UK Politics

UK Politics: Dubious local elections narrative presents a golden opportunity for Labour backers

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Everything is falling into place for Keir Starmer

Reviewing the local elections, Paul Krishnamurty is adamant that a tactical pincer movement will sweep the Tories from office, and that Labour Majority is a top value bet...

  • Tories lose over 1,000 seats

  • Labour gains across key marginals

  • Lib Dem joy after Blue Wall massacre

Some good news for the Conservatives. The Coronation managed to usurp news of their catastrophic losses at Thursday's local elections, and the twice-failed leadership candidate who many of us thought was their best choice played a starring role.

Tories lost over 1,000 seats

That's it. With 229 of 230 councils now declared, the Tories have lost 1,061 councillors. This is well beyond even the most pessimistic predictions. They news got worse as Friday wore on, with particularly devastating losses in the so-called 'Blue Wall' to the Lib Dems.

Surprisingly, there hasn't been any notable change in the Next General Election betting since my Politics Live post of Friday morning. This is probably due to the narrative that emerged - that Labour hadn't done enough to indicate winning a majority.

Let's deal with that. It is true that the above 'Projected National Share' would not produce an overall majority if repeated at a general election. However 'PNS' is not that. It is a calculation of what would have happened if the entire country was voting in *local* elections.

Thus, when pollsters say this, they aren't predicting a hung parliament. They are talking specifically about the data from these local elections. Whereas national opinion polls asking how we would vote, if a general election were held today, firmly indicate a Labour majority.

Polls are not a future prediction

It is very important to remember the key difference between polling and betting markets. The former, correctly, stick to rigid methodology in order to produce a snapshot of where things are today. They are not predictions of the future. Omnisis are not predicting Labour will win by 21% in late 2024. Whereas future predictions is precisely what bettors do.

With that in mind, my reading of these results leaves me more confident than ever that Labour will indeed win an overall majority. I say that as somebody who has generally been very sceptical of it, at least until the recent SNP implosion brought dozens of potential Scottish gains into play.

Labour made big headway in marginal areas

Labour had an excellent night and are entitled to feel very confident moving forward. Why? Well first the range of geographical progress.

Let's say they broadly need 110 gains in England. They won seats well below that line - most notably in Kent - on their target list. Elsewhere, Brexit-voting marginals that had swung strongly against them during the decade of re-alignment and culture wars. Amber Valley, Telford, Mansfield, Stoke. Bellwethers like Swindon, Plymouth and Darlington.

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A second very positive trend for Labour was their advances among non-university educated voters. Their decline among that group had been their fundamental weakness during said period of realignment.

Third, consider that local elections work fundamentally against them, because voters tend to be older and more likely to be registered (the Tory base). Yet for the first time in two decades, they became the largest party in local government.

LD/Green always over-perform in locals

Also on that point, it would be absurd to translate Lib Dem and Green performance in local elections. They always do better in these, because their strength lies in active local councillors, and because they are ideal for a risk-free, mid-term protest vote. Disaffected Blue Wall Tories could switch without having to endorse Labour or risk a Labour government.

So on that score, don't expect the Tories to lose all or anywhere near all these heartland seats. Most will return Tory MPs, as usual. Nevertheless, the Lib Dems will fancy their chances of winning dozens of seats back that they lost in 2015, following the coalition.

But the much wider trend is that, with tactical voting in mind, Lib Dem and Green support disproportionately transfers to Labour come the general election. This happened on a considerable scale in the last two elections, despite Labour being led by the unpopular Jeremy Corbyn. The tactical pincer movement discussed in my preview came to fruition.

Tory losses will weaken their ground game

We must also consider the knock-on effects and how they will play out between now and the next election. Local councillors are a party's activist base. Losing them hurts their ground game.

So just as this tactical pincer movement makes dozens more Tory seats vulnerable, in need of a strong campaign, the party's ability to defend them is weakened. Rather than simply focusing on holding Labour off in 80 marginals, they must now divert resources to another 40 Lib Dem targets.

Johnson allies sharpening knives

Consider what happens next to the Tories. The Coronation may have squeezed out avenues for Rishi Sunak's internal critics, but they are going nowhere and feel emboldened.

There is no love lost between Boris Johnson supporters and those of the PM. Blaming Sunak for these results involves in an extremely partisan rewriting of history that requires ignoring the damage done by Johnson and Liz Truss, but the partisans will push it. Voters hate divided parties.

It could be too late to change fundamentals

Finally, the fundamentals remain terrible. The cost of living crisis isn't going away. Critically for the Tories, more people will continue to see their mortgage repayments rise. The NHS is in a deep crisis.

It is too late for these trends to sufficiently turn around. Political historians will recall the last time the Tories lost office. In 1997, the economy was booming. It had recovered from the disaster of 'Black Wednesday' in 1992. They had a narrative. But the earlier debacles and division had turned voters against them and delivered an historic defeat and huge Labour majority. That is where we are now.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

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