It’s up to everyone to make sure their friends, family and neighbours are registered, says NATHAN AKEHURST
AT THE time of writing, the local election results are still rolling in. The national picture is patchy, and anyone can draw any conclusions they want. Most are fitting the results into whatever narrative they have chosen beforehand.
The extent to which these elections work as a temperature check for June 8 is limited. But a few things are crystal clear.
First, huge incursions into Labour Leavers by Ukip and Labour Remainers by the Lib Dems were predicted. The evidence is not there. Britain’s two-party system, while not impregnable, is still durable enough to survive Brexit intact.
Second, the Conservative war machine remains formidable, even if Labour’s biggest losses were to independents and predictions of a vicious wipeout have not stood up.
Third, overall turnout is dismal. It is among those who haven’t found anything to vote for in these elections that anyone hoping to win on June 8 needs to organise.
Finally, Ukip is in a battle for survival, after losing all its MPs, losing Stoke and now losing every single one of its council seats.
This is partly a question of Ukip not fielding effective politicians — even if you happen to agree with what they stand for, the calibre and effectiveness of Ukip’s elected office holders has been low, even when they bother to turn up.
Presumably it’s partly down to Brexit now having been achieved. But most worryingly, there’s less demand for Ukip because the Conservatives have swung wildly rightward.
Their tanks are on Ukip lawns, have smashed through the conservatory and are ploughing the kitchen walls beneath their treads.
This was most obvious on Wednesday. As Parliament formally dissolved, May stepped up — out of campaign mode and back into prime ministerial mode — to tell us that shadowy “unknown” forces in Brussels were attempting to influence the outcome of the election.
Little time needs to be wasted on such complete nonsense. Juncker, Verhofstadt and the Brussels inner circle are politically closer to May than Corbyn. Anyone who thinks they’d prefer a left-winger negotiating an EU exit has evidently never heard of Greece.
Nor are Juncker’s musings followed closely enough by voters in marginal seats to make a difference — especially when the proof May cited was an article in a German newspaper that hardly any Brits had read until her press team pointed at it.
Putting Britain on a war footing (even in such a ridiculous way — we seem to be living through the second part of Marx’s line about history repeating itself as tragedy then farce) is astute spinning, though.
It identifies May with the nation again. It flips her disastrous dinner with European negotiators into being about Britain under attack rather than about her out-of-depth floundering. It pushes the debate onto the discursive terrain of war, where a Corbynite pitch becomes more difficult.
Of course the ultimate irony is that the tactic of wild statements to throw debate off-balance — statements like “the foreigners are fixing the election” — is a trademark of May’s strategic adviser Lynton Crosby, a foreign election-fixer forged in the heat of Australian politics.
Corbyn was right to call out May’s statement for what it was — a cynical appeal to nationhood made while being willing to damage our nation’s negotiating position to take a cheap electoral shot.
The maturity of Labour’s machine is striking in contrast.
It has kept pace with the fast-moving election, putting out new and carefully considered policy on an almost daily basis.
The 20-point plan for the workplace announced last week includes an end to the scourge of zero-hour contracts, a ban on unpaid internships, the end of employment tribunal fees and toughening up legislation to fight pay gaps and promote access to trade unions.
The plan, far from being “anti-business” or “anti-growth” as critics on the right have claimed, is a modern recipe for higher productivity, higher disposable incomes and a happier and more free workforce.
Labour’s plans to tackle rogue landlords with new minimum standards will also hit home with the millions of tenants — including three million children — living in bad housing.
The government has form on worsening the housing stock; not just in neglect or sell-offs but in an active war on tenants.
In 2015, Tory MPs worked to block a Bill to prevent landlords turfing out tenants who report housing problems. Tory MP and mansion-owner Richard Benyon jacked up prices on an estate he bought beyond what long-time residents could afford.
Boris Johnson was responsible for signing off bundles of development deals (some in questionable circumstances) providing almost no affordable housing, while redefining affordable as 80 per cent of market rate, an alternative fact that would make even the counsellor to the US president Kellyanne Conway wince. Lest we forget, the Tories also brought in the bedroom tax and used it to sue domestic violence survivors and disabled children.
And while there is more to tackling crime than just ramping up police numbers, Labour’s promise for 10,000 new police officers will, if they are deployed appropriately and made accountable, provide support to many communities struggling with the impact of rising crime rates.
Diane Abbott’s slip of the tongue after a busy morning of interviews was seized on by journalists to obscure the announcement — but voters will care more about whether their streets are safe than the latest intrigues in the Westminster media scrum.
This week has by and large been a good one, with Labour continuing to announce sharp and considered policy while May goes off the rails. She was booed out of Bristol, locked the local press in a cupboard in Cornwall, and was yelled at by a voter in Plymouth.
Nor did her photo op attempting to eat human food in a Cornish town (in the form of a cone of chips) go any better than Ed Miliband’s chip eating. Corbyn does not, and should not, go personal — but the irony of May’s personal failings against her willingness to run a campaign rooted in personal attacks should not be lost entirely.
But, as was the case with the local elections, none of this matters if people aren’t in polling stations. Dreary resignation and apathy means Conservative victory.
The hurdle to pass now isn’t June 8 but May 22, the deadline for voter registration. And while commentators are once again shaking their heads about turnout in the locals and calling for compulsory voting, the Tories are moving squarely in the opposite direction.
Their ending of block enrolment at university halls has hit the student vote, and their trials of new polling station checks is articulated explicitly at areas with heavily deprived minority populations (apparently riddled with fraud) containing people who are less likely to have bothered paying for expensive ID in the first place.
Meanwhile, their foisting of metro mayors on places like south-west England looks like an attempt to dilute left-leaning city centres with the votes of right-leaning suburbs.
Labour must use its mass membership to run the greatest voter registration drive in modern history.
Already the signs are looking good — there are surges in registration among youth and students, and many of those who voted in the referendum last year will still be on the rolls in any case.
But it cannot be left to the party — it’s up to everyone to make sure that your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, and so on, are registered. With majorities in parts of Britain numbering in the dozens, an election could easily hinge on how many people you sign up.
There are a few weeks to go to the registration deadline. Make them count.