One of the fundamental features of a democracy is that not only do voters get to choose who to vote for, they also get to choose what criteria they use.
Politicians can try to persuade people as to what a contest should be about, but in a democracy it is the people who choose. That’s not always an uplifting process but it is also an important safety valve. Think how often voters decide a referendum isn’t really about what those who pontificate from on high say it should be about. That can be frustrating – especially if you think the nominal subject is really, terribly important – but it’s also an important safeguard because it means voters can always choose what to hold politicians to account for. Politicians don’t get to select their own criteria.
More on that along with a West Wing excerpt in Chapter 2 of 101 Ways To Win An Election, but for this post here’s some relevant data which applies that thought to the 2018 local council elections in London.
They are nominally about how gets to run what is still an important set of services. They are also about who gets to have the bully-pulpit that comes from elected office. They are also a chance to send a message to national politicians by scaring them about the possible fate of their party if they don’t change course.
Which means the elections could be about almost anything. What will they be about, in practice? In no small part, Brexit – as the new polling data from Michael Ashcroft (the Conservative who previously flirted with the Liberal Democrats) shows:
It’s worth also remembering that, mirroring the similar rules in other countries, EU citizens living in the UK can vote in council elections even though they cannot vote in general elections. It may be that they particularly choose to make Brexit an issue to determine their vote, especially given the encouragement to that being given by both prominent campaigners and a grassroots campaign.
UPDATE: The Lib Dem campaign for the local elections is giving heavy emphasis to Brexit.