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Conservative Council Crash? Poll Shows Tories on Course for Heavy Losses in Local Elections

Local Elections

A survey released by Electoral Calculus has shown that the Conservative Party is on track to lose almost 550 seats in the Local Elections on Thursday 5th May. This would mark the worst performance in local elections since Labour had more than three times as many council seats as the Conservatives in 1996.

According to the survey, Labour is set to win 3500 council seats, marking a gain of more than 800, while the Conservative party will win just under 980, representing a loss of 548. The survey included a sample of 1749 adults in the 201 councils going to the polls this week. The poll also indicated that the Tories could be set to lose control of flagship councils including Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet among several others, providing a local backdrop to Labour’s efforts to rebuild its ‘red wall’ in the national elections.

However, success in local elections does not always translate into national elections. In both 2000 and 2004, the Conservatives secured big leads over Labour in the local elections, but failed to secure victories in the national elections that followed. Indeed, according to Professor Sir John Curtice, there may be some hope for the Conservatives as the damage done by the recent ‘partygate’ scandal and public anger at the Government’s handling of the cost-of-living crisis. This is because there are only a limited number of seats being contested in traditional heartlands outside of London.

What could these local elections mean?

The implications of this at a local level are clear. Local councils changing hands will have a significant impact on how councils are run. Different parties will allocate resource in different ways, they will have different policy priorities and will approach local public services differently.

At the national level, the implications are slightly less clear. From a policy perspective, it will be an important moment for the future of the Government’s Levelling Up Agenda. As part of its Levelling Up White Paper, the Government has said it will reform local government, and certainly, any policy programme focused on reducing regional inequality will have to be delivered in close concert with local councils. How this shift towards Labour impacts their efforts to drive forward their agenda is yet to be seen, however losing flagship councils is unlikely to be helpful.

From a political perspective, questions surrounding the Prime Minister’s leadership have been swirling since the party gate issue re-entered the limelight when he and Rishi Sunak were issued with fixed penalty notices. Conservative MPs were notably absent in the House of Commons debate regarding his referral for inquiry to the Privileges Committee.

While the Prime Minister has insisted that he will fight the next national election in 2024, it is important to stress one important, albeit slightly obvious thing about the Conservative party: it is deeply concerned with winning. The moment that a leader is no longer an electoral weapon, but rather an electoral liability, the questions begin to circulate, and their position becomes tenuous.

Conservative MPs will be wary about defending the Prime Minister to their constituents at upcoming national elections, and it is very likely that Conservative council candidates that lose on Thursday will see the Prime Minister as having been a lead weight on their electoral chances. The question is simply, if, and how long the party will tolerate that weight.

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