On Thursday 8 April, Cicero/amo hosted a webinar with Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research. Sir John spoke ahead of the local elections, giving his thoughts on what we can expect to see on 6th May.
What to watch out for in the local elections
2021 will be a bumper year for local elections, as many local councils are holding what was supposed to be last year’s set of elections as well as this year’s. Sir John pointed out that some of the council seats that are up for election have not been contested for several years, amidst the turmoil of Brexit, two general elections and a pandemic.
When asked which metropolitan councils would act as bellwethers in this election cycle, Sir John gave the example of Dudley, taking into account the political events of the past few years, the council composition and the marginal seats. Dudley is currently under no overall control, but he proposed that it could be the Conservatives’ “one potential serious prospect” in May.
Thirteen mayors will be elected directly across England in May, including seven metro mayors. Referring to the neck-and-neck polling between Labour and the Conservatives, Sir John said the key metro mayor races to watch out for would be in the West Midlands, West of England and Tees Valley.
The Welsh question
Sir John predicted that, based on current polls, Welsh Labour would not be able to form a government on its own post-May, and said the party faced the prospect of negotiating a deal with Plaid Cymru. He also touched upon the growing issue of Welsh independence. He said that there had been a “bit of an increase” in support for Welsh independence, and it currently stands at around 24% in Wales. He posited that the constitutional question in Wales is far more fractured than the question of Scottish independence, as there is also some debate around abolishing the Senedd. Sir John also theorised that, if Scotland becomes independent, Wales is more likely to do the same.
Victory is almost guaranteed for the SNP, but trouble lies ahead
In the most interesting political fight on 6th May, elections will be held for the Scottish Parliament. Support for Scottish independence is now at its highest recorded level and has grown stronger and stronger due to Brexit. Sir John said it was not a matter of whether the Scottish National Party will win; instead, it was a question of by how much. However, he pointed out that neither the independence nor unionist camps would be where they wanted after the elections. If the SNP wins, the party will be forced to push for a risky referendum and, if the election result is murkier, the UK Government will have to make a difficult decision on holding a referendum.
The newly formed Alba party will be contesting some list seats in May. Sir John said Alex Salmond was a “deeply unpopular politician” but could still cost the SNP some seats. He also suggested that, in making voters aware of tactical voting strategies, Alba’s strategy could backfire and could actually win some list votes for the Green Party instead.
What’s next for Labour
Sir John took a question on the future of the Labour Party. He said that Sir Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, was excellent at picking out the Conservative Party’s flaws, but has failed to demonstrate his vision to the public. He found that Labour was “remarkably bereft” of policies not relating to the pandemic. After a year, the polling showed no evidence that Labour had picked up ‘Leave’ votes again, and Sir John said it was important to remember that reconnecting with Leave voters is not the only path back to power.
The Hartlepool by-election will be held on the same day as the local elections. Although he feels that Labour should keep the seat, Sir John predicted that the results will be close and will result in a reduced majority. He mentioned that Labour “has never done that well in seats it is trying to hold on to”.
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Image taken from a physical Cicero/amo event hosted with Sir John Curtice in 2017.
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