Monday, 17 February 2014

Some Reflections on a Probably Impending Battle

It's February 2014, and all the serious players in our little part of the world would appear already to be well into our respective election campaigns. For the benefit of that 99% of the population who aren't as obsessed, or obsessive, about these things as we all are, this year's local elections will take place on Thursday 22nd May - three weeks later than originally planned so as to enable them to run alongside the five-yearly elections to the European Parliament.

We in the ICG just seem to have drifted into election mode. Our position for the best part of this outgoing council term has been that we would have preferred to have taken on the role of "critical friend" to the current ward councillors and to the administration they serve in our community. Whether due to some personal intolerance on their part of all things community-led or whether, as is more likely, the rigid party system of which they are a part leaves no option for co-operation outside of that system, that co-operation has not been allowed to happen. And so, as they say, we are where we are.

There are many imponderables which make the outcome of any ICG election campaign difficult to predict. We have had four years out of office – some of the friends we made in the community as elected members will have moved away or passed away. One or two more feeble-minded souls, dazzled either by the promise or the reality of special favour, have notably jumped ship. Labour, at least, give an impression of being better organised in the wards that they were in the mid-noughties – better able to drag out their existing voter base, that is, as opposed to being more persuasive or more attractive as an electoral option.

We have a Conservative-led government, as ruthlessly austere and lacking in compassion as any pure-bred Tory regime before it. This in turn creates an instinctive counter-reaction from Labour, inspiring it to strike definable, if unconvincing, socialistic poses.

The local Tories themselves, the sole ambition of whom would appear to be to maintain two-party hegemony even if it means opposition but lacking the courage to admit that to their own members and voters, may nonetheless have been buoyed by the fact that, under the exceptional conditions caused by the event of a general election occurring on the same day as the locals in 2010, they managed an unusually respectable third place.

Then there is the UKIP factor, and how voters’ inclination to cast a protest vote at the Euro elections might impact on their choice in the local poll.

Even if community candidates were to be elected, it is clear that Labour would continue to wield an overall majority on the London Borough of Hounslow post-May 22nd. The inevitable anti-government protest coupled with the shambles that is the local Conservative opposition renders that a racing certainty.

In the light of all these considerations it would be foolhardy indeed for the ICG to do expect to do anything beyond positioning itself for the following local elections – in 2018. Then the fact that the council elections will be stand-alone and not coincide with any other contest, coupled with the likelihood of a Labour or Labour-led government and the inevitable mid-term protest against it, will set up any organised community-based alternative rather nicely. A rejuvenated Conservative (and possibly Liberal Democrat) opposition and a demoralised and tired local Labour Party could just conceivably see a return to No Overall Control, with the community this time (I would hope) holding the balance of power from without rather than being tied to a coalition in which we can have no trust. In a scenario such as this we could have lots and lots of fun.

On the doorstep it is clear that we remain strong and well-supported. Those who have admitted to not voting in 2010 in anticipation of an easy victory are resolved not to make the same mistake twice. We are older, and wiser, and fortified with new blood. We are ready for the fray, and philosophical about the fact that events have denied us the option of taking a different route towards a achieving our goal of an organised and empowered local community.

Assuming we stand for election in May, my sense is that we will give a good account of ourselves, and the knowledge that our strategy revolves around a “five year plan” rather than being dependent upon victory at the first time of asking takes the pressure off just nicely.