Local elections: fortune may smile on Tory

Author Alexander Tatiev
Category Columnists, People, Town
Date May 1 2024
Reading Time 2 min.

Local elections: fortune may smile on Tory

In the hours leading up to the local government elections, the poll results are instilling optimism among conservatives. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer are at pivotal points in their political trajectories. And the success of each depends on any shift in the mood of the voters.

For Starmer, the crisis in the Scottish National Party (SNP) is another opportunity for success. Although there are no elections planned in Scotland this week, weakening the SNP could strengthen Labour’s position in Westminster. The resignation of Hamza Yousaf as the First Minister has forced the SNP to urgently search for a new leader. Meanwhile, Starmer’s team is closely monitoring events, devising a strategy for pre-election battles.

However, it is precisely the local elections that could now sway the political situation. And while a clear triumph for the Tories seems unlikely, slowing down their rapid decline is quite possible. A few small victories could give Rishi Sunak new levers of influence within the party. As the latest YouGov poll shows, conservative candidates have fairly favourable prospects in two key mayoral contests.

For instance, in Tees Valley, a region in the north of England, the incumbent Conservative mayor Ben Houchen leads Labour candidate Chris McEwan by seven points, allowing him to anticipate a fairly confident victory. This is a significant change compared to previous polls, which showed Houchen and McEwan neck and neck. Meanwhile, in the West Midlands, Conservative mayor Andy Street clings to a slight lead of two points over his Labour rival Richard Parker. Previous polls showed a clear advantage for Parker.

So, the stakes are high for Sunak like never before. If the Tories fail to prevail in the West Midlands and Tees Valley, it will likely trigger new rifts in the Conservative Party, which could escalate into a leadership battle. Conversely, successes in these battlegrounds will strengthen Sunak’s position in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Drawing parallels with Margaret Thatcher’s political maneuvers in 1990, one might speculate that Sunak’s team will present local victories as evidence of the party’s resilience and its ability to achieve electoral success.

However, according to polls, local successes do not change the Tories’ bleak prospects for future general elections. But it is quite realistic for the regions to prevent or delay the leadership crisis and give Sunak the much-needed respite. It must be said that as the general elections approach, the Tories seize every opportunity to distract voters, employing all means to control the narratives of the pre-election campaign. For example, Starmer’s recent appearance on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” demonstrated how successfully the Tories can divert the conversation from topics advantageous to the opponent. Instead of discussing the cost of living crisis, which Labour constantly (and quite reasonably) appeals to, and his own political program, Starmer had to respond to controversial questions about transgender rights or intra-party dynamics.

And the tough battle to attract citizens’ support will only intensify. In the near future, the balance of power will be determined by the outcome of the local elections in key regions, which could have far-reaching consequences for national politics in the coming months and years.

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