Bristol. Being different again.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) made spectacular gains in this week’s local elections. But not in Bristol.
Some are wetting their knickers over the idea that this is the start of a new era of four-party politics. It so isn’t, you know. It’s ushering in an era that’ll deprive the Conservative party of votes and hollow the activists and local NCOs out of constituency associations in a way that could keep the right out of power in Britain for a generation.
You do have to feel rather sorry for some of the UKIP council candidates who were only standing as electoral cannon fodder to send a message of protest to Westminster, and who now find they have responsibilities. WTF are all these grumpy old men going to do now? Unilaterally declare Loamshire’s independence from Brussels? Demand that schoolchildren sing Baa-Baa Black Sheep in assembly? Turn sites earmarked for social housing into golf courses?
To be fair, there are some perfectly intelligent and well-intentioned UKIP activists who have honest and legitimate concerns about Britain’s membership of the EU. They are not all mad Little Englanders and closet racists who get in a froth about gay marriage. But many of them are, and in any event this vote wasn’t really about Europe at all. UKIP are hoovering up discontent of folks with all manner of beefs which they think could mostly be solved if we all went back to the 1950s when there were fewer immigrunts (as they say on the forums) and when bobbies on the beat could give youngsters a clip round the ear.
While the party made huge gains in many parts of England – among other things UKIP also functions as an English nationalist party – they got nowhere in Bristol. They only fielded six candidates where they could have stood in all 23 wards up for election. They took less than 5% of the overall vote in Bristol and didn’t win any seats.
The story in Bristol instead was that the Greens took two seats to double their presence on the Council, that the Independents for Bristol party/movement/thing got almost 6% of the vote and took one seat, and that the Lib Dems got stuffed, mostly by Labour. Labour gained six seats and are now the largest group on the Council. The Tories, as ever, didn’t do much. They lost two and won two.
It was easily the most interesting local election in a generation.
What it tells us, yet again, is that Bristol is different. We don’t do politics the same as everywhere else. Last year, Bristol was the only place to opt for an elected mayor, and voted in an independent, George Ferguson, who used to be a Liberal. The Independents for Bristol group who stood this week were also part of that feeling some have that party politics has no place down the Council House, sorry, City Hall. They would have fared better if we knew what this assortment of candidates were actually for/against, but as things are, they did surprisingly well. Better than the Kippers, and with far less publicity.
This was all on a turnout of 27%. Just over a quarter of the electorate bothered to vote, even though it was a lovely sunny day.
Let’s call this quarter/third of people who turn out to vote in any town’s local polls the local civic class. These are the people who think voting’s important; with varying degrees of faith, they believe the system works.
In Bristol, this civic class is not right-wing. The Tories have been stuck as a minority on the council for decades, as a group rarely getting much bigger or smaller. Instead, the civic class here might be described as small-l liberal, from Lib Dem to Labour and Green – the three parties between them took 65% of the vote in Bristol last week. The Tories and UKIP between them made up less than 30%.
This is a pattern you can see in Bristol again and again. The Lib Dems took a pasting, but their votes are going to Labour and the Greens. What it probably means is that people want to punish the LDs as a party for their part in the Coalition nationally, but they still want broadly centrist politics with a progressive flavour.
The political character of this civic class may well be to do with demographics. It may be something to do with the fact that Bristol is better educated and younger than the national average. That’s all there in the 2011 census if you want to seek it out.
Education probably has more of a bearing on this political complexion than, say, wealth. You do get more people voting in the richer wards, but many of these vote Tory, and Bristol’s is not a Tory council, and hasn’t really been for a century. The other thing about rich wards is that they have settled populations and where councillors can count on a strong personal following, regardless of party.
You could caricature Bristol’s politics as “middle class liberal”. But this is by default, not by universal consensus. The majority do not vote; some because they can’t be bothered, have no interest, but some also because they have no faith in the process. And some because they’re just plain stupid, of course.
But in the meantime, the story is that Bristol didn’t vote UKIP, that it told the Lib Dems to go to hell and it feels the same way about the Conservatives that it always has.
Bristol also has two new Green councillors and an independent. In Lawrence Hill, one of the poorest wards in the region where the voters are definitely not middle class, the winning Labour candidate was Hibaq Jama, an articulate and plainly intelligent Somali-born woman and therefore the polar opposite of everything that UKIP stands for.
That will do very nicely for now. Bristol exceptionalism wins the day again.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 12 Comments
Tags: Bristol Politics