A Prime Minister under pressure in a seemingly intractable political crisis. A country divided. Heavy losses for the Conservatives expected. Not 2022, but 2018, when I worked in government as a special adviser and the political weather and expectations of the local elections were, in some senses, similar to today. Yet the Conservatives didn’t do nearly as badly as predicted in that election, and I don’t think they’re going to lose 800 seats in today’s local elections either, despite some warnings. Around half that number of losses for the Conservatives are ‘priced in’, but with vast swathes of England not having council elections today, and some councils only electing some of their number, it will be tricky to get a handle on the quantum of damage to Boris Johnson’s party, and any progress made by Labour in real terms, and what that might mean for a General Election in two years’ time.
What will be fascinating to watch, however, will be what happens in the so-called Blue Wall, the councils in the south west of England where the Liberal Democrats have adopted a similar strategy to the Conservatives in the Red Wall in the north of England, slightly reinventing themselves and ensuring their appeal is broadened to a seemingly neglected group, this time the ‘Waitrose Tories’. The focused ‘ground game’ of the Liberal Democrats and their extremely dedicated activists will ensure their vote is maximised. Continues below
Potholes, bin collections, swimming pools, bus stops and local cycle lanes may not seem to be the sexiest of political issues, but they nonetheless affect people’s daily lives substantially more than what much of Westminster politics and Whitehall civil servants do. In theory, people should vote in local elections about these issues, but the spectre of Boris Johnson’s Partygate, Sir Keir Starmer’s Beergate and the much more important and wide-ranging issue of the cost of living will influence the outcome. It’s almost impossible to know what it going through the mind of anyone in any polling booth, but what is absolutely certain is that turnout will be low, as faith in politics seems to wane on a daily basis at the moment.
For local activists pounding the streets in all weathers recently, their good work may well be in vain as national issues dominate the political discussion. Fear of becoming nationally-influenced party political casualties has even prompted some Tories to print ‘LOCAL Conservatives’ on their leaflets. A complex and confusing picture will emerge in the next 48 hours as results trickle through.
Peter Cardwell, Senior Counsel, Sovereign Strategy