By Oliver Gibson
In the last ten years, there have been four Prime Ministers, four general elections, four major referendums, nine local elections, two elections to the European Parliament and two police and crime commissioner elections.
It is fair to say that the 2010s have been one of the most highly active periods in post-war political history.
Following Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2019 general election, 2020 really should have been a year of political stability, which would have been a welcome change after the political chaos of 2019.
The Government’s focus would likely have been on continued trade negotiations with the UK’s current and emerging trading partners as well as with the European Union, and on ‘levelling up the country’ as the Prime Minister put it in his address to the nation following Britain’s departure from the EU.
Kier Starmer, the new Leader of the Opposition, would likely have focused on building Labour’s case in the 2020 local elections as well as laying the foundations of his party’s new policy direction.
All this changed, however, in March.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed nearly everything of what was to be in 2020, both at home and abroad.
Brexit, a debate to which it seemed there was no end, now feels all but forgotten, with all eyes across the world now fixed upon their governments’ efforts in tackling the pandemic.
While it seems for now that the Coronavirus pandemic will be the single greatest issue of this year, there are other events on the horizon for the United Kingdom and our close allies and global partners.
Of course, the United States is set to have their presidential election as normal this winter, despite Trump tweeting about a potential delay to the normal process what with America’s poor handling of the pandemic thus far.
No matter who becomes President next January, 2021 will be a huge year in local politics.
All of the local elections that would have happened this summer will now take place next year, along with the elections that would have taken place next year under normal circumstances.
The attention of the national press might easily be focused on the elections to the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London. And there is no doubt that these elections will be important, but that is not to say that nothing is happening next year in West Yorkshire.
In our county alone, we will elect our local councillors, a police and crime commissioner, and a brand new Mayor of West Yorkshire.
This mayoral office was recently established by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in collaboration with the various West Yorkshire local authorities, and will easily be the most important component of the elections of next year in 2021.
In 2024, our new Mayor will absorb the functions of the West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner and will, therefore, serve a similar role to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. This will be our strongest taste of devolution as a county.
While it must be said that the Labour Party has a very strong position in West Yorkshire, often coming out on top in Local and General Elections, last year proved to be a damaging one to Labour across the entire country.
Both the Conservatives and Labour suffered quite heavily in the 2019 local elections, losing seats mainly to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
However, the 2019 European Parliamentary election proved, like the one in 2014, to be another ground-breaking one as neither the Conservatives nor Labour came in first or second place nationally.
In fact, in every counting area in West Yorkshire, the Labour Party came behind the Brexit Party.
There is so much at stake in next year’s elections in West Yorkshire. No party should take its wards for granted following the chaos of last year, or even this year.
Both parties will be keen to organise their campaigns in our region when the time comes. In fact, both of the major parties funds have been discussed in the media recently with the Conservatives launching their ‘Unleash Britain Fund’ and Len McCluskey threatening to review Unite’s donations to the Labour Party following Kier Starmer’s resolution of the dispute between its former staff members who sued the party in an anti-Semitism row.
Labour’s party funds are greatly helped by donations from its affiliated unions, so this would prove to be a major development if McCluskey followed through with his threat.
Turnout has historically been lower in local and police and crime commissioner elections than in general elections in the United Kingdom.
However, with so much up for grabs next year, and with the UK possibly entering a less immediately dangerous phase of the pandemic, turnout could even increase.
This article will form part of a series of articles on the elections that will be happening in our county next year. This series will aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of West Yorkshire’s politics, figures and democratic process.