Three Surprises in the UK Local Election Results

The UK held local elections this week, the results of which everyone is sorting through for clues as to what will happen in the snap general election on June 8. You can see the full results on Wikipedia. People I chat with here generally find three things surprising about UK politics at the moment.

1. The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to be picking up anti-Brexit voters despite the party’s unabashedly pro-EU stance. The Remain vote was 48% of the country but the LibDems actually lost seats in the local elections (though their vote share picked up a bit). Perhaps pro-EU British voters have accommodated to Brexit more rapidly than was generally expected.

2. UKIP got what it wanted so everyone assumed the party would lose seats…but over 99% of them? Most people here thought lingering populism would have kept UKIP a minor player, but they are now a non-entity (you will not hear me grieving their demise…).

3. The Tory thrashing of Labour was expected, but the success of Conservatives in some of the poorest areas of the country was not. I find the data in this chart astounding when I contrast it with how British politics has generally worked in my lifetime. The once dependable class divisions have really broken down.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “Three Surprises in the UK Local Election Results”

  1. I'm a Brit (though I have only lived in the UK for under a decade of my adult life) and I don't understand anything either, from before Brexit. So just a few scattered observations.

    The poor showing by Labour parallels the decline of the French and Spanish socialists. Conventional social democracy is in deep trouble. Since the welfare state remains popular, it's not a conversion to hardcore conservatism – the nativist line is that immigrants shouldn't get the benefits, but no cuts for the local poor and working class. The simplest explanations are that these parties have (a) abandoned Keynesianism for austerity snake-oil (b) failed to exact revenge on the banksters responsible for the great financial crisis.

    The bankster hypothesis is not strong. Iceland was the only country that jailed crooked bankers in any number. Even there, the 2016 elections showed a Spanish-style swing to new left parties (Left Greens and Pirate), which weakens the bankster argument. The abandonment by social democrats of a Keynesian commitment to full employment in favour of a rentier priority against inflation is more plausible. Workers have reason to think they have been abandoned. It was not of course just an ideological cave-in: the long-term decline of unions with the tertiarisation of the economy, and the long-term Piketty trend to greater inequality, left the parties little option but to seek capitalist funding.

    There is no easy way forward. But the intellectual tide has turned; Piketty against Lucas. Social democrats in Europe can easily restore their commitment to full employment. In France, and Spain, this requires a credible threat to leave the euro or just disregard the stability pact unless the ECB commits to full employment and minimum 2% inflation. Policies against inequality are much harder. Going full Nordic is one option, with a quantum jump in taxes, especially on capital.

    1. What's the evidence that government-run industrial policy or monetary policy is any better than a free market, which at least has the benefit of,, you know, freedom?

      1. Where did I mention industrial policy? It's not IIRC in Keynes or his canonical successors like Hicks, Meade, Samuelson, and Tobin. The standard toolkit has always been fiscal and monetary policy, with secondary attention paid to the objects of government spending as half of fiscal policy. But as a rule, there is a very large virtual file of public spending that has a positive social return, and it expands in a recession or depression as even useless holes-in-the-ground spending pays off indirectly.

        The current unemployment rate is Spain is 18.75%. It's higher for young people, and higher where I live in Andalucia. I am very pleasantly surprised that Spanish voters have not (so far) given significant support to neofascist movements.

  2. Gresham's law would not apply if money weren't controlled by government, requiring that its fiat money be accepted in lieu of harder money.

    The Second National Bank caused inflation and a bubble that when it was burst by Jackson caused a liquidity crisis, but that was a failure of transition, not the lack of a bank. It is interesting to delve deeper into the banking system of the 19th century, as well as the Scottish free banking system of the 18th.

    Insofar as the Fed is charged with maintaining full employment, we have an industrial policy. The government keeps propping up the banking system beyond the Fed's capacity to maintain without printing money. It still couldn't prevent liquidity crises and lengthy depressions in the 30's and 2000's. Coupled with underfunded social security and Medicare, this is driving us to a debt crisis, a political crisis, or both, I'm afraid, in the coming decades.

  3. Attempting to control both inflation/deflation (in favor of some inflation) and employment levels is tantamount to industrial policy.

    The government can still do Keynesian intervention without a central bank.

    Spain unemployment is improving, though, right?

  4. The UK has effectively become a one-party state. Or, rather, England/Wales and Scotland are, separately.

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