As the dust settles on another round of elections, what do these results mean for Christians of all political persuasions?
This was an election the Conservatives should have lost but one that Boris Johnson always seemed on course to win. Against a canvas of huge gains from Labour on councils across the country Boris Johnson triumphed against Ken Livingstone to secure a second term as Mayor of London. Labour gained over 800 council seats at the expense of both coalition partners adding the 32 new councils to the 43 they already controlled.
Coming after a difficult couple of months for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats the council gains were not unexpected. However, the scale of some of the victories showed a resurgent Labour opposition. In Birmingham Labour needed just four further seats to take control but have ended the day with a majority of 34, similarly in Southampton, where Ed Miliband kicked off his local election campaign and returned as part of his victory tour, Labour seized control from the Conservatives in dramatic fashion.
Boris Johnson beat Ken Livingstone 51.5 - 48.5 per cent after the second preferences from all other candidates were redistributed. Although this was closer than some opinion polls suggested the shock result lies beneath the surface in the four per cent accrued by Brian Paddick who slumped to fourth place sandwiched between Jenny Jones from the Green Party and independent candidate Siobhan Benita on near identical shares of the vote.
Attention will now turn to delivering on the promises made during the campaign. Two weeks before polling day Boris Johnson appeared alongside the other main candidates in a hustings organised by the Evangelical Alliance and the London Church Leaders. During this debate Johnson committed to work with churches and praised the work they do in communities across the capital. In particular the Mayor will now be under pressure to tackle betting shops on high streets having said to the church audience: "bookmakers are a spiritual narcotic that breed false hope and it's a terrible thing to see".
Victory in the mayoral race will be scant consolation for the Conservative Party, and may even heighten David Cameron's nerves that a leadership challenge is hiding over the horizon. Boris Johnson is now the most electorally successful Conservative politician since Margaret Thatcher and speculation abounded that he might seek a seat in parliament and double up on jobs for the last few months of his mayoralty. Conservative critics of the Prime Minister point to the ability of Johnson to distance himself from the government, and with his support for lower taxes and stronger criticism of the European Union believe he embodies a more authentic form of conservatism. And perhaps a little bit, his quirky individualism that somehow seems unvarnished, in fact his expletive filled outburst at Ken Livingstone in a lift fuelled a boost to his ratings.
London Assembly building
This will increase the pressure on the Prime Minister to satisfy the right of his party and answer those such as Peter Bone MP who are questioning the wisdom of the coalition government. Other Conservative MPs have criticised Cameron with defence minister Gerald Howarth urging him to ditch projects such as reform of the House of Lords and introducing same sex marriage and focus on delivering economic growth. While the downfall of the coalition does not appear imminent, the tensions between the governing parties are likely to grow more profound, a break up sometime ahead of the 2015 election now a distinct probability.
For the Liberal Democrats their paltry electoral tally will undoubtedly increase pressure on the party's leadership, but as Cabinet minister Ed Davey remarked, "we've been waiting for mid term blues for around 90 years". The loss of over 300 councillors takes their presence in local government to its lowest level since the party was formed in 1988. For the Liberal Democrats local government has long been their stronghold, historically outperforming the national result by an average of five per cent. It would appear from both these results as well as those from 2011 that they have traded support in local elections for a shot at sharing power on the national stage.
When the dust settles the biggest disappointment for the government, and in particular the Conservatives, is likely to be the near universal rejection of plans for directly elected mayors. Promoted as a key part of their plan to devolve power to a local level they were rejected in referendums by nine out of ten cities. Only Bristol choose to elect a mayor in November with other cities including Coventry and Birmingham voting no in referendums by substantial margins.
Among the minor parties the UK Independence Party performed well in the seats they ran for, averaging 13 per cent of the vote but failed to translate this into representation in local government as the five gains were cancelled out by losing as many. The Green Party added five councillors to their number and together with Jenny Jones's respectable showing in the mayoral race will be a boost to their moral. The British National Party have evaporated from local government losing all the councillors up for re-election.
The Christian People's Alliance will be disappointed that their tactic of concentrating on the assembly wide vote for the Greater London Assembly failed to pay off. Eschewing the mayoral race or individual assembly seats they poured their resources into reaching the threshold to gain London-wide representation. However, their share of the vote fell and they ended up finishing without any representation on the assembly.
Labour will not experience the same soul searching post mortem that these results will precipitate for the two governing parties. The local council results will be a valuable tonic for Ed Miliband to assuage fears that he has struggled to have enough of an impact against an unpopular government. However, the party will not be without its critics. Largely this will focus on the selection of Ken Livingstone as their candidate for London Mayor. Dogged throughout the campaign by questions about his tax status and accusations of his divisive personality, the efforts taken by key figures within the party to distance themselves from their candidate may well both be blamed for the poor result and seen as indicative of its predictability.
Danny Webster is the parliamentary officer for the Evangelical Alliance. He works on a wide range of political and social issues and is passionate to see the church more engaged in all parts of society - particularly politics. Danny regularly provides comment and analysis to a broad range of secular and Christian news outlets. He also keeps an eclectic personal blog at www.brokencameras.com and tweets @danny_webster.
May 5th, 2012 - Posted & Written by The Editor