Cameron Called to Account

by Andrew Stuttaford

It’s not only France’s Sarkozy who is facing the wrath of the voters over these few days. There were local elections across large swaths of the UK last night. Final results are still coming in, but it’s clear that David Cameron’s stumblebum coalition has taken a severe beating. That’s not so unusual in the mid-term of a government, and tough economic conditions have only made matters worse, nevertheless…

The Guardian has some details:

Psephologists predicted that Labour was on course to gain more than 700 seats in local councils and was winning about 39% of the vote in elections conducted on a low turnout of about 32%. The Tories were taking 31% of votes, triggering laments from some within the party that it was not being “Conservative enough”.

Two points stand out:

The Lib Dem party [the smaller of the two parties in thgoverning coalition] was taking 16% and was braced to see its share of the councillor base fall below 3,000 for the first time since the party was formed in 1988, prompting the Labour peer Lord Prescott to declare an “Armacleggon”.

That is bound to increase fears amongst the Lib Dem faithful that the longer the coalition endures, the worse their fate at the general election. That’s not currently scheduled until 2015, as a result of anti-democratic “fixed term” legislation brought in by Cameron last year, but if the coalition dissolves…

And then there’s the continuing rise of the euroskeptic, right-of-center UKIP. The Guardian reports:

The UK Independence party, which has historically put in a lacklustre performance in local elections, has been averaging 13% of the vote in the seats it contested – five points higher than a year ago – making 2012 a record year for Nigel Farage’s Eurosceptics.

Although it has so far failed to convert that share of the vote into a significant gain in seats, Ukip appears to have done more than enough to ruffle Tory feathers and put pressure on an already creaking coalition.

Keep piling on, Nigel.

We don’t yet know how the London mayoral elections have gone (best guess is that that Boris Johnson will be reelected), but, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson sets out the challenge that, win or lose, Johnson could represent to Cameron:

The real question Boris poses to Cameron is not one of leadership, but direction. The flatlining economy, plunging poll ratings and relentlessly bad headlines have all contributed to a sense that – as the Tory leader said at the last election – we can’t go on like this. Events will force the Conservatives to adopt a more radical agenda, and challenge the Lib Dems to trigger an election if they don’t like it. In particular, if the eurozone implodes, it will create an unmissable opportunity to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU. Only in Westminster could this be considered an extreme position: according to the latest research, the British public are more hostile to Europe than even the Greeks. Euroscepticism is now the opinion of mainstream Britain…Even if [Boris] never progresses past City Hall, he may very well have changed the terms of debate. Until now, Tories had been told that there were two types of Conservatism: the “modernising” type, and the type that failed so abysmally in 2001 and 2005. Now, the modernisation project itself looks dated, self-loathing and electorally unpopular.

Indeed it does. Keep piling on, Boris.