Face off: Lincoln’s Labour win may leave McCartney looking for a new tune

In the red corner (L) Ric Metcalfe, the Lincoln Labour leader, and in the blue corner (R) Lincoln MP Karl McCartney

Peter Smith is a retired Government PR professional now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

In terms of the politics of the county, Labour’s takeover of the City of Lincoln Council may not mean very much — it puts Lincoln where it was four years ago, as almost a lone red beacon in a sea of Tory blue — but it could foreshadow problems for sitting MP Karl McCartney.

When McCartney took the Parliamentary seat last May, ousting the former Labour MP and Minister Gillian Merron, it was something of a surprise, but very much mirrored the political mood of the country.

If present trends continue, especially if the coalition Government does not survive, then Labour’s re-emergence as a political force in the urban seats of England’s Northern and Midlands regions could mean that voters in the next Westminster election revert to their Labour ways again.

The Conservatives’ best hope of keeping Lincoln in the next election lie, curiously, in them repairing the fractures that have arisen in the coalition during the heated and occasionally downright unpleasant alternative vote (AV) referendum debate.

If the Liberal Democrats were to throw out Nick Clegg (very unlikely despite his present poor ratings), or otherwise bring the coalition to an early end, then a general election would follow and (on Vote 2011 performances) the Lib Dem vote would disappear with their disaffected supporters mopped up by Labour.

The Tories can, rightly, be very pleased with the results on Thursday as they did very much better than the pollsters predicted. They seem to have pulled off the very sophisticated political sleight of hand that has seen them introduce a raft of unpopular measures, with the blame apparently falling not on the instigators of those measures but on the junior partners in Government, the Liberal-Democrats.

But from now on, the Lib Dems will do their best to talk up their differences with their Government partners and this, coupled with their dwindling role in local politics, may mean that the Conservatives will start to bear the brunt of public anger and resentment.

With electoral reform off the agenda, the Liberal Democrats have nothing to lose now by forging a more disengaged stance within the coalition and trying to prove to voters enticed just a year ago by the ‘third way’ in English politics that this route is still open to them.

The Tories will feel instinctively that they need offer no more sweeteners to the Lib Dems. Indeed, many on the right of their party have been saying just that over the weekend, but a coalition that survives long enough to see an upturn in Britain’s economic fortunes is what they need if MPs like Lincoln’s McCartney are to be more than one-hit wonders.