The national impact of the local elections
4 May 2022
The local elections on 5th May will not only decide which party will be responsible for the running of local councils, but they represent an important test of opinion for both the Government and opposition.
DRD Partnership’s Rhys Barnes takes a look at tomorrow’s local elections and what the results might mean for both major parties.
Image Source: The Telegraph
Local elections take place tomorrow, 5 May, in all local authorities in Wales and Scotland. In England, they will happen in 144 of the 333 councils, including all London borough councils. The results will not only decide which party will be responsible for the running of local councils, but they represent an important test of opinion for both the Government and opposition.
Consequences for the Government
Most current polling suggests a bleak outcome for the Government, with some polls predicting the worst results for the Conservatives since Blair became leader of the Labour Party. This can be attributed to two main factors: on the one hand, Partygate and on the other, the cost of living crisis.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that many local Conservative campaigners have looked to distance themselves from the party nationally. In seven London boroughs: Barking and Dagenham, Camden, Croydon, Ealing Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth Conservative candidates have rebranded themselves en masse as ‘Local Conservatives’.
Whilst London has not been electorally fruitful for the Conservatives for some time, it does contain a number of Tory flagship councils, including Westminster and Wandsworth with the latter looking particularly vulnerable after 44 years of Conservative control. The question is whether Wandsworth having the lowest council tax in the country – and the only one which was cut further this year – will be enough locally to see off a national Labour surge.
Wandsworth may be totemic, but the real measure will be how the party performs in the ‘Red Wall’ seats that underpinned Johnson’s 2019 electoral landslide. Significant losses here to Labour would be seriously worrying for Conservative MPs, and may trigger enough letters of no confidence into Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, to cross the threshold of 54 needed for a leadership election.
There is a serious game of expectation management going on behind the scenes by the Conservatives. Briefing in the Telegraph suggested that Labour should make net gains of 800 seats, a figure widely ridiculed by analysts, so anything under that will be trumpeted as a success by Downing Street and may secure the PM’s immediate future. Expect then to see a swift government reshuffle to refresh the team ahead of next week’s Queen’s Speech which will be seen as a way to quickly re-launch the government’s policy agenda.
Whatever happens tomorrow is likely to have far more wide-reaching consequences than the loss or gain of a few councils across the country.
Rhys Barnes, DRD Partnership
Consequences for the Opposition
This could be a pivotal moment for the Conservatives and the Government, but the stakes are almost as high for Labour and Sir Keir Starmer.
Labour is riding high in the polls and there is certainly an expectation that the party will make significant gains, although not on the scale of the 800 reported in the Telegraph. Labour activist and psephologist, Luke Akehurst argues that any net gain by the party would represent success given the high benchmark it achieved four years ago when these seats were last contested. However, this too is simply part of the expectation management game with Labour trying to downplay likely results in advance to then herald any advance as a significant achievement.
So what would success look like for Labour? Gains in the ‘Red Wall’ would show that Starmer’s attempts to rehabilitate Labour’s image in its traditional heartlands were moving in the right direction. This makes taking control of Sunderland, the Conservatives’ number one defensive seat, essential – not doing so would be a marked failure. In London, Wandsworth may be a step too far, but Labour winning in Barnet would be a major blow to the Conservatives losing a key council. This would also be significant for Labour, as this would indicate that Starmer had begun to rebuild the Jewish Labour relationship, so damaged under the previous leadership of the party.
More widely, making inroads into the more traditional Conservative suburban heartlands (its very own, ‘Blue Wall’), such as in Crawley, Swindon or Worthing, would really set alarm bells ringing amongst marginal Tory MPs and could well be enough to trigger a Conservative leadership election, Labour’s immediate priority.
The local elections will ultimately act as an important litmus test of opinion which will indicate where both parties in the UK currently stand with the electorate as well as playing a significant part in influencing the strategies of both parties in the coming two years ahead of the next General Election in May 2024. Whatever happens tomorrow is likely to have far more wide-reaching consequences than the loss or gain of a few councils across the country.