Election Battlegrounds

Where will the upcoming May elections take us and what do they mean for the main political parties.

Last week, Weber Shandwick hosted a panel event looking at the key battlegrounds in the upcoming May elections. These elections – across London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – promise to reshape the UK’s political map and have lasting repercussions for the main parties at Westminster.

The event included Pippa Crerar, City Hall Editor at the London Evening Standard, Kate Devlin, The Herald Scotland and Ken Reid, Political Editor at Ulster Television and explored the current position of the competing parties, the impact of the EU referendum and, strangely, what we can expect from UKIP.

Here are our key insights for each battleground:

Scotland

  • The SNP have taken a very clever approach following the Independence Referendum – Alex Salmond’s resignation and the appointment of Nicola Sturgeon has allowed them to draw a line under the loss of the vote without changing what they stand for
  • Both Labour and the Tories are trying to build a strong opposition in Scotland but are struggling against the popularity of the SNP
  • Current polls suggest UKIP could get its first MSPs in the upcoming election
  • The EU referendum is a difficult issue for the SNP – Nicola Sturgeon has stated that if there is an overwhelming demand for another referendum following a vote for Brexit they would hold one but the timetable for this is likely to be much longer term

Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland is going through a period of transition, reducing the number of MLAs
  • It has traditionally also favoured power sharing agreements but it now needs to consider moving towards a traditional model of Government (with a Government and an Opposition) in order to make progress
  • Northern Ireland has a land border with Europe so the implications of a Brexit could be significant for them. They are also looking to see how Scotland would react to a vote for Brexit and what implications this could have for Unionists.
  • Four out of the five main parties support staying in the EU – DUP supports Brexit but is not holding its supporters to the party position, in recognition of the high volume of rural support it holds, and the likelihood that these voters will vote to stay in

London

  • London is Sadiq’s to lose but at the same time, London hasn’t had a Labour mayor for three terms now
  • Common assumption that London is a Labour city due to number of Labour MPs and makeup of councils but 1 in 4 still haven’t made up their mind so Zac still has an opportunity
  • Zac’s campaign is well-funded and is supported by a strong social media campaign (which we also saw the Tories successfully employ during the General Election)
  • As London’s demographics change, and rising house prices drive more people towards outer London, this affects where candidates gather support. Sadiq has strong support in inner London but is level with Zac in outer London
  • UKIP increased its vote share in London during the General Election so it is possible it will return 1-2 London Assembly members at the elections

Wales

  • Little scrutiny of Wales from the national media so far
  • UKIP have done well in Wales so far on the back of rising Euroscepticism
  • All three parties (Tories / Labour / UKIP) are pretty close in the polls
  • How Labour does in Wales in these elections will be seen as a litmus test for Corbyn
  • The expectation is that Labour will come first but will lost significant vote share and may have to consider a coalition

For the parties in Westminster, these elections – particularly London and Scotland – are far more significant for Labour than the Conservatives as the party waits to see if Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has had any discernible impact. The signs overall are not positive but a win in London would go some way to spreading cheer.

These elections show potentially how fragmented British politics is becoming and how far removed from Westminster these battlegrounds are. These are complex political systems in their own right and engaging with them needs careful consideration.