Disaster Averted for the Tories In the Local Elections
It has proved to be a mixed bag for the major parties in the local elections, as both of them struggled to gain control of key councils. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party is breathing a sigh of relief as results have not proved to be the disaster that was predicted.
A total of 4,371 seats are up for grabs in 150 local councils in what is the first England-wide test of political opinion since last year’s general election.
The Lib Dems are celebrating regaining control of the previously Tory-held Richmond council.
The Labour Party have held onto around 50 councils and even managed to seize control of the Plymouth Council in a result that the local Tory MP Johnny Mercer has blamed on the government’s handling of defence spending.
But the Labour Party had targeted key inner-city councils in Westminster and Wandsworth but struggled to gain traction. They also lost control of Nuneaton and Bedworth in Warwickshire, after the Conservatives took eight of their seats, and Derby.
The Tories benefitted from the decline of the UKIP vote and managed to win the Barnet local council and is also celebrating wins in Basildon and Peterborough.
The Conservatives have also won control of Barnet Council in north London, taking it back from no overall control. This has been put down to the anti-semitism row that has taken over the Labour party in recent week, and the shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said that Labour needed to “rebuild trust” with the Jewish community in north London.
Within the Conservative headquarters, it is understood that there is a sigh of relief as the results have not led to the whitewash disaster that was anticipated. In the words of Sir John Curtice, the Labour Party has come away “empty handed” and the Conservative Party has come away from the elections virtually unscathed.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party’s win in Plymouth was a “fantastic result” and “a sign that Labour is back in this part of Britain”. But he lamented that he was “disappointed at any places where we lost a bit of ground.”
The Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis, whilst acknowledging some of the Tory losses said that “it was a good night for us.” He went on to ridicule Labour for their over-ambitious strategy in London, “claiming that the whole of London was going to turn red. They have not gained a single council”.
The results can also be clearly divided along the Brexit lines.
As in last year’s general election, the Conservatives fared better in places that voted for Leave than in those that voted for Remain. In the council elections, the Conservative vote is up by 13 points where more than 60% backed Leave. However, the Conservatives have dropped by one point in areas where less than 45% voted Leave. The fallen UKIP vote in such places seems to have swung disproportionately behind the Conservatives, much as it did in last year’s general election. This pattern helps explain why the Conservatives’ performance is weaker in London, which voted by three to two in favour of Remain.
Within the capital, the Conservative vote is only up one point, while Labour’s vote increased by a substantial four points. The result has been that the Tories have lost more than 60 seats in London, but this has been balanced by a gain of around 60 in other parts of the country.
What this goes to show is that increasingly the Conservative electorate are predominately leave voters. Sir John Curtice in an interview with the BBC has stressed that the Tories fate will now depend upon hoe they deliver Brexit.
The test now for the Conservative Party will be how they handle Brexit and how the Prime Minister handles the already difficult issue of the customs union. Watch this space.