Localism Should Be Embraced on June 8, Not Neglected

Since calling a snap general election, the Prime Minister has placed Brexit firmly at the centre of her election campaign. But are other important issues such as localism being left behind in British politics altogether?

I have always been a strong believer in grassroots politics, which, for me, means local candidates, local policies, for local people. However, far too often in recent elections, I have seen local candidates using national policies in the hope of winning seats in Westminster and local government. I personally disagree with this approach to election campaigning, where voters are subjected to what I would describe as ‘umbrella manifestos’ – simply meaning national policies in multiple constituencies or a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Though I accept the electorate tend to vote for their preferred parties as opposed to individual candidates, voters also want to select candidates they can trust; this means candidates who have a clear plan to protect local services, and even candidates who have already made a positive difference to their constituencies through their work in local government. While, most understandably, Brexit will certainly be at the centre of general election campaigns, and with very good reason, we do also need to be sure to also remember local issues.

Some would speculate that Theresa May will use this election as an opportunity to eradicate UKIP by luring its supporters towards a cross by Conservative candidates in the ballot box, suggesting that after achieving their ultimate goal, UKIP no longer have a part to play in British politics. However, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has other ideas, and has recently stated “I really do believe that you haven’t seen the end of UKIP. I’ve read UKIP’s obituary so many times, we always come back and we always come back stronger”. The party faces a major challenge to their very existence, especially after losing 145 seats in the local elections, which took place across the country on May 4 2017. Many of these seats were lost to the Conservatives, who have managed to attract UKIP supporters by promising to deliver the Brexit they voted for in June 2016.

Meanwhile, in light of the Labour Party’s draft manifesto being leaked, it seems that pie in the sky politics is evident once again on the left as Comrade Corbyn has proposed policies such as the abolition of university tuition fees and renationalising Britain’s railways, without providing any details as to how they propose to fund such policies of course. Like UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, Jeremy Corbyn is also playing into the hands of the Prime Minister. In a recent BBC interview with political editor Laura Kuenssberg, the Labour leader was asked six times if he would take Britain out of the EU, if he becomes Prime Minister on June 8. Rather than providing what should be a simple ‘yes’, Jeremy Corbyn asserted that “Brexit is settled”. His lack of clarity on this issue will be used as a weapon by Theresa May, who has made it clear to voters that under her leadership, Britain will be leaving regardless of the type of deal we receive in negotiations. Whilst the policies in the Labour Party’s draft manifesto may resonate with a chunk of the electorate, the party has placed no emphasis on localism or politics at its grassroots, and has resorted to the use of sound bites such as ‘for the many not the few’.

There was a time when the Liberal Democrats were champions of localism in British politics, but not anymore. Under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown, while not exactly a champion of liberty, the party did nonetheless gain 46 seats in the 1997 general election by building local bastions of support in target constituencies over a prolonged period of time. This was carried out by gaining a foothold in local elections, campaigning on local issues, and ultimately using these tools as a means to gain seats in Westminster. The strategy was known as ‘the Ashdown effect’. The former leader established this strategy after years of local campaigning in the constituency of Yeovil, and by this tapping into local feeling, overturned the Conservative majority of 11,382 by winning in the 1983 general election with a majority of 3,000.

But under the leadership of Tim Farron, the party has moved away from this election tactic in stark contrast. Gone are the days of ‘the Ashdown effect’, where local issues were at the heart of the Liberal Democrat’s election strategy. Now, we are in the days of nice but dim Tim, who, like his colleagues, is hell-bent on keeping Britain in the EU and ignoring the democratic vote of 17.4 million people. The party have pledged to campaign to keep Britain in the single market, despite a government issued leaflet clearly stating before the EU referendum on June 23, that a vote to leave the EU would also mean leaving its institutions, including the single market. Despite the leaflet being issued at the cost to the British taxpayer, nice but dim Tim is incapable of accepting this fact, and insists that membership of the single market was not on the ballot paper when the UK voted to leave on June 23. Therefore, one might argue that a party which once championed localism has lost its way, and jumped on the Brexit bandwagon.

Final Thoughts on Localism

For me, the Stoke on Trent by-election in February 2017 highlighted two clear points. Firstly, we learnt that the issue of Brexit will not be enough for parties to win seats in Westminster. The UKIP leader saw an opportunity to be elected in a constituency he labelled as ‘the Brexit capital’ after it voted to leave the EU by 69.4%, yet still failed to get over the line.

Unfortunately, it seems that Paul Nuttall has not learnt this lesson as the party announced he would be standing for election in the constituency of Boston & Skegness, where the people voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU by 75.6%. Despite failing to be elected in the so called ‘Brexit capital’, he still believes that he stands a chance in Boston & Skegness due to its mass support for Brexit. This brings me on to my second point, which is that constituents do not want opportunist politicians being parachuted into constituencies where they have no affiliation to whatsoever. Local people deserve local candidates, individuals who have a clear understanding of the area they are standing to be elected in, along with a sound awareness of the issues their constituents face on a daily basis.

I would like to make it clear that this article is in no way, shape or form anti-Brexit. I wholeheartedly believe that as a nation, we will prosper once we have left the failed EU project behind, and can once again be a country with an optimistic global outlook. However, I find it disappointing that I am yet to discover a candidate in any political party who has a local agenda when campaigning. As the UK prepares to vote on June 8, our MPs should remember that we deserve candidates who are passionate about not just Brexit but also the communities we live in, candidates who share the same vision as their constituents, and candidates who put people before party.

Nb. The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of People's Charter or any associated group such as the Young Chartists.

About the author: Matthew Cooper

Matthew Cooper is an alumnus from University of Bath with a BSc in Politics and International Relations

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