This morning the Prime Minister Theresa May announced there will be a General Election on 8th June (subject to Parliament backing her plans). With six city regions already set to go to the polls on 4th May to elect metro mayors, the Prime Minister’s announcement will have a major impact on the mayoral election campaigns – here are my initial reflections on how that might play out:
- Turnout in the mayoral elections will be badly affected if they go ahead on 4th May. Immediately after May’s speech, speculation emerged that the Electoral Commission might move the metro mayor elections from May to June to coincide with the General Election. This would be a good move – if the mayoral election goes ahead in May, it’s hard to see that voters will be inspired to go to the polls in significant numbers when there is a bigger election a month later. Pollsters have suggested that turnout in Liverpool and Greater Manchester is set to be 25 per cent – but if the elections go ahead on 4th May, it’s likely to be lower than this.
- Mayoral candidates will struggle to make their voices heard, regardless of when the elections take place. In recent weeks the media’s focus on the mayoral elections had started to grow – especially among national journalists – but today’s announcements means that both regional and national press will be firmly focused on the national stage over the next month. As such, the mayoral candidates will face an uphill battle to gain coverage and get their messages across to the public, whatever the date of the elections. They will also face a major challenge in distinguishing their policies and platform from those of the various MPs who will also be campaigning in their city regions at the same time.
- Brexit will become a much bigger issue in the mayoral elections. Up until now, the big debates in the city regions electing mayors have focused on housing, social care provision, jobs and transport – issues which matter to people’s day-to-day lives, and which the mayors can have a genuine impact on. However, with the national election set to be fought on the basis of which party is best placed to secure a successful Brexit, this issue will become much more prominent for the mayoral candidates in the remaining weeks before the elections.
- Voting trends in the national elections are more likely to influence the mayoral voting patterns. Whether the date for the metro-mayors vote moves or stays as it is, voting for the metro-mayor and voting in the general election will now be much more aligned in the public’s mind. This increases significantly the likelihood that people will simply vote ‘down the ballot’ – by extending their choice for the general election to the other votes on the ballot.
- This could change the outcome in several places – West Midlands, Tees Valley and West of England in particular. Labour had a ten point lead in the West Midlands at the last General Election, but as the traditional home of the Party’s right-wing, it’s possible that the national leadership’s swing to the left under Jeremy Corbyn will reduce that gap. In Tees Valley, voters came out strongly in favour of leaving the EU, and so it’s possible that the Conservatives’ focus on Brexit could secure its candidates votes at the expense of Labour’s. Finally, the Liberal Democrats are likely to see an upswing in the South West in the General Election, compared to their very low point in 2015, thanks to their strong pro-Remain stance. This may result in the party taking votes from both the Conservatives and Labour in the West of England mayoral election.
Some of these reflections will come to pass and some will not. Either way it’s clear that the announcement of the General Election has hugely altered the political context of the mayoral elections. As in many others areas of British life, the national trumps the local.