England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Dan Peters, MJ on the LGA



The local election results are still coming in thick and fast but the implications for the Local Government Association were clear a long time ago.

Short of a minor miracle, Labour were always going to wrestle the leadership from Sir Merrick Cockell and the Conservatives. David Sparks and co needed just a 0.6% swing so, despite the rise of UKIP, his path to the top of Smith Square is in no danger.

Of course, there is still a long time before all of this is confirmed.

For historical reasons I don’t know and probably will never understand, the make-up of the LGA is decided based on an eye-wateringly complicated formula. Essentially, the election results are sent off to two university professors who pour over them for days to determine who will represent English councils for the next 12 months.

But all of that is irrelevant to the crucial issue for LGA-watchers everywhere – the leadership.

Under Tory Sir Merrick Cockell, the LGA had to tread a fine line between fighting against the unprecedented cuts to local government and not upsetting their party colleagues in Westminster.

People will debate whether this strategy has been successful or not but it’s unlikely to continue under Labour, who will have no qualms about annoying Eric Pickles and the rest of the Government.

Although a cross-party organisation, it is expected that a Labour-led LGA will be more vocal, more rebellious and more of a pain to ministers.

Again, there will be a debate about whether this is the best strategy for securing the best result for English councils.

The other key issue facing the LGA is UKIP’s increasing influence.

At the moment, a handful of UKIP councillors are represented on the LGA as part of the small Independent group.

Led by Independent Marianne Overton, she recognises that UKIP has ‘really set themselves as a new force’ but she believes the party should stay within her group.
UKIP would need 5% of all councillors in order to form a separate group on the LGA.
Despite the media hype, this is likely to be beyond them.

With few specifically local policies beyond calling for more unitary councils, it’s uncertain how important the issues facing the local government sector will be for Nigel Farage’s party.

We’ll have to wait and see but what’s certain is that none of the LGA group leaders has had a good election.

Sir Merrick has lost the chairmanship, Cllr Sparks won his council seat by getting just 100 or so votes more than his UKIP challenger, Gerald Vernon-Jackson’s Lib Dems in Portsmouth lost the council to no overall control and Cllr Overton will have to manage a growing voice within her diverse group.

Interesting times are ahead.