It has been a bad night for Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in the 2023 Local Elections. The Party managed expectations in the media by briefing that it was expecting to lose 1,000 seats in the worst case. On Friday afternoon, it was clear that they would exceed this.
Labour have improved in its ‘red wall’ heartlands that over the last few years have trended Conservative, such as Stoke, Hartlepool, and Darlington. The Party also did well in many of its General Election target seats of Swindon, Plymouth and even Medway and Aldershot. While these results will no doubt be a boon to Labour’s hopes of election victory in 2024, there will still be some caution at Party HQ. Thursday’s results show that the red wall is not as safe as senior figures might hope, and is likely to be the theatre for intense campaigning at the 2024 election.
Whisper it quietly… do the Lib Dems have their mojo back? This cycle of Local Elections was already a high water mark for the Liberal Democrats who did well in these seats in 2019. On Friday afternoon it was obvious that the Party had built on this performance, winning in safe Conservative areas such as North Somerset, Brentwood, West Berkshire and Windsor and Maidenhead. The key issue was housing; while the Conservatives have taken on more of an active role in home-building since 2019, the Lib Dems have been able to absorb the Party’s dismayed ‘NIMBY’ vote.
The issue for the Conservatives this year was a perfect storm of many Brexit voting Labour heartlands ‘coming home’, as well as an assault from the LIb Dems in the traditional Tory heartlands in the ‘Blue Wall’. For the Labour voters, there was a sentiment that the Conservative Party had not done enough on the cost of living crisis. The Lib Dems on the other hand appealed to the traditional ‘NIMBY’ Conservative voters through their reluctance to back local development, particularly on the Green Belt.
Sleaze sinks its teeth in. One substantial theme is that the Tories performed poorly in areas where the local MP was unpopular. In Tamworth, home of Chris Pincher, Labour trounced the incumbent Tories in a result not seen in a quarter of a century. In Stratford, home to Nadhim Zahawi, the Lib Dems unexpectedly took that council. Then there is Blackpool, where Tory MP Scott Benton, recently involved in a lobbying scandal, went strongly back to Labour.
HOWEVER… all may not be lost for a hopeful Prime Minister. The overall feeling in pockets of the Midlands key to a Labour victory is ‘stickiness’. The Conservatives held-up well in Dudley and Walsall for example - areas which Labour will hope to be making far more in-roads with to achieve a landslide at the next election. If Labour wants to be aiming for a Tony Blair style victory in the 2024 General Election, it has to shore-up these areas. Despite being battered on multiple fronts, the Conservatives can take some comfort in tomorrow’s Coronation hoovering up the headlines.