Thursday, 8 May 2008

Parties punished for broken referendum promise?

On the face of it, it's perhaps hard to imagine that the issue of the broken promise over an EU Constitution referendum can have made much of a contribution to Labour's terrible results in last Thursday's local elections.

Not with such powerful factors as mortgage problems, rising food and fuel prices, and the badly handled change over the 10p tax rate in play.

Those issues alone could easily explain Labour getting a hammering.

But that the betrayal of the referendum promise may have been a bigger influence on the results than many have imagined is perhaps shown in the fact that it wasn't just Labour doing badly.

Despite Labour's woes, and despite Nick Clegg's recent election as their new leader, the similarly anti-referendum Lib Dems' also had a terrible night.

Taking economic factors alone into the equation, that really shouldn't have happened.

The Lib Dems managed to pick up only 33 more councillors (compared to 257 for the Conservatives) and saw their share of the vote decline again.

According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, it dropped 1% lower than last year and was 4% lower than 2004. That Labour did so badly that the Lib Dems edged up into 2nd place overall is really neither here nor there.

Lib Dem London disaster

Looking at the results in South London in particular, this situation must be a particular concern to several MPs at the very top of the party.

In the London assembly 'South West' constituency the Lib Dems were beaten into a not-even-close second place after the Tories.

Given this assembly constituency is chiefly made up of not a single Conservative parliamentary seat but three Lib Dem ones - in particular those of Lib Dem deputy leader and shadow chancellor Vince Cable, and shadow foreign secretary Ed Davey - these results must have created considerable concern among the party's leadership about their prospects at the next general election.

Neither was this an isolated result. Nextdoor in the 'Croydon & Sutton' London assembly constituency, comprising two Tory, one Labour and two Lib Dem parliamentary seats, the Lib Dems were beaten into third place.

DM campaigned heavily in South London

No coincidence, perhaps, that these constituencies were the subject of intense campaigning by the DM criticising Liberal Democrat MPs, and those of other parties, for intending to abandon their manifesto promises to support a referendum on the EU Constitution treaty.

More than 20,000 of our 'Don't let your MP take you for a fool' leaflets were distributed in Ed Davey's constituency alone, and the same number in Sutton & Cheam.

Ten thousand leaflets were distributed in several others, including Richmond Park and Carshalton & Wallington, complemented by local media advertising.

Parties should reflect on referendum gaffe

If the Lib Dems were hit by their behaviour over an EU treaty referendum, as seems a plausible explanation for their poor performance, then it would surely be a mistake to imagine that the issue had no effect on the Labour result.

Polls consistently showed than an overwhelming majority of people wanted the say they were promised on the treaty, and the arguments used to slide out of promises given were so threadbare it should have been embarrassing.

Beyond the details of the treaty, their actions made both Labour and the Lib Dems look shifty and untrustworthy. And that's never going to make for good election results.

While together they may have succeeded in pushing the treaty through the Commons, both Labour and the Lib Dems should reflect on whether these results show they in fact haven't yet got away with breaking that referendum promise.

And on whether, with the treaty still being ratified by Parliament, there's still time to honour their manifesto promises and prevent an even bigger disaster come the general election.

If not, we plan to be very busy in the most likely two years before that election, ensuring local voters know which MPs they can and cannot trust.

1 comment:

Piza said...

Don't stop your work! This is a great campaign!

Politicians can't just make promises or cause trouble in the commons for publicity all in the name of gaining votes!