While Labour did poorly, the Conservatives cannot rest easyby Stephen Fisher / May 4, 2018 / Leave a comment
Local elections are supposed to be about deciding who controls councils, but the results this year reflect both the overall balance of support for the main parties in England and the increasing social and geographical divisions between them.
The 4407 seats up for election yesterday come from a mainly urban set of 150 (out of 326) councils in England. They were last fought in 2014, at the same time as the European Parliament elections. Back then Ed Miliband managed just a 2 point lead in the BBC local elections Projected National Share of the vote (PNS). The swing in the PNS since 2014 this year is 1 point to the Tories. As a result, the Conservatives and Labour are equally on 35 per cent in the PNS. So these local election results confirm the impressions from the opinion polls of both the levels and trends in support for the two main parties.
Opposition parties normally win local elections. Since records began, albeit only since 1982, the oppositions that have gone on to win the next general election have won double digit leads in all the preceding local elections, starting with those in the immediate post-election year. Not only is Labour far from having a 10-point lead, the fact that it has no lead at all should be deeply disappointing.
Some Labour supporters may comfort themselves with the observation that the 11 point Tory lead in the PNS at last year’s local elections collapsed within the space of a month to a 2.5 point general election lead. That experience was a salutary lesson that public opinion can change dramatically. But that does not mean that we should expect the Conservatives to run a similarly disastrous campaign in the future.
While Labour did poorly, the Conservatives cannot rest easy. Their performance does not indicate that they would most likely regain their majority at the next general election. Aggregating detailed ward level votes collected by the BBC to the parliamentary constituencies of which they are part suggests that the Conservatives would, on the basis of these local election results, gain a few seats from Labour (in places such as Battersea, Derby North and Wirral West). However, the Tories would also lose some to the Liberal Democrats (including Cheadle, Hazel Grove and Southport). Despite being up by only 3 points in the PNS, the Liberal Democrats managed to do especially well in places where they were fighting a two-way battle with the Conservatives, and so look likely to make net gains of about 50 council seats.