What will today’s local elections tell us about the future of UK politics?
By Callum Delhoy, Consultant
Across the UK today, campaigners will be exiting expectation-management mode & begin the stressful last leg of any election cycle: the Get-Out-The-Vote stage. With seven in ten voters across England heading to their local ballot box; it’s absolutely all to play for as Labour contemplate becoming the biggest party of local government for the first time in over two decades.
Ahead of the results, however, it’s important to understand the context in which this election is taking place. These seats were last contested in the run-up to the 2019 General Election under the then Prime Minister Tereasa May, less than three weeks before her resignation announcement. In fact, those local elections were especially rare in that they saw both the governing party and the opposition both suffering net losses to the benefit of smaller parties.
This time around, the contest is a bit more cut-and-dry. The Conservative party will be wanting to emulate the local election results of 2014 and 1991: an election where Labour underperforms versus their polling lead, both parties achieve similar results in their share of the national vote, and there are clear signs of electoral recovery. This last goal may be difficult to achieve given Labour’s successful rebranding since the Corbyn era, which may be why CCHQ has been circulating this Rallings & Thrasher poll predicting a loss of 1,000 seats – simple expectation management allowing them to deem any lesser defeat a win.
Conversely, Labour is aiming to recover many of the councils it lost under Corbyn – including the four authorities in Tees Valley it lost in 2019 - and generally wishes to emulate the conditions of the mid 1990s which facilitated Tony Blair defeating the Conservatives in multiple traditionally Conservative regions. Whether it’s a local government coronation, a muted success, or a failure to regain previous losses - Labour’s performance will be seen by many as a litmus test on whether Kier Starmer has the acumen to bring Labour into power next year.
And finally – one can’t discount the Liberal Democrats when it comes to local elections. As Labour endeavour to turn the red wall red once again, the Lib Dems are determined to improve upon their impressive 2019 results; representing the greatest threat to the southern Conservative ‘blue wall’ this time around. Elsewhere, Guildford and Waverly are represented in Westminster by Michael Gove & Jeremy Hunt respectively, yet both councils lie firmly within the Lib Dem’s reach this time around. Regardless of whether they’ll manage to make enough gains to take over these councils or if they simply unseat a swath of Conservative councillors – as electoral demographics change tomorrow this may mark the beginning of the Lib Dems becoming a serious long-standing threat to previously die-hard Blue areas.
Although political commentators’ comparisons to the US mid-terms are tempting, one should always be sceptical of reading too much into today’s results. Local elections are, by definition, focussed on local issues – so extrapolating any results to a national degree may not be as fruitful as one may think. However, that’s not to say such results don’t matter. Establishing a local power base is a crucial step in any party’s electoral efforts, and a bad result could fan the flames of internal infighting as we enter General Election mode in 2024.