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Local elections spell doom for Rishi Sunak’s party

Local elections spell doom for Rishi Sunak’s party

On May 2, much of the United Kingdom voted in elections for local councils. Local elections in the UK are always held on a Thursday. There are local elections in England and Wales every May. Scotland and Northern Ireland hold local elections at other times.

Sunak’s Conservative Party was defending 950 local council seats. Losing 500 would be a disaster. The Conservatives have lost over 450. That is not quite a disaster zone, but it is very bad.

Of the 450 seats the Tories lost, fewer than half went to the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats made substantial gains and won control of some local councils. The gains for the Lib Dems are unexciting. They should be doing better because the Tories are bitterly unpopular, and Labour does not set the world alight especially as it has an uninspiring leader. Labour is promising to do very little except not increase taxation.

The Green Party is the biggest winner of the night. It increased its number of councillors by 70%! This is a warning for Labour. Extreme left-wing voters plumped for the Greens. Labour will have to pray that this does not recur when an election is held in the UK Parliament.

Reform UK only fielded a couple of hundred councillors. Reform UK used to be called the Brexit Party which grew out of the United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP used to have several hundred candidates. UKIP went from winning a few councillors to winning a few councils and even Members of the European Parliament.

Reform UK won only two councillors out of the roughly 2,000 positions available. Nevertheless, Reform UK has deprived the Tories of dozens of councillors by taking votes away from them. Reform UK voters are mostly disaffected Conservatives. Reform UK made very little effort in the local elections. It does not have enough agents, money or the organisation to print leaflets and to campaign. Therefore, perhaps it will not perform so strongly in the next UK Parliamentary elections. It could be that Reform UK is saving its strength and funds for the general election. The party is on 10% in the opinion polls. However, in the general election, this will go down. In the polling booth, people will not waste their votes on a party that cannot win.

At a local level, it is very possible for minor parties to win seats because there are sometimes only 3,000 voters in a ward. The chance that a candidate will be known to voters personally is high. Turnout at local elections is 30%. I did not vote, and I was a candidate!

If you are a candidate for a major party, you need to consider that 70% of people will not vote. 10% will definitely vote against your party. 10% will definitely vote for you. It is that 10% in the middle whom you need to persuade.

There will likely be a general election towards the end of 2024. This is all ominous for the Conservative and Unionist Party.

There are Residents' Associations in some council areas. A Residents’ Association will say it wants the best for the area and is non-ideological and does not care about national politics. A residents’ association will concentrate on valence issues: sanitation, road maintenance and value for money in spending public funds.

Since 1997 there have been directly elected mayors in much of the United Kingdom. They were introduced by Tony Blair.

If there is a directly elected mayor, then people vote for the mayor as well as the councillors. You are not obliged to vote for the same party for mayor and for councillors. For example, a person could vote for a Liberal Democrat to be mayor and a Tory to be a councillor.

In 2024 Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Merseyside and Teesside all held elections for directly elected mayors. Labour won most of these. Lord Ben Houchen, a Conservative, held on in Teesside with a much-reduced majority. He is personally highly regarded in an area that used to be strongly pro-Labour.

The only surprise as regards directly elected mayors is the West Midlands. The incumbent was a Tory named Andy Street. Mr. Street was personally popular and strove to dissociate himself from his party. It was thought that he would squeak a win. In fact, Labour won by 0.3%. Labour was threatened by an independent candidate who won 11% of the vote for Mayor of the West Midlands. He was a Muslim candidate who campaigned fervently to end the slaughter in Gaza.

In London, the mayor Sadiq Khan, has been re-elected for a record-breaking third term. He won by 11%. Last time he won by only 5%. Khan is a Labour man and a British-Pakistani. He is the first Pakistani to be elected mayor of any European city. Khan won against a feeble Conservative candidate called Susan Hall. Hall was selected because abler Tories did not wish to stand when they were sure to lose. However, Hall exceeded expectations and did not lose as heavily as was forecast.

Mr Khan used to be a Labour MP. He is known to harbour ambitions to get back into Parliament. In 2021 Labour was performing poorly under Starmer. There was talk of ousting Starmer as had been tried with his predecessor. Khan was a Labour politician with a national profile, and he was a winner. Could he have become the leader of the party? Khan and Starmer loathe each other. This is a personality clash and not an ideological disagreement. Khan cannot find a safe Labour constituency to select him as a candidate.

Labour will likely win the general election in late 2024. Starmer will be appointed prime minister. He will serve a five-year term and reach the age of 67: retirement age. He will probably step down at that point. Khan would no doubt like to take over. He needs to serve as mayor until 2028 and see if he can re-enter Parliament at a by-election.

The London Assembly now has a Labour majority for the first time in 8 years. However, the Conservatives have not performed as poorly in this election to the London Assembly as was forecast.

In some local councils, the mayor is not directly elected. The people elect the councillors, and the councillors elect one of themselves to be the mayor.

The UK is divided into borough councils, city councils and county councils. A council will typically have 50 councillors on it. The council area is subdivided into wards. A ward has between 3,000 and 9,000 voters in it. There are 1, 2 or 3 councillors depending on the number of voters.

If a ward elects more than one councillor, then a voter has 2 or 3 voters according to the number of councillors to be elected. A voter simply puts an X beside the name of the candidate or candidate. A voter does not express a first choice or a second choice.

Some Conservative MPs are aghast at the results which they consider abominable. Some of them are sharpening their knives for Rishi Sunak. Beware the Ides of March! One Tory source said: it is not the message, it is the messenger that is the problem. Whatever Sunak does, it does not shift the dial in the polls. Rosy economic news, tax cuts, arms to Ukraine, success in cutting illegal immigration, paying public sector workers more, ending strikes – nothing seems to work. Privately he is said to be despondent.

But if the Tory Party believes that it cannot get any worse, then it is deluding itself. One area where the party has not failed is in changing leader. It went through five leaders in six years! If the party were to force Sunak out it would have a death wish.

There would need to be 52 signatures of Tory MPs in a letter to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to force a vote of confidence in the party leader. The rumour is that if a vote of confidence is forced, then Sunak will call an election immediately to forestall this. If Sunak is voted out, he would rather be voted out by the people than his own parliamentary colleagues. What will a 43-year-old ex-PM do when he is a multi multi multi-millionaire? He might become President of the World Hindu-Jewish Friendship Association.

The Tory Party is headed for the heaviest defeat since 1832. The 1997 election was annus horribilis for the party. There are 650 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party currently holds 680 seats. It is predicted to be reduced to under 100 seats next time. This is redolent of the smashing defeat of the Canadian Progressive Conservatives in 1993.

For the Conservative Party, it is damage limitation. The party is fated to lose but the question is by how much.

There is talk of the party going extinct, as conservatism is a mindset that is not credible. The party has always had a problem with the junior generation. But now the generation gap is extreme. The older people get the more likely they are to vote Conservative. In 2019 the age at which people became more likely to vote Conservative than Labour was 47. Next time it will be 60. Turnout is much higher among older people. However, there are far more young people than elderly ones. Among 18-year-olds only 7% want to vote for the Conservatives.

Rishi Sunak is morose. It hurts to fail so badly. He does not want to face utter humiliation. There is a rumour that he is considering calling an early election as he is legally empowered to do so.

The author is a political analyst from the UK, he can be watched on YouTube George from Ireland

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TAGS:Rishi SunakBritish PoliticsThe UK PoliticsTory Party
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