Labour in trouble in early local election results, Conservatives surge
As counts continue across the country, results of yesterday’s local elections in the United Kingdom are starting to flow through. Already a bumper election year, May 6 has been dubbed #SuperThursday because of the sheer number of seats up for grabs following the postponement of the 2020 elections. (This was prepared before 3pm on 7th May)
So, what do the early results tell us?
- Conservatives surge across the North East for an historic by-election win in the Hartlepool by-election.
- Conservatives snare early gains to take control of Northumberland, Harlow, Dudley Nottinghamshire and Nuneaton councils.
- Conservative, Ben Houchen was also easily re-elected as Mayor of Teesside.
- But: the Conservatives aren’t the only ones winning with the Liberal Democrats and Greens making surprising gains across the country.
- Labour is losing councillors across England, but the party is feeling it the most in its former heartlands of the North East and Midlands, with its hopes resting on London and in Wales.
- The full extent of the Conservative gains is unknown as Covid-secure counting means hundreds of councils and Mayoral elections are still yet to declare.
- The Battle for the Union is heating up with a massive turnout in Scotland as the SNP and pro-independence Green Party and Alba seek a super majority and a second referendum.
The Conservative Party has consolidated its new coalition
Brexit is done and Corbyn is gone, and neither issue was big on the doorstep. Nevertheless, with early results suggesting the Conservative Party has consolidated its support of Northern, Brexit-voting working-class voters in the so called ‘Red Wall’, it seems the shift in support from Labour to the Conservatives is a longer-term trend than initially believed in December 2019. The standout result for the Conservatives was their extraordinary gain of Hartlepool with a swing to them of 16%, virtually unheard of for a serving government after 11 years in office. It also puts the Conservatives on track to win the so-called magic trifecta with the party expected to hold onto the West Midlands and Tees Valley Mayoralties.
Beyond this, the Conservatives have already made gains in Sunderland, Derby, Wolverhampton and took overall control in Northumberland, Harlow, Dudley and Nuneaton. However, it remains unclear just how much of this electoral success can be attributed to the Conservatives cementing a new base, or the Government’s successful vaccine rollout.
Boris appeal and the vaccine bounce
The results show just how popular the Prime Minister is across England., with Boris Johnson having a potent personal appeal which reaches beyond traditional tribal loyalties. The results also indicates that English voters at least are broadly satisfied with Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, or at least its path to lifting restrictions anyway. A few months ago, Labour was leading in the polls and now its support has collapsed with the vaccine rollout – and perhaps a real desire to focus on recovery instead of looking back –transforming Boris’ ratings from just a few months ago.
Beginnings of Tory southern discomfort?
Despite their obvious success across swathes of England in this election, there are warning signs that the Conservatives will not have things all their own way. In well-educated and more affluent areas the party is performing more sluggishly, including losing councillors in Cambridgeshire to the Liberal Democrats and in Cornwall to Labour. It will be interesting to see as results from the South East come in if there are any other indications that the home counties are starting to desert them.
How does Starmer come back from the brink?
For the Labour Party the results so far are disastrous and represent an underperformance, even against pessimistic expectations and it’s expected to struggle in Scotland with the Conservative Party looking like holding onto second place. The Hartlepool defeat in particular is a historic loss at the very worst end of expectations. For Starmer, the only bright sparks look set to be in London and Wales, despite some suggestions of a challenge from Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives looking to build on its 2019 inroads.
Far from the start of a revival under new leadership, the Conservative encroachment into traditional Labour heartlands continues. Early results reinforce the trends of the 2019 and 2017 elections. That Johnson’s electoral coalition is holding also suggests delivering Brexit, and a sense that those communities are being listened to, will have a longer lasting effect on voting patterns and political identity. Labour increasingly looks like it’s two parties under one umbrella and Starmer’s challenge is to come up with a platform that speaks to voters of all demographics, in and outside of large cities.
The Labour Party soul searching – and infighting –has already begun with competing factions offering rival explanations for their losses. Allies of Jeremy Corbyn are already calling for a shift to the left arguing they held Hartlepool under his leadership in 2019. The Labour Party has historically lacked the ruthlessness to remove underperforming leaders; however, that could change. Starmer, has said he’ll take responsibility for the results, but he is clearly under more pressure than ever to take a hard look at his Front Bench, and the political strategists behind it, and work out whether it’s the right balance and is a team that can genuinely challenge a decade-old Government in ascendancy.