An election dominated by just one issue: expenses

Forget local government, disregard the future of Europe: voting today will be all about punishing greed, says Andrew Grice

Even normally loyal grassroots activists in all three main parties have been so angry about the MPs' expenses scandal that they have refused to campaign for today's local authority and European Parliament elections.

If people like that are furious with the behaviour of MPs, then it's an understatement to say ordinary voters are even more angry. "It's been 'expenses, expenses, expenses' on the doorstep – often with an expletive attached," one Tory party canvasser admitted yesterday. A Labour source confirmed: "It's been a single issue campaign. We have tried to raise local services, but to no avail. Europe is the dog that didn't bark, even though it is a Euro election."

The earthquake that has shaken Westminster has, unusually, also reached every corner of the land. The expenses story, highlighting the gulf between politicians and the people, is so dangerous because the people understand it. "It's not so much the moats and the servants," one Labour MP said. "What I keep hearing on the doorstep is 'why the hell can't you buy your own food like the rest of us?'" Until the controversy forced a belated shake-up of the expenses system, MPs were allowed to claim £400 a month for food under their "second homes" allowance, without receipts and even when the Commons is not sitting.

Today the voters will get the chance to pass their judgement on such behaviour when elections take place in 34 local authorities in England, mainly in the county councils, and the UK-wide contest for 72 seats in the European Parliament. Some people will vote with their feet and stay away from the polling stations in disgust. Only one in three may bother to turn out. Indeed, some angry voters have told canvassers they will boycott the elections because of the expenses saga. They don't normally bother to explain why.

Officials in the three main parties believe privately that Labour, as the governing party, will take the biggest hit. But the Tories also expect to suffer damage, after the constant stream of revelations in The Daily Telegraph about how they used their allowances to maintain their country estates.

One intriguing question exercising the minds of all three parties is whether the Liberal Democrats are tarred with the same brush as the two bigger parties. Nick Clegg has had a "good war" on the expenses row and was the only main party leader to call publicly for the Commons Speaker Michael Martin to resign. But some Liberal Democrats fear the party may be seen by some voters as part of the problem rather than the solution.

If the third party gains between 30 and 50 council seats and makes a surprise gain in Bristol where Labour appears to be in trouble, it will be a sign that the Liberal Democrats are less contaminated than the big two parties. But a worse result than that for the Liberal Democrats will suggest the voters are saying "a plague on all your houses".

The Liberal Democrats are defending 370 seats in total, and will be challenged by the Tories for their only two councils of Somerset and Devon, in a dry run for a crucial general election battle in the South West.

Labour is defending 445 council seats. It fears losing its remaining four county councils – Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire. If it denies the Tories outright victory in Derbyshire – a tall order for David Cameron's party – Labour will present it as a triumph.

The Tories expect to capture at least 100 Labour seats and will be privately hoping for 200 gains. They will be looking to secure at least 40 per cent of the projected share of the national vote – the hurdle needed to show David Cameron is on course for Downing Street. The Tories are defending 1,048 of the 2,318 council seats up for grabs.

Who will benefit most among the smaller parties? UKIP has looked shambolic since being the surprise package at the last Euro elections in 2004 and does not have an unblemished record on expenses. Despite that, it has been given a new lease of life by the crisis at Westminster. Although the EU has had a low profile as an issue in the campaign (to the relief of some Tories), the fact that it is a Euro election should help UKIP. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has said he will resign if it wins fewer than 10 seats.

Last night Lord Kalms, a former Conservative Party Treasurer, and major Tory donor has said he would "lend" his vote to another party at tomorrow's European elections – almost certainly Ukip.

The Greens, who had their high water mark in Britain at the 1989 Euro election, have a spring in their step again and have moved up in the polls. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader, said last night: "A Green vote is much more than a protest against the big three. Let's remember they've been discredited not just by the expenses scandal, but by their lack of commitment to putting social and environmental justice at top of political agenda."

The Greens hope to deny the BNP its first seat in a nationwide election. But some party workers fear there may be a "spiral of silence" in which people tell pollsters they will support other parties (such as UKIP) but back the BNP in the privacy of the polling booth.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy