The party has exceeded all expectations. How much does this tell us about 8th June?by Chris Hanretty / May 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
Many (but not all) of the votes from yesterday’s local council elections have now been counted. The results have been very good for the Conservatives, and almost unremittingly bad for all other parties. How good was the Conservative party’s performance, and what does it mean for June’s general election?
The first point to note is that the Conservatives exceeded expectations. In April, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher suggested, on the basis of council by-elections, that the Conservatives were on track to win 115 seats. At the time of writing, with 10 of 34 councils declared, they have almost met that target in England alone (where they are up 105 seats).
Second, the Conservatives have done outstandingly well for a governing party. The last time a governing party won as many seats as this was May 1974, in the early months of a new Labour administration, in an election where the number of councillors had been increased, thereby allowing all of the main parties to make gains. The Conservatives have already bettered the 110 seats they won in the 1983 election.
Third, the Brexit effect has been modest, and has had a more pronounced impact on seats than on shares of the vote. There is little evidence so far that the Liberal Democrats will be a major beneficiary of frustrated Remain voters.
What does this mean for a general election? It is difficult to make predictions about general elections on the basis of local election results. Different types of people vote, with different motivations, in local elections compared to general elections. The choices open to them also vary, since not all parties stand in every area.
We will know more when we have estimates of the Projected National Share (PNS) or the National Equivalent Vote (NEV) are published. These figures try to work out what the parties’ share of the vote would have been if all of the three main parties stood in all wards, and had all parts of the country voted.
On the basis of the swings seen so far, it is likely that the Conservatives will record a NEV in the low forties. Ominously for Labour, governing parties typically improve upon their NEV in subsequent general elections. More ominously still, that increase in Conservative vote share has resulted from a collapse in the UKIP vote —a collapse which, if mirrored at a general election, could result in the Conservatives winning in seats that they would not otherwise have expected to win.
It is difficult to convey how extraordinary the Conservative party’s continued good performance is. It is a truth generally acknowledged (amongst psephologists at least) that governing parties lose votes, and lose more the longer they have been in power. In 2015, the Conservatives were able to avoid this fate because they were able to cannibalise the Liberal Democrats. In 2017, they look as though they will feast on the remains on the UKIP vote. The local elections have, for the Conservatives, served as a delightful appetiser. The main course awaits…