Now that the dust has settled following last week’s local elections, what conclusions can we draw from the results?
Despite a terrible result for the Tories, Rishi Sunak has been protected from backbench revolt. The first reason for this is that Tory MPs are aware of the electoral cost should they push for yet another leader. In a way, getting through three Prime Ministers in four years has shielded Rishi Sunak. The second is that he is seen as effective by many senior figures in the Party, who blame last Thursday’s results on the wider political upheaval since Johnson. There was a rumbles from the ‘Bring Back Boris’ wing of the Party who jumped on the 1,063 seat loss as a reason to bring the former PM back into the fray. However, these noises have mostly fallen on deaf ears within the Party.
Last week’s local elections showed that the Conservatives suffer from ‘anti-Conservative’ sentiment (a usual bug when a Party has spent 13 years in power), which points to swathes of tactical voting come a General Election. In the South, the Lib Dems trounced expectations by taking numerous ‘commuterville’ councils from Tory control. In the North, Labour made advances in their former heartlands which the Tories had been making in-roads into for years. Support for Reform UK also split the Conservative vote, hindering the Tories in areas such as Amber Valley. Ultimately, this is a perfect electoral storm for Keir Starmer.
The results illustrated that the electoral geography in England had shifted, making Labour’s vote more efficient than in 2019. What does this mean? In 2019, Labour’s platform spoke mostly to metropolitan voters making its vote share concentrated to cities and pockets of the North and Wales. Labour showed a shift from this last Thursday, winning in areas such as Plymouth, Kent and Staffordshire, meaning that the Party had managed to reverse the trend of former Brexit voters breaking to the Tories. Additionally, Labour looks set under current polling to make gains in Wales, Scotland and London to shore up the likelihood of a majority.
What reassures Labour is that this takes the focus away from ‘winning back the Red Wall’. While Labour made good strides in Hartlepool, Darlington, and Stoke, it still struggled in Tees Valley and the Black Country. Importantly, Labour’s results showed however that the national vote share is efficiently distributed enough to not necessarily need these
Ultimately however, turnout at the local elections was very low, and with an estimated 18 months until the next General Election, national polling can shift heavily in Sunak’s favour. Currently though, the outlook does not look positive for the PM.