You could be forgiven for being unaware that Britain is going to
the polls in a matter of weeks. Competition between the main
political parties is intense – but only over who can down play
their electoral expectations most successfully.
Our politicians and political media await the electorate’s judgment
in an odd mix of local council, London mayoral and assembly, and
European Parliament elections on 10 June with genuine
It is not that they want to stir up apathy, as they all recognise
that the results will be seen as a litmus test of voters’
intentions in the next General Election.
But there are some good reasons why the main parties lack their
usual bravado when it comes to predicting victories.
Labour is banking on all-postal voting in crucial regions to
deliver enough votes to save face. Having just acquired the Party’s
30-page confidential guide to activists on maximising their postal
votes, I am impressed and appalled at how ruthlessly they exploit
The reasons why none of the big three parties are whole-heartedly
promoting their candidates for London mayor are varied. Local
elections will be fought on local issues – especially by Labour,
for obvious reasons.
The Conservatives did well in the last EU elections in 1999, so
find it hard to envisage making further gains. Yet the elections
will be described as Michael Howard’s “first big test”.
All parties fear “lost seats” headlines. Yet some are inevitable
given that the number of MEPs is being cut from 87 to 78 – to take
account of the new member states.
While the main parties do little to promote their MEPs’ records, do
not expect inspiring media coverage either. Although the recent
Centre for Policy Studies report castigated the BBC’s coverage of
Europe, at least the BBC attempts some sort of coverage.
In spite of all these negatives, these elections do matter. They
matter because councils run local services, even if their scope for
manoeuvre is limited by Whitehall. They matter in London because
too many of the capital’s residents wear hostile, anxious or
disturbingly unfocused expressions. And they matter because
decisions made in the European Parliament affect our everyday lives
more than is recognised. But you may have to dig deep to uncover
the facts about the issues at stake.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.