In my first article I put forward the theory that small groups and parties and ultimately all those outside the ‘Establishment’, can best achieve local electoral success by organising pacts with other groups or independents. The benefits would be a pooling of funds, greater credibility and the establishment of a ‘Fourth Vote’.
Furthermore, whatever electoral system develops in the UK I do not believe one ‘outsider’ group can ‘take power’ at national level. Even if such a group could broaden its appeal across class and social divides the existing three traditions will not simply melt away but will, at best, remain as ‘rumps’. They will if necessary co-operate against the outsiders and perhaps form coalitions themselves when deemed necessary. We have already seen some examples of cross-establishment co-operation in elections to thwart British National Party candidates.
In recent times the most successful new parties have been single-issue based (whether explicitly or in practice). Whilst appealing to some they seem unable to significantly add on other policies because their appeal, and therefore their recruitment, is largely confined to those ‘obsessed’ with their single-issue. They are not interested in losing that focus.
Also in order to take root within local communities these groups will also tend to take on the characteristics of ‘their’ community (whether social or class), recruit accordingly and potentially put off others not from that milieu. Ultimately ‘outsider’ groups may have to consider co-operating in order to achieve some local goals as well as a national presence. Of course all the problems faced with brokering local electoral alliances will be magnified nationally but that of course is the challenge.
In Havering the Third Way (before it formed its own party political wing – the National Liberal Party) helped broker a local electoral alliance known as the Peoples Alliance to specifically fight the 2006 borough council elections. This was initially composed of the 3W, at least two independent Resident Associations and a number of independents (largely recruited after the launch). What united the participants was a desire to replace an unpopular local Council that had allowed Council taxes to rise without any real fight, was preparing to acquiesce to the Governments and the Mayor’s support for a mass-house building programme and seemed oblivious to the plight of the secondary High Street and independent shopkeeper.
Following a Press Launch in January a great deal of publicity was generated over the following three months, mainly through the local media, and supported by a leaflet distributed across the borough. As the elections drew close a concerted effort was made to raise candidates to fight every single ward and seat (54). In the end the group fought 45 seats amongst 17 of the 18 wards (a candidate in one ward was disqualified on a technicality). This was a remarkable achievement in such a short space of time. It was designed to show that the Alliance represented a significant body of opinion and was fielding enough candidates to form an Administration if successful. The Third Way contributed a significant number of candidates (14 and some 31%).
The borough wide campaign largely consisted of public activities and photo shoots to promote the Alliance as a whole. All wards received some leaflets highlighting specific candidates although this was rather patchy (see below). Overall PA Candidates distributed over 100,000 leaflets.
Three PA Councillors were elected (representing the Rainham & Wennington Independent Residents) by a landslide (68%) and now form the third largest group on the Council. The next best result was nearly a third of the vote (27%) in Elm Park (Third Way) and 21% (Independent) and close to being elected in South Hornchurch. Overall the Alliance obtained 10% of the total vote.
Whilst obtaining representation on the Council and registering some near misses, the overall result was not as successful as many had hoped or even expected. The Alliance had received a favourable press until the last week of the election. It had managed to field a large number of candidates, many of them new to politics. It had seemingly created public interest amongst an electorate weary of the Council. Yet the Council managed to increase its representation, largely benefiting from the large anti-Government swing exhibited throughout England. The Alliance was unable to ‘sweep to power’ and the better results seemed to directly correlate to the effort put in.
Analysis by Alliance strategists suggest that a further six seats could have been won if resources had been concentrated. In order to impress upon the electorate the Alliance’s serious intent and arithmetic ability to form an Administration, a number of candidates stood in seats without any prospect of a campaign being mounted. Worse still, in order to satisfy a moral imperative and clinging onto a wishful hope that the electorate would just ‘fall into our lap’; leaflets were distributed in these seats. Effectively falling between two stools valuable activists spent countless man-hours pounding the streets in un-winnable wards.
A great deal of effort had gone in promoting the People’s Alliance but voters were confused by the ward propaganda (from the constituent parts of the coalition) which, despite promoting the connection, was never really convincing. A general leaflet promoting the Alliance and Press coverage indicated who was part of the Coalition but resources meant that only a small proportion of the electorate would have been aware.
Ultimately we were trying to get the electorate to vote for the Alliance but being unregistered, an unknown number would have been disappointed and confused not to see it on the ballot paper. A third of the candidates stood as Independents and it was not therefore surprising that all but three of them received some of the lowest votes when in direct comparison to fellow PA candidates standing under a party label (who benefited from a separate connection).
Overall the Alliance brought some electoral successes, it introduced more people into politics and the PA is still one of the most active groups in the borough (the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!). This is the raison d’etre of Coalition politics, that strength can be achieved through co-operation. The next stage is to achieve greater electoral success as a result of the closer co-operation.
Ward activities are being organised and different groups are being invited to co-operate with each other. Another party has joined (English Democrats). Socials are also held to help bind the group together. At future by-elections we shall be able to flex our growing muscles. Watch this space!