You know, I was almost getting excited. With just under three weeks left until this year’s metro mayor elections on 4 May, I thought, England’s cities were at long last coming to the fore. Finally, it would be devolution’s time to shine.
And then Theresa May had to go and blow it all by announcing an unexpected election on 8 June. Bummer.
But what does the snap election mean for the mayorals? Here’s my best guess.
1) It’ll be good for turnout
This might seem counter-intuitive: most people don’t care about politics, and expecting them to vote, just a month before they have to vote again for something more important, looks like taking the mickey somewhat. But I reckon it’s true nonetheless.
Here’s my logic. Turnout in the locals was always going to be appalling: one mayoral candidate predicted to me it’d be 20 per cent, which, bleurgh. But a general election will raise the general level of political awareness, making people more likely to vote.
It’s entirely possible, indeed, that some people will show up on 4 May thinking it’s actually election day. Not many, no; but my guess is that there are more of those than there are people who would have voted, but will now ignore the locals on the grounds that they only vote once a year and national government is more important.
So – we can’t be sure, and the lack of a control group means we’ll never know what turnout would have been without a general election (which is great, as it means you can’t prove me wrong). But if pushed, I reckon this announcement will be good for mayoral turnout.
2) It’ll be bad for Labour
In mayoral elections, more than any other, people for individuals, not parties. This graphic by Matthew Smith charts the history of England’s modern mayoralties: just look how many independents have won.
But a general election campaign will make people more likely to view these elections through the prism of Westminster – to think less about personality and local issues, and more about the parties’ leaders. And, all the evidence suggests that if people are thinking about Jeremy Corbyn when they go to the polls, they are less likely to vote Labour.
So my guess is, where Labour can lose, Theresa May just ensured that it will.
3) Predictable results are still predictable
According to the elections expert Professor John Curtice, if you combine previous election results with national swing since, Labour has about 12 point advantage in Manchester and a 35 point one in Merseyside. The Tories, meanwhile, should be more than 30 points ahead in Peterborough & Cambridgeshire.
We knew who would win those elections before 11am yesterday: we still know now.
4) The West Midlands will go blue
This is meant to be the marginal one: Curtice reckons it’s neck and neck here.
Well, swing voters just became more likely to see the election as May vs Corbyn rather than Street vs Simon. They are, if I’m right on point 1, more likely to turn out, too.
So my guess is: Andy Street wins the West Midlands.
5) So, shockingly, could Tees Valley
Labour’s Sue Jeffrey is campaigning very hard here. But word last week was that Labour’s NEC were worrying about the poor reception the party was getting on the doorstep (that man Corbyn’s name kept coming up; don’t shoot the messenger, guys). And in a Middlesbrough council byelection over the weekend, the party lost a seat it’s held for 18 years to a Tory on an 8 per cent swing.
This really should be an easy win for Labour: according to Curtice, even taing into account an 8 point swing nationally, it should be around 5 points ahead. But I think it’s entirely possible that Tory Ben Houchen could carry this one.
6) The LibDems could carry the West of England
Okay this one is more speculative, but bear with me. In this area – basically, Greater Bristol – the Tory Tim Bowles has to be the favourite too.
But the LibDems are stronger here than elsewhere, and have a reasonably well-known candidate, in the former MP Stephen Williams. What’s more, the next couple of months are likely to be a good election cycle for the LibDems, as disaffected Remain voters seek a way to protest against Brexit. Those same voters are among the most likely to turnout at any election (richer, more educated).
Williams is still the outsider. But were I a betting man, it might be worth a flutter.
7) No one will pay any attention to the candidates or manifestos
It was pretty difficult attracting any attention to these elections before the general election hullaballoo. That may have changed.
But not all attention is equal – and while I suspect a Tory upset in the Tees Valley will attract national press attention, it won’t be because of Ben Houchen’s plans to take the Durham Tees Valle airport back into public ownership. It’s all horserace, all the time from here on in.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.
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