Dr Peter Laugharne, Senior Lecturer in Politics & International Relations on the significance of the vote on 6 May, which will be the first public test of Labour leader Keir Starmer.
Date: 19 April 2021
6 May provides the first major political contests since the December 2019 general election. There are elections for local councils across much of England; Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales; the Welsh Senedd; Scottish Parliament; the Greater London Assembly and Mayor of London; and a UK parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool. These contests naturally are important in their own right but in some cases their significance will be greatly magnified.
The elections will be the first public test of the new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. It’s been a year since he took over what is traditionally regarded as the most difficult job in British politics: Leader of the Opposition. After a promising start in exceptional pandemic circumstances, Sir Keir has yet to strike a resounding chord with the public and nowadays voters have a much wider range of political options from which to choose.
One of the promising arenas for Starmer may be the London Mayoralty where the incumbent appears to have shown an unremarkable (in comparison to his predecessors) but relatively safe pair of hands. It is still early days and Labour are far less ruthless with underperforming leaders than are the Conservatives, but if they lose Hartlepool, and perform poorly elsewhere the writing may be on the wall. In mid-term elections, the main opposition party really should be taking seats from the government if they are to stand any chance of winning the subsequent general election.
The most important contest undoubtedly is north of the border, where the Scottish National Party (SNP) is looking to gain a majority in the Scottish Parliament as a platform on which to demand a second referendum on independence. 2021 marks the centenary of the Anglo-Irish treaty that produced the greatest political rupture in the history of the United Kingdom: the secession of 26 counties and the creation of what would later become the Republic of Ireland. No doubt there will be many twists and turns ahead, but a resounding SNP victory could fire the starting gun on another fraught referendum battle with the integrity of the UK once again at stake.
Boris Johnson has certainly been the luckiest of politicians. Picking the winning side on Brexit; being handed the 2019 general election on a plate by an opposition that need not have granted one; surviving a serious bout of Covid 19 (unlike his classical Athenian hero Pericles who succumbed to the plague); and apparently enjoying a vaccine-induced political bounce in the polls despite presiding over a death toll greater than that of the Blitz, are all evidence of that. Will fortune favour him again? We only have a few weeks to wait to find out.
London Met will be supporting the democratic process by hosting a polling station in its Rocket Building on 6 May. Find your local polling station here.