Elections 2019: A quick guide to the short campaign

It’s that time of year again. With the cold winter frosts melting away and lighter evenings on the horizon, political campaigns for May’s local elections are beginning to fire up.

But what do local politicians’ campaigns look like? What happens during the short campaign?

Below is a short guide of what to expect from local political campaigns in the run up to polling day on Thursday 2nd May.

The starting pistol: budget meetings

Since the Autumn, councillors and parties’ long campaigns have been laying the groundwork for this year’s elections, waiting for local authority budgets this month to formulate their pledges to voters and attack lines. We can expect political parties to be quick out of the starting blocks to properly launch their campaigns and authority wide canvassing sessions in February.

Parties know they need to act quickly after budget meetings as the golden rules of political communications say – you need to define yourself and your opponent before they do it to you and people do not vote to say thank you. Winston Churchill knew the latter all too well in 1945.

This will inevitably involve councillors and candidates hardening their policy positions and searching ever more closely for local issues to campaign on to win every vote possible.

From purdah to polling week

At the end of March – the pre-election purdah period takes affect which sets out what the councils can do regarding publicity. Councils continue to function during purdah are prevented from producing publicity on politically controversial subjects. Crucially, planning committees are still held during this period and the rules even state that councils can continue to determine planning applications, regardless of how controversial they are.

Moving into early April, the intensity of campaigns will step up further as election address leaflets and signed letters to postal voters are delivered. British summer time clock changes will also allow weeknight canvassing sessions to whittle away more shoe leather.

Local political parties will also allocate their resources to help maximise their gains on election night. Activists from safe wards and financial resources will be diverted to marginal wards. This will see marginal wards receive extra leaflets and often a greater focus on local issues as well as cutting attacks. As a result, we may see a contrast between the rhetoric used towards development in safe wards compared with marginal areas.

With no Westminster elections and some local authorities not holding elections, election races in marginal authorities will heat up as outside activists pile in to lend a hand. This may have a particular impact in the swing authorities of south Essex, where activists in London with no local elections can be bused in with ease.

Planning committees during the short campaign

The politics of planning during the 10 weeks of the short campaign often become more volatile and harder to predict, as councillors sensitive to local opinion and in election mode recognise how politicising development could lead to electoral gains. This could be seen most in authorities such as Babergh District Council in Suffolk which will hold its last Planning Committee of the municipal year just thirteen hours before the polls open.

The final two weeks may not only change the mindset of planning committees, but also the attendance. With campaign sessions running almost daily, planning committee members defending slender majorities may be more inclined to send substitutes from safer wards as they seek to make every moment of the campaign count.

The home straight

Into the final week, parties will make their final pleas to voters where attack leaflets are deployed and hand-written letters to voters previously canvassed are posted, before the final eve of poll leaflet reminding voters of election day.

Then, it is all over to the voters.

Andy Ansell – Account Manager