Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

The May polls – the first major test

In Editorial on June 30, 2011 at 1:59 pm

 The local council elections, held at the beginning of May, were the first big test of public opinion not only for the two coalition parties but also for Labour. This year there was also an extra dimension – a vote on whether to change our electoral system and introduce the “Alternative Vote”. Not only that, but on the other side of the Wye the electorate was choosing itself a new Welsh Assembly.
 
Of course, local elections aren’t necessarily a complete guide to how voters are thinking. For a start, there’s the “parish pump” factor. Many folk are influenced by local issues, or the popularity of local candidates. And significantly  the number of votes cast is usually considerably lower than in Parliamentary elections.
 
But as a rough guide, it’s probably as good we’re likely to get. And once the dust had settled, the verdict must be that we still have some way to go. Nationally, the Labour Party made gains – but not as many as had been predicted. The Tory vote held up better than it should have done, under the circumstances – but the main losers were the Liberal Democrats. On the basis of this poll, their MPs could well go down like ninepins if a general election was called.
 
In the Forest of Dean, the Tories lost seats, as did the Independents, and the Lib Dems only managed to cling on to one solitary seat. Labour made encouraging gains, but just failed to achieve a majority of seats. Which means that until the next time, the Forest district council will be under the control of a Tory-Independent coalition. Incidentally, the Green Party increased its vote, but failed to win any seats locally. It missed out in Awre by just five votes.
 
If we return to the national picture, the Labour Party will be encouraged by its gains in Wales, which gives it an overall majority in the Assembly for the first time. But in the elections for the Scottish Parliament they lost out to the SNP. The results gave the Scottish Nationalists their first overall majority, with both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats losing heavily.
 
It may be that the impact of the Government-imposed cuts have still to be felt as far as many who voted are concerned. Or it may be that Labour has failed to be as effective in opposition as it should be. So far its message has been mixed, to say the least. For those who care (or, indeed, believe that the cutbacks are being imposed deliberately to cut the role of the public sector and diminish the Welfare State), it means that we have to turn to pressure group activity to campaign effectively against Tory policies that affect us all.
 
Such campaigns worked well when it came to defending the Forest from being sold off. HOOF, of course, remains in being – but for now the front line is the fight against the cuts, and the campaign to save the National Health Service from effective privatisation. The NHS campaign has been stimulated by tactics such as online petitioning, through such bodies as 38 Degrees, which has spread the message and created a groundswell of support.
 
As for the cuts, opposition has been mobilised by groups such as Forest Against the Cuts, and “Save Our Services” in Monmouth. These bodies are still finding their feet, and of course find themselves having to campaign on a number of different fronts – both local and national. But they need our input, if the campaign is to grow and be effective.

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