Will Boris’ flat refurbishment resonate on UK doorsteps?

By Drew Aspinwall

With the media focus firmly set on how the refurbishment of the flat above 11 Downing Street was paid for and other Boris conduct-related questions, news about local and mayoral elections appears to have been pushed further down the media’s agenda. 

Due to the postponement of elections last year, May 6th marks the second largest poll after a general election year with local councils in England, local and Combined Authority Mayors, Mayor of London and London Assembly, Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament and Scottish Parliament all holding elections. 

If that was not enough to choose from, there are also parish councils elections and a number of referendums on neighbourhood plans taking place. 

Whether Tory sleaze is resonating on doorsteps and will influence the election results next week is hard to quantify. Despite a poll showing a reduction in the Conservatives lead over Labour, Boris and his party colleagues are insistent it isn’t “cutting through” at a local level.  

Turnout has the potential to be a casualty of the 2021 election. Have voters signed up to postal voting in sufficient numbers to counter those who may decide to stay away from the polling station? Are people more interested now in local politics following a year where connection to place has become more important? Will votes be cast on how well they feel their local decision makers have responded in supporting their local area during the last year, or do they feel that local action has been mostly dictated by decision making further up the chain?  

Despite councils welcoming the COVID-19 funding package for local government (2021/22), the financial challenge facing councils as a result of COVID-19 has not yet been met in full. Figures from the LGA’s COVID monitoring survey in January 2021 put “the financial impact of COVID-19 on councils at an estimated £9.7 billion for 2020/21, with a further £2.8 billion of lost income from council tax and business rates.” Attempting to balance these books will be a key issue for anyone standing for election next week.

The last year has also seen a severe cut in local journalist numbers, with a notable reduction in the amount and breadth of political coverage in local publications. This, twinned with the switch from campaigning on the doorstep to online events and telephone canvassing, may benefit those with a party infrastructure over independent candidates. This may result in voters reverting to party lines.

With comments and criticisms piling up against the Prime Minister once more, will the narrative of national politics play its part across the ballot boxes of Britain next week? We shall have to wait and see after the mammoth counting weekend.