CUMBRIA, 6th June 2017 — These are dull times to be working the council beat.
The General Election may be bubbling along as a separate news stream but the gaffe, bang, wallop of local politics has all but dried up.
Every local councillor is burning shoe leather on the campaign trail.
Many of our bread and butter institutions have pulled up the drawbridge and a suspicious pang of ‘Purdah paranoia’ fills the municipal air.
Purdah means the naturally-cautious press officer is ever so naturally cautious than normal, which is never good for that soon-to-be extinct Dodo called democracy.
The snap general election has locked the doors to county council meeting rooms and while political life ticks over around the districts, many chambers are cold and unused.
No-one is saying anything of any real newsworthiness and sensible conversations with politicians are impossible during a general election.
Every phrase is either plain delusion, bare-faced lies painted as optimism or carefully calibrated to direct the journalist towards an “attack story” against their opponents.
It is a cynical exploitation of the profession and a hijacking of the English language for political leverage. An ugly time to be trying to get a story.
But worst of all, the fine summer weather here has gone downhill faster than a cow on roller-skates.
Winter has returned. On the drive to work, all the recently-clipped sheep were huddled up against each other, lashed with rain and shivering in the ineffective shelter of a dry stone wall.
The analogy is a good one.
The bad weather forecast for polling day on Thursday means many bums are, to coin a phrase, “twitching like a rabbit’s nose”.
Turn out may be down, they fear.
Who’s to say? My own gut instinct is that this has been a nasty, noisy, blood-curdler of a campaign and voter numbers will be up. No-one really knows until Friday.
Despite the county council elections being all of 33 days ago we still do not know which party or parties will be at the flight deck of the “Cumbria Starship Enterprise” for the next four years.
Cumbria…being the final frontier.
No party won the 43-majority required to control the 84-seat county council chamber.
On 4th May, the Conservatives got 37 seats, Labour 26 and the Liberal Democrats 16.
Five seats went to a rag-tag of Independents, one or two of whom may possibly refuse to co-operate with the other political parties.
Ideally, 43 seats are needed to control the chamber and the numbers don’t add up
Cons seats + Labour seats = 63
Lab seats + Lib Dem seats = 41
Con seats + Lib Dem seats = 52
Would the Tories share power with Labour? Would Labour and the Lib Dems join up with a couple of independents? Will the Tories go it alone?
No-one knows yet and the General Election has parked everything in neutral until after Thursday.
Until then, the different party leaders have to maintain the pretence that they’re not going to form coalitions with sworn enemies.
It’s all a grand betrayal but this is the reality that the deck of cards threw back at us in Cumbria on 4th May.
As things stand, the parties are waiting for the General Election to pass over before they start jumping into bed with each other and deciding who gets the fattest pillows.
*Of course, few are prepared to admit
a coalition will have to happen who they will go into power with at this stage.
During a General Election that would be wrong. Too much like telling the truth.
But someone has to be in charge by the end of the month, even if they were sworn enemies at the start of it.
*amended from original