As the cold war begins, so do the defections

What have Liverpool, Exeter, Hull and Rotherham got in common? Football clubs not playing in the champions league tonight? Too easy. All places that charmless hacks would patronisingly dismiss if any poor lamb from the capital were ever forced to live there ? True, but still not quite right.

Add in the midlands authority of Sandwell and the preposterously well informed among you will have guessed we are in the glamorous world of post-election defections. We’ve all heard about the thousands of new members joining Labour since May, but there is one standout group – local councillors crossing the floor to join the party with no leader.

Observers of British politics see local government in the way casual sport fans view county cricket – it’s an interesting diversion but it’s only really important when it affects the national team. This may well be true, but just like in county cricket, what goes on in the provinces can tell us an awful lot about the direction of travel for the wider game.

People only began to seriously believe that Labour dominance was drawing to an end after the party were trounced in the 2008 local elections. And now we see a new pattern; not in council by-elections, which are always best taken with a pinch of salt, but in the constant trickle of defections to Labour.

In Liverpool, Ian Jobling abandoned the Lib Dems in protest of the coalition’s cuts. In Exeter, the brothers Hannaford ‘on the left end of the spectrum’ did the same, as did Maureen Bristow in Hull, stressing that she did not come into local politics to implement Tory-style policies.

It is nothing new to suggest that the Lib Dems are a broad church; political parties in difficulty like to remind us of that. It’s no secret that there are those on the left of the party who are not exactly delighted to see their front benchers sharing platforms with messrs Gove, Pickles and Osborne. And we all know that there are plenty who squirm every time Danny Alexander is forced to announce more spending cuts by his Tory masters – even if he does try to disguise it by addressing the vast majority of his speech to his tie.

No one really believed the Charlie Kennedy rumour a month ago. Nor does anyone doubt he’s uncomfortable, not least because he keeps saying so. The idea rings true. Senior Lib Dems must be giving it some thought. We know this because senior Lib Dems in local government already have.

And it’s not just Lib Dems. In Rotherham, Darren Hughes has made the extraordinary journey from the Conservatives to the people’s party since the election; as of course, has Elaine Costigan in Sandwell, whose stand against Gove’s BSF catastrophe made national news, after we broke her letter of resignation.

Nick Clegg is so worried about the pasting his party is expected to take in May of next year that he is already preparing the ground for collapse. And although Tory fears are not so acute as that of their junior partners, they too will know that years of a fair wind are over as they stare down the barrel of serious losses next spring. Like millions across the country, coalition councillors fear for their jobs. And, like doctors and nurses, teachers and police, their career prospects are significantly worse under this government.

So where does this leave the local councillor who feels their area is getting a rough ride, abandoned by their national party? Or the councillor who perhaps isn’t in politics for ideological zeal, just to serve their community? It might not give a councillor a reason to defect of itself, but the threat of losing one’s seat, one’s job, would certainly give a councillor one hell of a push if they were having their doubts.

There will be a steady flow throughout this parliament as Tory and Lib Dem councillors see their local services shut down in bloodthirsty cuts disguised as austerity, and their chance of re-election disappear into the past like those heady weeks of Cleggmania.

So what of the national picture? There are around 30 Lib Dem MPs not in the government, many of whom share the beliefs of Maureen Bristow of Hull and the Hannafords of Exeter. Who would bet against seeing our first parliamentary defection before we see another summer’s day?

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2 Responses to “As the cold war begins, so do the defections”

  1. Mark Senior says:

    Defections of councillors to other parties and Independents happens constantly and has done so always , Labour themselves have lost around 10 councillors mostly to Independents since the GE though they have gained a few more .
    I am very willing to wager you £ 100 at evens that there will not be a LibDem MP defecting to Labour before this time next year never mind before next summer begins .
    No doubt the LibDems will lose council seats to Labour next May but nowhere near as many as you hope for . For every 1% swing in votes from LibDem to Labour , Labour will gain around 20 seats from the LibDems . The vast majority of the 2,000 or so seats the Libdems are defending next May are not vulnerable to Labour but are to the Conservatives , many Labour do not even contest . Overall I believe there will be net LibDem gains from Conservative which will IMHO exceed the number of losses to Labour which will total 150-200 .

  2. Bryan says:

    Well you live in hope – I take you up on that offer. Expect an announcement on or about the 26th of September.

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