support of opposition party’s to be greater than the Tories, but under a First Past the Post electoral system this helps the Tories. The current poll shows the Green Party, which currently has one MP in the House of Commons, enjoying 8% support. An increase in the Green vote to this sort of number will likely split the progressive vote in marginal constituencies and help the Tories. By contrast, the Conservatives no longer face serious competition on the right having mopped up the Brexit Party/UKIP support. Further, despite performing fairly poorly in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives remain the dominant Party in England where the vast majority of UK voters live. As an English nationalist party, the Tories are able to motivate enough people in England to keep voting for them and retain power.

The COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity for oppositions parties, in particular the Labour Party, to have made gains. Although a small-c conservative country, the governments handling of the crisis has upset many. Yet a combination of voter disengagement and competition with the Greens and Lib Dems has meant Labour continues to perform poorly, except in areas of the country where the party has local leaders who are prepared to step up. My next blog post will turn once again to the UK Labour Party to understand why 18 months after the 2019 election defeat the party is slipping backwards in terms of support nationally.

35 comments on “What the recent elections tell us about British society ”

  1. Tricledrown 1

    It's been divided and conquered ever since Thatcher .Now with Brexit another massive upheaval will do a lot of economic damage especially as the EU tariffs ,Travel difficulties,The Irish border,Scotish independence,etc will cause huge economic damage as well as social upheaval.

    It will take years to unravel. The Tories are desperately pumping £billions of pounds into think big projects ,muldoon style to keep voters happy. Car manufacturers,aerospace contractors ,fishing,farming,finance(the biggest sector already a good percentage have left London for Brussels and Germany) are going to take years if not decades to recover if they do at all.massive labour shortages are already happening as EU citizens are leaving in droves.

  2. Ad 2

    After its 10% GDP collapse in 2020, Britain is on track for the strongest economic growth since the second world war.


    Everyone's been saving like a bastard, and with their second jab the masks come off and they go for it. Labour have had their chance at the ballot box when things were tough and when political choices were in flux. Didn’t work.

    There aren't a lot of good attack lines for Labour that can best simple national relief and rebuild generating wholesale consumer confidence.

    • Tricledrown 2.1

      It's very easy to show growth off the back of decline.We had that type of growth back in the 1990's in NZ we had percentage growth under Richardson and Birch but when you look at the volume of growth it stagnated for 30 years.

      This sugar hit immediate growth is caused by the UK having to stockpile/warehouse its supply chain and the massive capital injection by the Tory 's to counter the long term damage the know is coming. Honda,Nissan ,Jaguar Rover,Mini, the aerospace Airbus parts supply.All will struggle to import parts and export having to pay tariffs and ditch just in time cost saving for manufacturers .Labour shortages will compound these hurdles as well.

      The London finance sector one of the largest in the world has bleed many of the largest head office to the EU.

      Plus the sugar hit coming out of lockdown .

      Scotland wanting to rejoin the EU after seeking independence the Irish border threatening to reopening the old wounds of the troubles,Northern Island and Wales also seeking independence is a huge wave of bad news for the UK economy.

      The Tories after decades of austerity are pumping £100's of billions in a Keynesian effort to keep the UK afloat against all the damage caused by Brexit.

      • Ad 2.1.1

        Sure it ain't politically fair. Playing for time hoping for social chaos and economic decline hasn't worked so far and isn't likely to.

        The countries fast into vaccines and fast out of trouble are rewarding their masters irrespective of traditional party allegiance.

        • Tricledrown

          Englands North the rust belt of England were wooed by Brexit a former Labour stronghold was fed up with eastern Europeans coming in working harder for less wages.

          But when you look beyond the headlines now Eastern Europeans are leaving the UK .You would think local unemployed would take up those jobs but less youth are participating in the workforce .

          Then look at the longterm economic UK stats the UK had been in decline for the previous 2 years 2019 and 2020 and the sugar hit now looks good but the UK is still well down on what it was 2 years ago.

          • gypsy

            The UK economy was not in decline in 2019. This graph shows that for Q4 2019, GDP was in fact at a peak after a sustained period of growth from Q2 2009.

            GDP then declined sharply in Q1 and Q2 2020, with the recovery beginning in Q3.

            That total GDP is below where it was at the end of 2019 is almost certainly the result of Covid, not Brexit. The UK economy looks to be well on track to recover to pre Covid levels in the not too distant future.

            • Tricledrown

              Gypsy you are interpreting the figures poorly a 5% increase in gdp off the back of a 20% decline it will take 3 to 4 years for the UK economy to get back to the same volume of economic output as 2019 when their economy was already struggling due to Brexit uncertainty.

              Given most economies are having an initial rebound from pent up spending followed by a slowing down.Plus the eye watering debt levels the UK is in a similar situation to Italy.

              • Nic the NZer

                Gypsy is entirely correct, UK GDP peaks in Q4 2019. The massive decline predicted in Brexit scenario forecasts simply never materialized.

              • ghostwhowalksnz

                " 5% increase in gdp off the back of a 20% decline it will take 3 to 4 years for the UK economy to get back.."

                A lot of GDP these days is about 'spending' not necessarily about production.

                The spending side bounces back faster than people think as theres a fair slice of the population that spends it all – because they have to or they 'want' to.

                Tricycle , you over exaggerating the border issues with the EU, fogetting its the 'food standards' that cause the most issues and the UK is a net importer of food from Ireland, France, Netherlands, and Denmark especially. from EU its £30 bill imports and £12 bill exports UK is welcome to move its food imports to other countries and avoid EU protectionism…maybe even NZ !

                As the french fishermen found out the Brits can make high art form of petty rules when it suits. It will come around to bite badly along with the vacuous threat to cut of power to the Channel Islands.


                • Tricledrown

                  Yet British fisherman can't sell fresh fish into their biggest market because delays at the border spoil the fish.

                  Boris sold fisherman down the drain the headlines read.

              • gypsy

                What Nic says.

                Plus – if you look at the GDP in $ terms, at Q4 2019 is was UK544,733. By Q2 2020 it was UK426,197, a drop of UK118,536 or 22%.

                By Q4 2020 the GDP was UK504,742, just 7% below the 2019 equivalent.

                By my maths, that means that 15/22nds or 68% of the fall in GDP had already been recovered in 2020.

        • greywarshark

          Good on you Ad for being cheery. But the Tories have gone after the cherries, there is a short term rush, but that's all it is. The English have swallowed the propaganda from the top. Margaret Thatcher was supposed to show modernity and women moving up. She was aspirational for university women, the middle class, and appeared supremely confident. That's all the upper class need to be in England, will the lower income people unite and fight?

          I think not, they get immersed in celebrity culture and coloured tv. Some have never got over the wonder of seeing a version of themselves on Coronation Street. We are likely to be the same; phlegmatic is the word.

    • Tricledrown 2.2

      Looking at the UK economy closer they suffered a 19% decline in GDP.. in 2020.Govt debt now up up to 100% relative to GDP.

      Under Tory control for more than 10 years govt debt has increased every year they have been in power.

      • Ad 2.2.1

        Voters aren't looking closely and Labour haven't encouraged them to.

      • Nic the NZer 2.2.2

        Taking on debt, supplementing national income and supporting the economy are what you do as a government when your economy enters recession. Since the UK controls the money it borrows, what your criticizing is sensible economic policy with basically no downside.

        • greywarshark

          Forced to be sensible are they in the UK? Yippee. I wonder how long that will last when they move back to normal wheee-ling and dealing. I like the Dilbert cartoon character – on a book I've got he holds up a sign saying 'This Way to Piles of Money' and the other characters walk towards it, eyes glazed, and fall over a cliff.

        • Tricledrown

          Nic the NZer but when debt levels get to high and you are borrowing to pay back borrowing you end up with a Greek tragedy or like Japan Italy etc especially if inflation takes off.

          When debt levels are so high and you are paying for those borrowings the cost of servicing those debt's takes away govt's ability to stimulate the economy .If another economic shock occurs most likely in the worlds current situation the UK will end up in an even worse situation like Japan which has so much govt debt it can't stimulate anymore.

          Printing money is the better option but Boris and the Tories are servants slaves of the profiteering banks.

          • Nic the NZer

            That is not really a correct analysis.

            Japan has had about 20 years of consistent real economic growth and low unemployment. There is no clear basis for your assessment that it is an economic failure, other than the substantial govt debt (a lot of which the Japanese govt owes to itself anyway). The govt there typically borrows at low or even negative interest rates.

            Greece is different. It uses a foreign currency the Euro, and so is beholden to the ECB to allow it to conduct its economic policy in deficit. Because this is not going to work at present with the pandemic the deficit and debt rules have been suspended at least temporarily. Unfortunately the ECB and EU setup these fiscal rules where Greece was forced to run domestic austerity in order to keep functioning in the Euro and this was very bad politically. Also since about 2012 the ECB has been buying Greek govt debt to keep the interest rates there down so default and grexit didn't happen.

            The UK however is more like Japan. The govt runs the BofE and don't need to implement austerity to stay on side with them. If the treasury wants money to fund its budget it just makes the BofE clear its payments.

            As for your assessment that Japan can't stimulate, well your mistaking effect for ability. Monetary policy is not very effective anywhere at stimulating inflation, even NZ where the RBNZ has barely hit the floor of its target inflation band recently. Thats why the govt goes to fiscal policy on each recession, because thats what works. Japan, the UK and NZ can all conduct whatever fiscal policy they want at all times, and Greece can free of debt and deficit ratios at least at the present time.

            Finally QE is just a way to involve the financial markets while the central bank funds a govt deficit. They could just give treasury an overdraft (the UK one is called the ways and means account) but many countries don't do it that way.

          • ghostwhowalksnz

            "the UK will end up in an even worse situation like Japan which has so much govt debt it can't stimulate anymore."

            That didnt stop them last year during the pandemic, their real problem was finding anything left to build as infrastructure as they have built anything and everything already. They were 240% GDP debt ratio before and now its over 250%…. its only money

            Hello Olympics and RWC before them often in pre-existing stadiums and facilities.

      • gypsy 2.2.3

        "Under Tory control for more than 10 years govt debt has increased every year they have been in power."

        Not so.

        Last 5 years:

        2015 80.2% x GDP.

        2016 79.8%

        2017 82.5%

        2018 82.1%

        2019 80.4%

        It could be argued that prior to Covid, the debt to GDP ratio was declining.

        • greywarshark

          Is that all there is that is important top know about how people are doing in a country? Debt to GDP ratio, what about other markers health, education. full-time work, decent housing and so on.?

        • Tricledrown

          Adding £50 billion a year to debt on average every year. On a declining economy with anemic declining gdp growth over the last five years growth at less than the inflation rate.

          Productivity declining the only bright spot was prior to the pandemic was participation in the work force but against stagnant wages.

          The OECD looked at the unemployment rate in the UK and found successive govt's both Labour and the Conservatives were getting better at judging the figures and the true rate was 13% plus.

          • Nic the NZer

            Your saying you should be able to declare what UK unemployment and GDP actually is, because the OECD said so?

            Does this have anything to do with official sources repeatedly disproving your assertions.

          • gypsy

            I wasn't making a detailed analysis of the UK economy, just responding to your comment that "under Tory control for more than 10 years govt debt has increased every year they have been in power". Given that measuring debt as a % of GDP is fairly standard economics, I respectfully don't agree with you.

            As to the condition of the condition of the UK economy more broadly, this was written by Bank of England economist, Andy Haldane. I'm nowhere near bold enough to forecast economic activity under current conditions, but he seems to have a fairly bullish outlook.

    • Nic the NZer 2.3


      From memory this discusses specifically the piece you linked Ad. The title is 'The inflation mania is growing – but manias are manias".

      • greywarshark 2.3.1


        /ˈmeɪnɪə/ noun: mania

        1. mental illness marked by periods of great excitement or euphoria, delusions, and overactivity.

        The propensity goes back to Ancient Greece. 'from Greek mania "madness, frenzy; enthusiasm, inspired frenzy; mad passion, fury," related to mainesthai "to rage, go mad," mantis "seer," menos "passion, spirit," all of uncertain origin, perhaps from …'

  3. RosieLee 3

    The fact that Labour is in total disarray doesn't help. They really need to get their shit together.

    • greywarshark 3.1

      First they have to recognise it for what it is, then do some actual physical work and get it 'shovel-ready' and carry out pilot schemes before introducing their latest flights of fancy taught by female and male wizards at the Unseen University.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 3.2

      " Labour is in total disarray doesn't help"

      Just a media catch phrase. Theres a version of the same thing which the media use about the Democrats in US too.

      Johnson and his ministers are total shambles and they actually are governing, people peel off from their minor roles inside the government who show this happening. It could be the 1930s 'disarray' all over again. ( not that its a special time, just well written about)

      • RosieLee 3.2.1

        Not totally a media catchphrase. Witness the Corbyn leadership shambles, the so-called antisemitism shambles, the current leadership woes.

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          And the Tories havent had an omni-shambles over 'leadership' for 4 years at least?

          Its just political class making noises which the ordinary people mostly ignore, which the 'semitism' row was a prime example.

          Atlees government ,who didnt vote for the establishment of Isreal at the UN in 1948, would be classed as 'anti-semetic' now under new definitions which class criticism of Israel as hate speech.

  4. Dottie 5

    Wake up lethargic Brits,

    self harm is sad, get to the polls in future.

  5. greywarshark 6

    Recent news about the UK The nurses there are getting a 1% pay rise from the NHS. The NZ Invercargill nurse who looked after Boorish Johnson feels their work has been praised but not valued in a way that compensates them for their efforts, she is on a contract out of the country. Hope it turns out well for her.

    NHS pay rise: How much will staff be paid? – BBC News

    https://www.bbc.com › news 9/03/2021 — Health unions have criticised the 1% pay proposal and one – representing nurses – is calling for a 12.5% increase instead. How is pay decided?

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