Thursday, 7 May 2015

District Council elections: "The emergence of multi-party politics in local government"

Some are predicting 'chaos' after the elections - at local government level too:

The question is whether there will be 'chaos' in East Devon or not after the elections:
Futures Forum: Coalition government - at District Council level

Could Norfolk’s ‘rainbow’ alliance be the future of multi-party politics?

After Norfolk county council’s 2013 elections, an unlikely group of minority parties came together to oust the incumbent Tories. It has been going strong ever since

No one was more surprised than George Nobbs when he became leader of Norfolk county council after an inconclusive election in 2013 that left Conservatives as the largest party without an overall majority. They assumed they could continue in power. It was not to be.

For Nobbs, as a Labour leader, with only 14 seats on an 84-member authority, permanent opposition appeared inevitable. But politics is nothing if not unpredictable. He was seen as a conciliator, the person to bridge a wide divide. “My task was to try to get other parties to work together for the good of the county… and we found we all could,” he recalls. “But yes, of course, it all came as a complete surprise to me.”

In a foretaste of what might happen in local elections tomorrow – never mind in Westminster – a deal was done to keep out the Conservatives. The smaller parties – Labour, Ukip and the Lib-Dems – combined in a loose alliance, with support from the Greens. They all promptly outvoted the Tories 10 days after polling day at the council’s annual meeting two years’ ago and formed a multi-party administration. It has every prospect of lasting until the next elections in 2017.

On the surface, it seems the ultimate “rainbow” alliance, so divergent in outlook and in ideology that it could never endure. Labour and Ukip each have 14 councillors, the Lib Dems 10, the Greens four and independents two – 44 in total against the Tories 40. “But there are absolutely no differences on local issues, and that is the honest truth,” insists Nobbs. 

“There is a greater unity of purpose than there would have been if the Conservatives had succeeded in staying in power. On national issues we are miles apart, but that does not intrude on the needs of Norfolk. We work together in ways I would never have thought possible.” ...
The benchmark for tomorrow’s local elections, the biggest in the town hall electoral cycle, is 2011 when the combined support for Labour and the Tories accounted for three-quarters of the vote nationally. But that was before the emergence of multi-party politics, likely to become a growing feature in English local government...

Whatever the misgivings of Labour and Tory traditionalists, it seems that councils will have to get used to the horse-trading central to multi-party politics. As town halls are increasingly forced to co-operate with neighbouring authorities – particularly in areas from health and social care, to transport and business development – Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGIU, believes multi-party working will become the norm. He points to Greater Manchester’s combined authority where 10 councils, including Labour, Tory and Lib Dem authorities, are co-operating over a wide range of issues. But the inclusion of smaller parties, such as Ukip, in governing structures is taking councils like Norfolk into uncharted territory. Where it will end is anyone’s guess.


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