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With the first LE2018 postal votes being cast the signs are not good for the Tories

April 20th, 2019

The first of next month’s two electoral challenges for the Tories

While everybody seems to be getting excited about the May 23rd Euro elections there has been little focus on the big hurdle that the Tories have to surmount three weeks before that. These are the local elections in England which cover almost all of the country excluding London and just one or two counties.

Each year during a four years cycle a different set of local elections takes place and it is a particular challenge for the Tories at this difficult time that the group of council elections up on May 2nd are the ones where the party traditionally does very well.  Indeed back in 2015, when, most  were last fought, the Tories won more than 4000 which was in excess of half the overall number of contests.

Four years ago, of course, was on the day of GE2015  when the Tories did far better than had been predicted and secured a Commons majority.  This success was seen in the locals as well so it was always going to be the case even without the Brexit turmoil that May 2nd 2019 was going to be hard because there are so many seats to defend.

In his annual media presentation on the coming local elections the week before last the Tory elections analyst, Lord Hayward, observed that the one thing that could help his party between then and the May 2nd election day was the Brexit deal being approved. For there’s little doubt that the events of the past months have made life on the doorstep for Tory campaigners quite challenging and there’ll be a sense of relief once Brexit is settled. Alas that is not going to happen.

Reports from the ground suggest that the Tory vote is weak. It is not that there will be much switching to other parties but a concern that traditional CON voters simply won’t turnout. The thing about local elections is that turnout is everything. The national average is in the mid 30s which puts a premium on local parties ability to get their vote out.

This was a PB comment yesterday from ex-LAB MP, Nick Palmer on his experience:

Interesting 3 hours on the doorstep this afternoon (and no, people don’t mind being canvassed at Easter) in deepest Surrey. I think the Lib Dems are going to do well – I’m used to their voters showing up as don’t knows till the last minute, but there’s some definite enthusiasm out there. Labour’s core vote seems solid but not especially enthusiastic – it’s mostly about fighting the Tories. The Tory vote is crumbling at the edges – unusual number of former Tory voters going out of their way to say they wouldn’t ever vote Labour but definitely not Tory any more either – even met some Brexiteers voting LibDem ias an anti-big party protest. But the Tories too have a core vote which is loyal – I don’t expect a real metldown.”

All of this fits with the reports I have been getting and it is possible that the number of Tory losses could be in the hundreds which will reinforce the negative narrative for the party in the lead up to May 23rd.

Normally by this stage before the May locals we have had projections on likely party gain and losses based on what’s been happening in local by-elections. In the past these have set expectations but I don’t think we will be seeing numbers this year.

My guess is that the Lib Dems will do better than at any set of local elections since going into coalition with the Tories in May 2010. They should make a significant increase in their councillor numbers and that will be the backcloth for Vince Cable to announce his resignation as leader thus triggering off a leadership contest.

Mike Smithson