There will be all manner of calls in the next few days for a change of direction by Conservative Ministers, in the wake of the big swings to Labour in the local elections. The main feature of the elections was a swing to the left as conventionally described. Labour took many votes off the Lib Dems, and some votes off the Conservatives. It extended its hold on many northern towns and cities, and showed an ability to win some seats in the south as well.
Less remarked was the big surge in support for the Greens. It did not translate into many extra Council seats, but it did propel the Greens into the challenger role in more places. In my local Wokingham contests the Greens rose from 1% (2010 General election) to 7.9% of the total vote, whilst not contesting all the seats available. In its best ward performance the party shot into second place with 31.4% of the vote. The Greens came third ahead of the Lib Dems in the London Mayoralty, though only managing 4.5% of the total first preference vote.
If you believe politicians have to follow the votes that implies the Coalition should move in a Green and Labour party direction to reconnect with voters who have detached. That I think would be a mistake.
I think most people want to feel that their own living standards are rising. They want to know there is hope and opportunity for their children and grandchildren. They want some relief from the daily pressure on family budgets from higher taxes and higher prices. The Green party’s insistence on much dearer energy to try to make people use less of it is not a policy I can recommend. I want us to reduce what Labour calls fuel poverty. I want us to have cheaper energy so industry can stay and grow in the UK, as energy costs are crucial to manufacturing. I would like to see the Coalition government introduce more competition and a better climate for gas as a cheaper fuel, so we can get fuel bills down.
Labour did well apart from the Mayoralty in London. They are the first to admit they have much more to do to persuade people to trust them to run the economy again. It would be an unwise move to want to go back to Mr Brown’s massive levels of extra state borrowing, or to think we can ignore the deficit and let it increase. It might be a good idea to go back to the tax rates on enterprise and effort favoured by Mr Brown as Chancellor, though today’s Labour party does not seem to support these any more.
Some say the government should move in the opposite direction to the voters – it should become more “right wing”. As I have often commented before, “right wing” is a term of BBC abuse for a wide range of views, many of them conflicting. You are said to be right wing for believing people need more freedom from the state, or for wanting a tougher more authoritarian state. You can be right wing for wanting less regulation of economies, and right wing for wanting more regulation of media, pornography and the like. You can be right wing for backing the views of the Churches on a range of moral topics. Strangely you can be right wing for wanting more democracy in the UK and less power exercised by the EU, though this kind of right wing view is popular with Labour party Bennites as well. You can be right wing for wanting the reintroduction of tougher sentences , and right wing for wanting more of our civil liberties returned as David Davis has argued.
I would not recommend a lurch to the “right” as an smart ideological move. I think the governemnt should concentrate on the tasks in hand. It needs to get the deficit down. It will find that easier to do if it can speed up growth. It should be pragmatic about how it does that. This site has set out many of the means to do so in recent weeks and months.