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Editorial Friday 4 May 2012: What the local election results do and don't tell us

Enough of the local election results are now in that it's possible to form a few thoughts about what it all means.

Not very much ...
On a 30% turnout, local election results can't and shouldn't be taken as strong predictors of the 2015 general election.

Yes, turnout is traditionally low in local elections. These are things which excite political obsessives (and of course candidates) more than they do Worcester Woman, Mondeo Man, The Person On The Clapham Omnibus and whatever other psephological phantoms you may care to name.


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One of the reasons for this is that the vast majority (meaningful policy proposals for funding reform look to be out of the question for the next Queen's Speech.

Social care is going to rise up and up the agenda, as Nicholson Challenge efficiencies bite. Whether the assumptions that local government get blamed for problems that seem inexorably set to arise remains to be seen.

A message to you, Ed B
Voters going into polling booths at the next general election, whether in 2015 or before, will be worrying about one main issue: the economy.

My sense is that Labour does not currently enjoy the benefit of the doubt on its economic position. The Coalition's narrative that Labour did not fix the roof when the sun was shining has found popular traction (for all that the global economic crisis of sub-prime mortgages codified through Lehman Brothers tells a different tale).

This is despite Balls having being shown to be talking non-balls on the pace of deficit reduction.

Labour also currently lack a narrative. Hoping for the economy to turn sourer and deliver the next election without having to do too much is probably - hopefully - not what they are thinking.

However, Labour potentially have something on their side that the Coalition parties do not. That will be austerity-weariness, after three more years of what is ahead.

The public has bought the Coalition's narrative on 'Labour's debt crisis' with an unexpected (and frankly wrong) corollary - the implication that Labour would have done anything radically different about public spending. Analysis of Alastair Darling's 2010 budget economic plans gives that the big, fat hairy lie - but there we are: the simplification of debate cuts both ways.

It does not seem impossible that in three years' time, when the price of filling up the family car keeps on rising and rising, and so do the costs of a consolatory bottle of wine or even (heaven forfend) a fag, and the child benefit has gone, and the library has closed, and the Big Society is not sweeping the street, that our current consensus over austerity will be more than slightly ragged.

(We were due to find austerity an interesting change, for a while. Our glib post-90s fascination with shiny wealth was running out of novelty.)

Private enterprise does not appear to be rushing in to fill the gap.

Bargain-basement interest rates continue to be rescuing banks. They have helped to rescue over-geared home 'owners', but interest rates on mortgages are rising.

Public policy is going to be a very interesting place to be.