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Local Elections 2023: Rishi Must Be Ruthless to Take Back Control – Oh, and How is that War on Woke Going?

local elections
Ben HEad

Ben Howlett

Curia’s Chief Executive and former MP and Cllr.

Ben Howlett calls on the Prime Minister to be ruthless with the fallout from the local elections and calls for the end to culture war rhetoric – now!

As they continue to come in, the local elections results are looking terrible for the Conservative Party.

His critics have described these elections as the Prime Minister’s first major electoral test, and he will no doubt be criticised for falling at the first hurdle. In fairness however, the electorate are likely to have wanted to punish the Conservatives – distinct from Rishi Sunak – for a range of failures including partygate, and Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s economic car crash towards the end of the year.


However, much frustration is felt within the Labour ranks that the Prime Minister is still polling ahead of Sir Keir Starmer in terms of who is best suited to lead this country. The Conservative Party is aware that the Prime Minister is far more popular than the rest of the party. Local Conservatives were actively pleading with their local electorates not to be punished for failure at a national level.

Rishi must detoxify the Conservative brand

Given that the Conservative Party is about as popular as something smelly left in a lift right now, it is important that the Prime Minister realises his strength of hand. Normally in these circumstances the backbench vultures are circling, quill in hand, ready to push a vote of no confidence letter through Sir Graham Brady’s letterbox.

However, these elections show that they are the problem.

Given the Prime Minister’s popularity amongst the country, one can only imagine the results if Truss was still the Prime Minister…he should use this opportunity to be ruthless.

The Conservative Party is lacking in new ideas. In recent polls, the electorate has dubbed the party “tired”, “out of touch” and “incompetent” – some less polite terms have also been used. It is not the Prime Minister that is facing calls to stand down at the next election, it is those Ministers who have been out less on the doorstep than Akshata Murthy.

“Ministerial bed blockers must be moved on quickly”.

Ben Howlett, Chief Executive, Curia


Perhaps some of them have been spending a bit more time on LinkedIn recently, but for those not pulling their weight and failed to come up with any new ideas should make way for some fresh talent.


Now, I am slightly biased here given that the policy institute I founded, Curia is about to publish a book of fresh thinking by Conservative MPs, the Mayor of the West Midlands and Council leaders. There are some refreshingly innovative ideas by rising stars like Fay Jones on improving digital connectivity in local areas, and by Bim Afolami who is talking about revolutionising the approach to levelling up and making it agile to cope with new innovations. We look forward to welcoming the biggest brain in the Cabinet, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove to the event.

Discuss local elections with Michael Gove

It is radical thinking that the party needs and it hasn’t got long to do something about it…those Ministerial bed blockers need to be moved on quickly. The Prime Minister needs to commission some new policy reviews, including ideas on how to build new homes, revolutionise planning, improve digital connectivity, broaden skills and generate better results from our education system.

A new focus on maths just doesn’t cut it!

The war on woke ain’t workin…

The trouncing at the local elections is not just about losses to Labour, they are about heavy defeats to the Liberal Democrats too. I have been involved in politics for a long time, and I could not have imagined 15 years ago that the Conservatives would lose Windsor.

The overnight results seem to suggest the ‘woke’ city bankers (ironic) find the Government’s rhetoric distasteful. The narrative of attacks against vulnerable people in society is not working. It is almost as though the Conservative Party has decided to only speak to less than 10% of the British population who are socially conservative. These are polarising narratives that do little to enhance the life chances of people and do a lot to turn off the vast majority of the electorate.

It’s time to ignore Suella and curate your own narrative, Prime Minister.

Final thought

As the results keep coming in, they get more and more depressing for the Conservative Party. Councillors are not just elected officials, these are the campaign co-ordinators, the activists, the people who help Members of Parliament hold onto their seats. Tory HQ will be worried about these results; they don’t have as much money coming in as Labour and now, they’ve lost hundreds of activists. It will be difficult to rebuild.

Their one saving grace is the Prime Minister, more popular than Sir Keir Starmer and proving himself to be a good leader. There are three simple things the Prime Minister needs to do now, or consign his government to electoral oblivion:

  1. Get rid of the dross – reshuffle his Cabinet and Ministerial team as soon as possible
  2. Generate some new ideas – come up with some radical policy ideas; and
  3. For goodness sake, end the culture wars nonsense – now!

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