Editorial comment: Election conundrums

Much of the campaigning for the local elections in England shows how far local elections are decided on national issues. Labour is sounding tougher than its rivals: the Lib Dems are accused of being soft on crime and Tory leader David Cameron is pilloried for his hug-a-hoodie attitude to “louts”. The Lib Dems, with their traditional emphasis on local government, are at least showing a commitment to the environment and a workable system of local taxation.

In the Scottish and Welsh elections, Labour has been forced to think a little less about antisocial behaviour orders and a little more about what it is going to do about child poverty and the 2.5 per cent of the population who still count as socially excluded, many of them concentrated in communities where levels of deprivation have changed little in the past decade.

While chancellor Gordon Brown has talked up British “identity” recently, in Scotland support for it appears to be ebbing away with the SNP in the ascendant. While only a minority of Scots endorse independence, much will depend on the government’s ability to tackle deprivation and the funding of free personal care. None of this will be cheap, but it will be necessary if the idea of “Britain” is to remain defensible.

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