Some reflections on the results from Thursday’s local elections results:
- Labour is not “on course” for an overall majority at the next General Election. There were two themes of expectation management for the Conservatives before Polling Day. One was about whether Labour’s lead in the projected national vote share was in single figures in contrast to its opinion poll lead which is comfortably in double figures. Another was if Conservative losses could be contained below a thousand seats. It was widely assumed that if one measure was reached so would the other be. In fact, the first was, while the latter was not. The Conservatives made substantial losses, not just to Labour, but to the Lib Dems and the Green Party. Rallings and Thrasher put Labour seven points ahead on projected national vote share. They calculated this would mean Labour returning 298 MPs in a General Election, short of the 326 needed for an overall majority. Even if Labour had done well enough on this notional basis it would not mean they are now “on course” for an overall majority – if history is any guide. Usually, the main opposition Party does very well in local elections while the Government recovers to some extent at the following General Election.
- But a hung Parliament would not be that great. If the Conservatives make significant losses to the Lib Dems, while Labour makes big gains from the SNP in Scotland then we have a more realistic prospect of Labour being the largest Party in a hung Parliament. The Lib Dems have been clear they would favour a deal with Labour over the Conservatives – that is key to their pitch to Labour supporters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems. What would the Lib Dems want – handing over some power to the EU? Proportional Representation? Labour won’t form a coalition with the SNP but might the SNP be offered something in return for not bringing down a minority Labour Government?
- A leadership challenge to the Prime Minister would not be helpful. In the local elections last year, Labour was ahead on the projected national share by only five per cent. But that was bad enough for the Conservatives for Boris Johnson to face a vote of confidence from Conservative MPs the following month. Johnson won that vote. But then Oliver Dowden resigned as Conservative Party Chairman the following month. It was over by-election defeats, but “also a run of very poor results for our Party” – a reference which obviously included the council election results. That got the “box set drama” into full swing. If the Party had united behind Johnson after the confidence vote and he had continued as Prime Minister, then I expect we would have had better results last Thursday. Does it follow that it would be a good idea to oust Rishi Sunak and bring back Johnson now? It does not. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as my mother used to tell me.
- Turnout is key. I haven’t seen a national tally on turnout but I suspect it will be even lower than normal for local elections – I have noticed this in various individual local authorities. Could it be that the problem Conservatives have is mostly that their natural supporters abstained rather than switched to other parties? I suspect so. This may well be an easier challenge to overcome at a General Election. It is not necessary to convert that chunk of the electorate to Conservatism – they still are Conservatives. The challenge rather is to convert the Government to Conservatism. Conservatives need to feel that they have a Government delivering on those Conservative missions of cutting tax and state spending, scrapping bureaucracy, fighting crime, widening home ownership, safeguarding our borders, championing free enterprise, and refuting woke absurdities. To assume that those with strong Conservative beliefs can be taken for granted would be an error.
- The mixed results show that local factors still matter. It is worth noting that despite the huge Conservatives losses overall there was considerable variation. There were many places where the Conservatives held all their seats or even made gains. I am pleased to say there were too many to list here – though I hope to include on this site some accounts of success stories. The Conservatives made gains in Slough, for example. The Labour Council’s profligate spending had resulted in a financial crisis. As a result, they were allowed to increase Council Tax by nine per cent. It is hardly a surprise this proved unpopular. In Plymouth, the Conservatives lost eight of their nine seats being contested. They had chopped down mature trees under cover of darkness to clear the way for a hideous, dystopian “redevelopment programme.” In Canterbury, the Conservatives lost 15 seats. They had been criticised for a “draconian” scheme of traffic zones to stop residents driving from one part of the City to another. Sunak can hardly be blamed for these local blunders.