If these figures were replicated at a general election then the Conservatives would win around 338 seatsby Stephen Fisher / May 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
©Nick Ansell/PA Wire/PA Images By the normal standards of these things, the results of yesterday’s local elections were excellent for the Conservatives—the basic point made here by Chris Hanretty. At the time of writing they have made net seat gains of 304 in England, 121 in Scotland and 77 in Wales. Labour has so far suffered net losses of seats in all three countries. As the principal opposition party it should be making gains. It has now become the first opposition party to lose seats two years in a row since the restructuring of local government in the mid-1970s. However, when thinking about the general election on 8th June, it is not clear that the Conservatives have done as well as they ought to have—if they were on course for a really thumping big majority. The BBC’s projected national share of the vote (PNS) this year is Conservative 38 per cent, Labour 27 per cent, Liberal Democrat 18 per cent, Ukip 5 per cent. These figures represent the share of the vote as it would have been, had these local elections—which took place only in certain councils—taken place across the whole of Great Britain, and with all the wards fought by all the major parties, and with the further assumption that opinion has everywhere shifted in line with the movement seen since the English county council elections in 2013. The 11-point lead for the Conservatives over Labour in the PNS is well short of the 19-point lead that they have in the average of the most recent polls. It is also not so much bigger than the 7-point lead that the Conservatives achieved at the last election. If these figures were replicated at a general election, and if the SNP were also down a bit as the results in Scotland suggest, then the Conservatives would, on a traditional uniform change calculation, win 338 seats, little more than the 331 that they secured last time. A majority of 26 is well short of the kind of result that Theresa May is hoping for. But although these results do not themselves, crudely mapped onto Westminster, suggest a landslide, context is everything. Although the modest swing from Labour to the Conservatives in the PNS would deliver seats to the Tories, May would not increase her majority much on this projection because the Liberal Democrat share of 18 per cent is well above the 8 per cent they secured in the 2015 general election. David Cameron achieved his majority primarily at the expense of his coalition partners. The PNS represents a 5-point swing from the Conservatives BACK to the Liberal Democrats. On this basis Tim Farron might be expected to win back 10 of the 27 of the seats they lost to the Tories in 2015. Before Liberal Democrats get too excited by the prospect of a successful fightback next month they should remember that they have consistently gained a bigger share of the vote in the local elections PNS than in general elections. Sometimes the difference has been as big as 9 points. While their local election performance yesterday reflects the continuation of success in local by-elections, the party has risen very little in the general election vote-intention opinion polls. They are currently averaging just 10 points in the polls, well below their PNS of 18. Another possible source of comfort for May is comparison with 1983 and 1987. In both those years Thatcher called a general election in the wake of good local election results. The Tory lead over Labour in the PNS was 6 points in 1983 and 9.5 points in 1987. They went on to win leads in the subsequent general elections of 15 and 12 points respectively. On this basis the Conservatives might reasonably expect to do somewhat better on 8th June than they did this week. Another reason why the Tories might not be sanguine about the relatively modest overall lead in the PNS is that—in line with what some surveys have been suggesting about Labour-held marginal—the swing to them was a percentage point greater in those divisions in England where Labour were defending, and the Tories are on the attack. There is nothing in these results to suggest that Labour will do appreciably better in the general election than it did in 1983, Michael Foot’s Waterloo and the party’s worst result since the second world war. So if there is not the evidence here that the most excitable Tories might have hoped for, there is still nothing whatever to give Labour much hope. Where will Theresa May’s surprise ballot leave the government, the opposition and a divided country? Join us for our big election debate on the 6th of June 2017. Tom Clark, Prospect’s editor, will be joined by Nick Cohen, Matthew Parris and Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit.